Friday, March 6, 2015

The Clinton Emails

Today is what we call in politics Jobs Day. It's the day the Bureau of Labor Statistics unleashes releases the job numbers for last month. This is raw data collected more or less the same way it has been for ages against statistics that span decades. Here are some graphs from Bloomberg Business.
Unemployment Dropping
Now, the key thing is that defenders of Obama will take the (pretty good) top-line numbers and celebrate them. Conservative websites look a little deeper and find something to be gloomy about.
To be fair, the New York Times (liberal) is at best cautiously optimistic and HotAir (conservative) is only middlingly pessimistic (there's a magnificent damning-with-faint-praise line at the end saying "We're doing a lot better than Europe, but . . ."). None of this is the same kind of blind-spot that we see with people being utterly convinced their argument for or against the ACA is the only one that could possibly be right (and that any decision other than the one they favor is because of partisan maneuvering and is therefore utterly illegitimate).

No, this is taking bare facts and figures and trying to spin an argument that works best for your readers. It does not take a genius to figure out that conservatives don't really want to read that America is on the rebound under Obama. It isn't all that reasonable to expect democrats to focus on the downsides of the report rather than the upsides.

No--the conspiracy theory comes in the comments section where the rank-and-file assumes that the administration and the entire BLS is just making numbers up--but that isn't getting a whole lot of wide play.

This brings us to Hillary Clinton's emails.

Hillary Clinton's Emails (
Although the story is still breaking, the gist is this: Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, for reasons that seem to only point to wanting to conceal her communications (a breach of Federal regulations and law--but maybe not the kind you go to jail for breaking?) set up a personal email server . . .  out of her house. Maybe.

The server may or may not have been secure--and we may or may not ever know for sure. The emails may or may not have been read by China or whoever else wanted to read them. She may or may not have handed over all the emails as requested (it, uh, looks like "not"). She might or might not be breakin' the law right now.

There's some breathless speculation about this being the big chance for Joe Biden.

There's some speculation about this being the thing that finally breaks through on Benghazi.

However, more interestingly, there is speculation--both on the left and right--that voters just won't care. The Upshot (NYT's Data Blog) holds forth:
Any significant political costs are also likely to be fleeting because the revelations came so early in the campaign cycle. It is hard to believe that a lack of transparency in Mrs. Clinton’s use of email will have a significant effect on a general election that will be held some 20 months from now. As the political scientist John Sides wrote on Twitter, “In October 2016, no persuadable voter will be thinking about Hillary Clinton’s email account.” It’s equally implausible that this revelation will draw a second top-tier candidate into the race for the Democratic nomination given the advantages Mrs. Clinton retains over possible rivals like Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
From RedState:
Like it or not, the Clintons have demonstrated throughout the years that they are, essentially, scandal-proof. America gets it: the Clintons are crooked. They surround themselves with crooks and hacks. They are not especially good at anything other than making the Clintons richer and more powerful. For a lot of people, that’s a political death knell. For the Clintons, it seems to mostly engender grudging admiration from swing voters at how they keep getting away with being crooks. In particular Clintons have been having scandal accusations thrown at them by Republicans for so long that each new successive scandal accusation just becomes additional proof that Republicans have Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Fair or not, this is the way it is and it’s time to come around to that fact: scandals are not the way to defeat a Clinton, and no amount of #BENGHAZI hashtags is going to change that.
 Of course the scandal has two components: the fact of the existence of the rogue email server and then . . . what is in those emails (and, of course, the cover-up if it turns out one is, in fact, on-going).

If what's IN the emails is damning then the public will care--The Omnivore is pretty sure. Otherwise? Are the doubters right?

Probably So, Yes
On the bad-side the email scandal does play against the Clinton's brand. The idea that they are arrogant, dirty, and secretive is part of their negative brand. This plays into that the same way that Romney's 47% gaffe played directly into his negative brand. There's also the fact that this is kinda-sorta illegal. Maybe it's totally illegal: but The Omnivore hasn't seen anyone suggesting Hillary's going to jail for it yet.

