Hubert Humphrey, the Democrats’ 1968 presidential nominee, was called the “Happy Warrior.” A generation earlier, a young Franklin D. Roosevelt famously applied the same label to Al Smith, the party’s 1928 presidential nominee.
Hillary Clinton may or may never be the Democratic Party’s presidential standard-bearer. But this much is certain: No one will ever call her a happy warrior. Indeed, she often seems to be the unhappiest warrior I’ve ever seen campaigning for president.
You can judge for yourself. Here’s all you have to do: Turn on your TV, desktop, laptop or palmtop. Tune to any Hillary Clinton campaign event that involves interaction with the public, or a rare Q-and-A with the press. Then turn off the sound. You’ll see exactly what I mean.
Of course, you’ll see moments where Clinton seems to be speaking with strength and conviction, and maybe even a carefully conveyed expression of humor or warmth. But as someone asks a question, you’ll see all that vanish. You’ll see her lower her gaze, no longer making eye contact with anyone, looking from side to side and mostly looking down. She’ll be speaking more slowly and maybe hesitantly. She’ll look uncomfortable. She won’t resemble a frontrunner in her campaign comfort zone. She’ll clearly be in her discomfort zone.
You’ll get it. She will have just been asked about one of a growing number of topics she really doesn’t want to be questioned about. Especially not in this stage of her life, after all she’s accomplished. The question may be about her controversial decision to use a private email server, located in the Clintons’ New York home and securely designed for ex-President Bill Clinton, for all her government emails as secretary of state. Or it could be about a matter that is destined to become the next big Clinton controversy: a Wall Street Journal scoop about Hillary and Bill Clinton and UBS AG, a huge Swiss global financial services company.
(As secretary of state, she reportedly brokered a dispute-ending deal in which the U.S. Internal Revenue Service scaled back its demand for access to secret UBS bank accounts; and in acts that were never linked to that effort, UBS AG reportedly paid former President Bill Clinton$1.5 million for a series of speaking appearances and also reportedly increased its contributions to the Clinton Foundation from a total of $60,000 in 2008 to $600,000 through 2014.)
If you cannot find video of an event where she is interacting, you can always just check out Clinton’s March press conference at the United Nations. She’s standing in front of a blue backdrop lettered “Security Council” but she knows she’ll be asked questions about her emails that congressional probers were seeking. That’s what she’s asked about. Her eyes drop, her gaze moves from side to side. She looks hesitant and unhappy. She’s saying she’d handed over more than 50,000 official business emails but also wiped many others from the server, explaining that they were just personal matters. And so on.
Of course, anyone with a government security clearance who knows information security knows that other officials would certainly send her information that shouldn’t be on a private email server. Anyone who knows politics or crisis management knows Clinton made a series of wrongheaded decisions that would only allow this controversy to fester and intensify until it threatened to damage her public image irreparably.
On March 24, 1976, Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell wrote a memo to his presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter: “The single greatest danger in presidential politics is ‘hubris.’ The arrogance of early success can doom almost any campaign.”
Too bad Caddell didn’t send a copy of his prescient memo as a belated wedding gift to a couple of young newlyweds in Arkansas, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Now, as her own polls are looking shaky, the Democrats’ suddenly unsteady frontrunner needs to do what she should have done long ago — tell the whole truth about what she did and why.
She should begin by admitting that because Republicans had been targeting the Clintons seemingly forever, she hoped to control access to her emails so she could block any political vendetta efforts. Since her home already contained an email server that met an ex-president’s vigilant security standards, it seemed a safe way for her to keep control. But she needs to admit it was dumb. It was wrong — and could have been dangerous.
As secretary of state, Clinton warned her entire department not to use private servers. She should have heeded her own order and not succumbed to the arrogance of power. Lesson learned. Now she must trust that Americans will trust her — and let her move on.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected].