Bill Clinton’s drive for political self-preservation is legendary and, I think, one of the most damaging successful impulses in modern U.S. history.
If Bill Clinton possessed any sense of shame, he would have resigned from office in August 1998 when, after a half year of lies and denial, he finally admitted having an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky. If Clinton had slunk out of the White House, the 2000 presidential election likely would have been between a sitting President Al Gore and GOP contender George W. Bush.
Incumbency and the absence of Bill Clinton would have resulted in a Gore victory. No U.S. invasion of Iraq with all its disastrous consequences. No Chief Justice John Roberts. No Justice Samuel Alito.
And, by the way, no Butterfly Ballot in Palm Beach County.
It also is very likely there would be no Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy today. And, therefore, no need to speculate about whether Hillary Clinton’s drive for political self-preservation is as strong – and as potentially damaging – as her husband’s.
Perhaps Hillary’s email scandal should not be the big deal it has become. People who cheer on Donald Trump’s outrageous statements and actions pretend to be outraged at Hillary’s lack of judgment in maintaining a private email server during her U.S. secretary of state days.
Just as an aside, it also is hypocritical of people who defended Bill Clinton’s actions – he exploited a position of power to take advantage of a 22-year-old female intern – to profess outrage at Trump’s comments about women.
But put all that aside. In political “gotcha,” hypocrisy isn’t a very useful defense. And “fairness” doesn’t matter. Public reaction to the scandal is what matters. By that standard, Hillary is in trouble.
What should she do? If she is guilty of covering up her mishandling of emails that contain government secrets, then she should withdraw from the campaign immediately. The same is true if her only defense turns out to be based on flimsy legalese – it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is – that might prevent indictment and/or conviction but would only deepen public distaste for the Clintons.
The Democratic bench is so weak that Hillary stepping aside now might be the equivalent of ceding the 2016 election to the Republican nominee. But it also might be the last chance for Democrats to find a viable alternative to Hillary.
Perhaps with Hillary Clinton out of the way someone like former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb could break out. Or perhaps current second-in-the-polls Bernie Sanders could win election if Trump is the nominee or runs as a spoiler. Then there’s the chance Joe Biden could step in if Hillary clears the way.
The important thing is not for Hillary to win. The important thing is for a Democrat to win. That is the only way to prevent a decisive and decades-long conservative backlash on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hillary says the email scandal will pass. Remember that in February 1998 she said the Lewinsky allegation “will slowly dissipate over time under the weight of its own insubstantiality.”
How insubstantial are the allegations of email wrongdoing? How substantial is Hillary’s drive for political self-preservation? How much damage could it do? Those have become crucial questions in the 2016 presidential election.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.