Political theater: why Hillary’s emails are a non-issue

Over the past few months, the 2016 presidential race appears more akin to political theater then politics. We have Bernie Sanders, the underdog, taking on the Clinton political machine with his special brand of democratic socialism. On the other side, there’s firebrand Donald Trump, whose mix of nationalism and pure pompousness have propelled him to the front of the Republican pack. And of course, there’s Hillary, the frontrunner who has watched her lead crumble as former supporters #feelthebern and the legacy of Benghazi and personal emails degrade her credibility.

However, those last two issues have effectively been put to bed. After Secretary Clinton testified for 11 hours at the Select Committee on Benghazi last week, several members of the committee admitted that no new information had come to light. This failure on the committee’s part comes weeks after a gaffe by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said, “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.” In effect, the only thing that the Select Committee has uncovered is that Republicans are willing to waste $4.3 million of taxpayer dollars for political purposes. And Hillary has problems with credibility?

On the topic of her personal emails, Clinton has again fallen victim to partisan bias. Look no further than the recent CBS Poll, which found that less than 30 percent of Democrats think the email issue is an important one. Less than 50 percent of Independents and 75 percent of Republicans said the same. This sentiment punctuated the Democratic debate, when Bernie Sanders, of all people, said, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” Since the debate, Clinton’s national poll numbers have shot up between three and 12 percent across the board.

This leads me to the opinion piece by Ian Mansfield ’19, titled “Why Hillary’s Emails Matter,” which appeared in the Echo last week. Within his assessment, Mansfield focused his arguments on three key factors. First, that Hillary’s use of a private email for official business has broken tradition, and that it will inevitably lead to a blind spot on the historical record. Second, the use of a private email made those emails vulnerable to foreign cyber warfare, endangering U.S. national security. Finally, that Clinton’s use of a private email was an attempt to obscure her responsibility in other scandals plaguing the Clinton’s. Mansfield goes so far as to credit Clinton for selling a uranium enricher to Russia as “we are entering a Cold War 2.0 with Russia.”

Mansfield’s arguments are by and large needlessly alarmist and highly selective. Though he asserts that Clinton is the first Secretary of State to use personal email for official business, he is objectively wrong. Mansfield noted that Colin Powell “used a private email address for personal matters, but he also used a government email to fulfill his duties as Secretary of State.” However, in his memoir, Powell wrote that due to outdated State Department technology, he used a personal laptop in his office to “shoo[t] emails to my principal assistants, to individual ambassadors, and increasingly to my foreign-minister colleagues.” Personal matters, huh? Similarly, Powell did not keep a record of any of his personal emails, unlike Clinton. With this in mind, why is Mansfield so up in arms regarding the “gaping hole in the information surrounding Clinton’s tenure” when there is an even larger gap between 2001-2005? I cannot speculate, but I would suggest that he does a little more fact checking in the future.

However, I will concede that Mansfield is correct in his assessment that Clinton’s correspondence on a private server risked national security. In an era where cyber attacks and spying are being instigated by our enemies as well as our allies, it was surely a mistake on Clinton’s part to forego proper security.  She has said just as much. “That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that. I take responsibility,” Clinton said in an interview this past September.

While Clinton surely took a risk in using her personal email, her actions did not lead to a Snowden-like leak or a massive hack by China. President Obama noted on the eve of the debate that he doesn’t “think it posed a national security problem. It was a mistake that she has acknowledged.” While Senate investigators have learned that Clinton’s server was subjected to hacking attempts by China, South Korea, and Germany in 2013, the FBI has found no evidence that any information was stolen. While Clinton obviously made a mistake, Mansfield’s rhetoric regarding “far reaching consequences” lacks any substance.

Mansfield’s final argument revolves around speculating that Clinton’s use of a personal server was a conscious decision to obscure her involvement in nefarious dealings. He cites a the New York Times article from April 23, 2015, detailing how then Secretary Clinton had approved a deal selling a portion of U.S. uranium production capacity to a Russian company, Uranium One. The controversy stems from donations to the Clinton Foundation sent by the Chairman of Uranium One. Again, the assertion that Secretary Clinton took action based on the interests of donors is purely speculation on the part of Mansfield. Not a shred of evidence has been found to support this convoluted conspiracy theory.

Mansfield’s characterization of the cooling of the US-Russian relationship as a sign “we are entering Cold War 2.0” is politically naïve and needlessly inflammatory.  Moscow is not pointing nuclear weapons at Washington, or vice versa. We merely have different interests in Syria and Ukraine. Mansfield might believe that Clinton is to blame for this cooling, but that’s all it is: a belief.

We are at a crossroads in our history, as we face a wide range of challenges that threaten the interests of U.S. citizens. To name a few, we are subjected to regular mass shootings, incredible wealth inequality, ballooning student debt, continued racial discrimination and violence, nuclear non-proliferation, an unfair justice system, environmental devastation, and climate change. These are all issues that deserve attention, and that have been sequestered behind the orchestrated controversy regarding Hillary’s emails.

We all know why these are the issues that haunt Hillary: her opponents can’t find any others. When Republicans attack her, they attack her personality rather than her policies; they focus on her lack of trustworthiness or charisma. Her opponents do this because she is the most qualified candidate in the field. She’s been an accomplished first lady and Senator. When she ended her tenure as Secretary of State, she had a 69% approval rating. If you don’t like Hillary, be honest with your reasons why. Maybe you have a fundamentally different ideology or disagree with her policies, and that is respectable. But if you’re against Hillary because you don’t “trust” her, I hope that you will take some time to think long and hard about the issues that matter.

While the continued controversy surrounding Clinton’s emails might be great for America’s special brand of political pageantry, it is not beneficial to our political system. I urge Mr. Mansfield and all of those who continue propagating the supposed nefariousness of Clinton’s emails to evaluate their opinions, and hopefully, they will stop talking about her damn emails.