But so was "Whitewater"--whatever that was. That's kind of the problem: The Omnivore could never figure it out and reading explainers made his eyes glaze over. The private email story has the smell and feel of some kind of good scandal--but the specifics? The specifics are hard to nail down for anyone who doesn't already believe Hillary called off special forces ready to go in and save the Benghazi four. The allegations are not super-complex on the face of it--but the specifics kind of are--and it's unclear just how unusual this was at the time.

So the scandal has a problem of clearing the easily-understood bar and the why-it's-bad-bar. Not a terrible one--but not as good as, say, Bridgegate. People instantly get why that was bad.

The second problem is worse: people already know that Republicans are out to get Hillary. It's not an exaggeration and it's not a secret. In fact, the problem is not that they're 'out to get her.' She's probably the Democratic nominee: she's a legit hard-target. The problem is that they've tried a bunch of times to get her already--and done them badly. Remember . . .  Vince Foster? If you're sure Bill had him killed, The Omnivore can't help you--but believing the Clintons are dirty and believing they are murderers are two different things and one has a much, much higher bar to clear before you get out of the Derangement-Syndrome Zone.

Benghazi was, in The Omnivore's opinion, an administrative fuck-up. Perhaps actual for-real incompetence (The Omnivore can't judge exactly--but it seems very plausible that someone else might have assigned extra security earlier . . . or had ready-to-go forces closer to potential hot spots). The problem is that very few people in the Benghazi scrum questioned Hillary's competence. Don't get upset: YES, that did happen--certainly--but there was a ton of other stuff on top of that--more important--that obscured that actual viable question of her execution of her basic duties (example: Unasked question--did the ambassador send an 'Eyes Only' message to Clinton ensuring it would have crossed her desk? We don't know--no one asked that The Omnivore is aware of). What we did get was:
  • Lying about the video! These were LIES!! LIES!! Not a problem with intelligence. Not normal campaign-time-spin. These were LIES that would, The Omnivore doesn't know, cripple America or something?
  • Did Obama Call It Terrorism!?? Like--explicitly--like verbatim. This was super important because if he had called it terrorism he'd have lost to Romney. Airtight.
  • Who Ordered The Code Red!?? There was a stand-down order to the forces that could have saved everyone because . . .  uh . . . because Hillary wanted them all dead? The military has said repeatedly this wasn't so--but we know better. Right?
  • The Annex Was Running Guns to ISIS In Syria! It all makes sense now. There's no proof of this--but when has that ever meant anything? There's no proof of a lot of things that happened. There's proof of Big Foot. Are the two about as likely? Why not!??
And so on--The problem is that while the "vast right-wing conspiracy" was really a smallish very upset right-wing noise machine, the noise was loud enough that their cries were heard by everyone.

Those cries?

They were "Wolf."

As with the jobs report, the facts in the Clinton-Mail scandal aren't much in dispute (how secure we think the server was, what the exact configurations were, and the severity of the breach of conduct are somewhat questioned)--but the spin is very different. You can easily Google and find conservatives giddy and liberals either dismissive or in despair.

It's the bi-partisan strain of analysis that caught The Omnivore's eye--the realization on both sides that scandal "isn't what it used to be." Part of this is ascribed (by conservatives) to a liberal-media that protects Democrats (although they note the NYT broke the story) but part of it is ascribed to the nature of these new "scandals." The Omnivore doesn't think the IRS-targeting or Fast and Furious were "phony scandals" in the way the term is often meant (that nothing happened, that it's pure partisan spin).

The problem is that these are cast, again and again (as well as poster-child Benghazi) as scandals-to-end-an-administration by the Republicans. They don't seem to be--however much digging is done (we'll see if Clinton's emails change that). Demanding a smoking gun to tie IRS behavior directly to Obama was a tactical mistake--it diluted the discussion about whatever actually happened down to confusion levels for the general populace.

Benghazi may have gone the way of Vince Foster--just much, much, much more expensively. If Clinton-Mail is to have legs, it will probably have to be cast at stopping short of requiring emails of selfies showing Hillary with a sniper rifle shooting Vince Foster from atop the Benghazi Annex while a Mexican narco-terrorist waits below to catch it after she's done. 

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