Years ago, as a very young city hall reporter, I covered a young mayor in Fort Dodge who ran afoul of local movers and shakers.
Those movers and shakers offered to help the mayor find another job if he agreed to step down. The mayor, convinced he was being bribed, called the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. I, too, thought the whole thing was beyond shady.
But when the AG’s investigator issued his report, he found, although the movers and shakers had come “perilously close” to bribery, no charges were in order. It was a disillusioning conclusion.
So I can understand how some of Hillary Clinton’s critics felt when FBI Director James Comey declined to recommend criminal charges for the former secretary of state’s handling of classified emails. He called her “extremely careless,” and stamped “false” on multiple public claims Clinton made about her private email servers. She misled us, and damaged her claim to presidential competence. But no charges.
I’m not second-guessing Comey. He couldn’t find clear intent to break federal laws, so his conclusion makes sense. What makes far less sense is why the secretary of state figured she could operate under a different, special set of rules. She left sensitive materials vulnerable to a security breach, not because she believed it was good for the country, but because it was good for her. I’ve heard the defense that her predecessors did it, but how does that make it smart or responsible?
In a normal election year, Clinton might pay a high political price. But, of course, this is no normal year. Instead, Republicans are preparing to challenge the unindicted with the unthinkable.
I hear from a fair number of Republican readers demanding I match my criticism of Donald Trump with equal time for Hillary. But if they really wanted this campaign to be more about Clinton, why are they on the verge of nominating Trump?
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It’s tough to demand we all focus on Clinton’s various ethical bonfires while the GOP hurls an erratic, billion-killowatt orange meteor at the American electorate. They want the spotlight on Clinton, but they’re nominating a guy whose campaign is basically a never-ending reality show called “Hey, Losers, Look at Me!” It’s hardly a hit.
Clinton may be uninspiring, but Trump is unhinged. These are not equivalent issues. On the bright side, I have once again nailed the perfect formula for a column equally disliked by all. It’s a gift.
What I dislike much more is at a frightening, volatile and divisive moment in our nation’s history, we face an election where neither major party’s choice seems capable of giving us the unifying leadership we’ll need. President Barack Obama has done yeoman’s work in the face of tragedy, but the campaign to succeed him only has heightened our sharp pangs of national anxiety. Our politics, rather than offer solutions, has been salt in our wounds.
We’re in an awful spot. And it’s difficult at this dark moment to see how we get to a better place. We’ve been through tough times before, and leaders have emerged. Perhaps they will again.
So don’t lose all hope just yet. I haven’t. But I must admit I’m perilously close.
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