It’s early days in Hillary Clinton’s quest for the presidency, but already it feels like old times. The scandals and the quasi-scandals and the faux scandals and the many people who feed them. We knew it was coming. But, really, who’d have thought Sid Blumenthal would be back so soon, or ever?
For those not keeping score at home, a short list: The foreign-government money donated to the Clinton Foundation. The big-money Clinton speeches sponsored by, uh, interested parties. The private email server and the missing emails. Blumenthal and Libya. Even the sleazy Clinton Cash book is not, according to The New York Times anyway, altogether sleazy (just mostly).
You’d think one or more of these stories – many of them coming from The Times — would have done significant damage to Clinton.
That’s what you’d think unless you’d been paying attention. Because somehow these stories — however they turn out — sound a lot like all the other Clinton stories over all the many years. And the hard-to-deny truth is how little the Clinton shocks have seemed to affect the race so far.
No serious Democratic rival has emerged, and none is expected. Clinton’s poll numbers against likely Republican contenders are stable and mostly positive. Liberals — who are often seen in deep Clinton eye-roll — are also seen biting their collective tongues, knowing that she is the inevitable Democratic candidate. (And there’s this: the polls show 95 percent of very liberal Democrats approve of Clinton. I know. It just is.)[pullquote]It’s never enough to accuse the Clintons of the unseemly; there has to be something that could result in jail time.[/pullquote]
And if right-wing websites are, predictably, going crazy, that, of course, is what they do, just as the left wing can’t seem to get enough of the GOP clown-car cliche, which I promise never to use again.
There are so many things at work here to explain this phenomenon — I mean if there’s anything we can say about Hillary Clinton, it’s that she’s not a Teflon candidate — but we’ll start with the money.
We’ll start with money because money is everything in politics these days. It used to be nearly everything, but that was in the pre-Citizens United days, which happily coincided with the time in which there was not a billionaire on every block, but only on those blocks with private jet pads nearby.
The Clinton money, which is everything liberals say they hate about campaigns, could be a problem in a Democratic primary, except that there is no primary to speak of. No big-name Democrat has come forward to run against her big money. Instead you’ve got Bernie Sanders, the liberal who calls himself a socialist, who hates big money, who rails against big money, but who is reluctant to say anything about Clinton’s money. And there you have it. If Clinton is a hypocrite on fundraising, so was Obama, and getting elected twice apparently foreclosed the hypocrisy argument for him.
And Republicans – what are they going to say exactly? That we should go to publicly financed campaigns? That we need to have full disclosure on all the dark money? That too much money is a corrupting influence? That they don’t want the Koch Brothers’ money? Money is speech, remember, and who’s against speech — well, besides those trying to limit those who can participate in the Republican debates?
This is how they do money in the GOP. The latest run of stories on the Republican field are all about the billionaires who could possibly keep the primary going until late in the spring by sponsoring their own candidates, providing for our entertainment an Obama-Clinton style slugfest except with maybe a half a dozen sluggers still in the game.
The only way for Republicans to effectively use big money against Clinton is to accuse her of corruption. But here’s the problem: It’s what the anti-Clinton people always do. You don’t have to believe in vast right-wing conspiracies, just in recent American history. They’ve been accusing one Clinton or the other of corruption or treason or something worse for as long as Clintons have been on the national stage. You can make this argument in one word: Benghazi. Or you can make it in two: Vince Foster. (If you’re not old enough to remember him, just do the Google. You won’t believe it.)
And so, at this point, you’re being asked to believe that Bill and Hillary had this scheme wherein Hillary sold her foreign policy portfolio to whichever bidder was willing to pay obscene amounts of money to hear Bill speak in order to launder money through the Clinton Foundation, which does all that good work only as a ruse. In other words, Hillary’s 3 a.m. phone call always came with someone asking for your MasterCard number.
I’d have thought it was just good old-fashioned greed or Bill Clinton’s need to stay in the spotlight or Hillary’s years-long-in-the-making presidential campaign at work, or maybe all three.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo calls it the “inevitable Vince Fosterization” of the campaign. It was inevitable and it arrived early. The symptoms are easy to spot — it’s never enough to accuse the Clintons of the unseemly; there has to be something that could result in jail time. Marshall goes on to say that of course the Clintons encourage these attacks by playing everything so needlessly close to the line, which is what drives everyone crazy. And Republicans, who can’t resist, inevitably overreach and soon someone is writing a sequel to the Starr Report. It’s the longest playing overheated drama of our time.
I have no idea how this version will end. After all, no one has any real idea who the Republican nominee will even be. But here’s an easy prediction: There will be more Clinton scandal, and, in the end, the scandals won’t matter — because most voters won’t be listening. Not if they’re sure they’ve heard it all before.
Photo credit: InSapphoWeTrust, Creative Commons, Flickr.