Hillary's Hidden Transcripts
My guest today is Seth Abramson, Assistant Professor of English at University of New Hampshire.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Seth. You and I did an interview not long ago entitled: Abramson Claims: "Sanders is Winning;" Could He Be Right? [3.27.16] with an interesting, new perspective on the Democratic primary race. Most recently, you wrote an article Release of Clinton's Wall Street Speeches Could End Her Candidacy for President which was headlined when it appeared this week on OpEdNews's front page. You're given to sweeping statements which draw the reader in to learn more. Are you serious or is this mostly wishful thinking?
Seth Abramson: Secretary Clinton's penchant for secrecy is not only very real but has been the subject of media scrutiny for years. As recently as two weeks ago, the largest paper in the State of Wisconsin attempted to sway the outcome of the Democratic primary there by publishing--in an essay undersigned by the entire Editorial Board--a lengthy retrospective on Mrs. Clinton's aversion to transparency in government. Arguably, the ongoing investigation into her private email server is a byproduct of her own discomfort with letting voters have access to the government records over which she holds sway; certainly, one of her own primary-campaign surrogates, former Senator Kerrey of Nebraska, has leveled this very accusation at her.
More broadly, I think we should keep in mind that both Democrats and Republicans are particularly wary of secrecy in federal government after one of the longest--and most unnecessary--wars in American history, a blunder many feel was the product of unaccountable backroom machinations. That Mrs. Clinton voted for this blunder further tarnishes, I feel, her reputation in all matters touching on accountability and transparency.
But as for the speech transcripts themselves, I think the only honest answer any of Secretary Clinton's critics can give to the question of how damaging their content may be is that we do not yet know--which is, of course, the point of our concern in the first instance. I take little comfort from the idea that Mrs. Clinton is willing to lose a large bloc of votes in order to preserve the secrecy of these transcripts; she is more than intelligent enough to realize that it only behooves her to do so if she would lose many more votes should the transcripts be revealed. A loss of support of that magnitude could only be justified by some seriously damaging--up to "scandalizing"--material.
Right now this is, according to RealClearPolitics, a 1.2% race--with Secretary Clinton ahead of Senator Sanders by just a hair--so it's by no means unreasonable, or the product of some paranoid mania, to think that whatever is hidden in those transcripts could shift the national polling to (at a minimum) a slight edge in Senator Sanders' favor. Likewise, many of the upcoming states will be decided by just a few percentage points; I think Mrs. Clinton believes that what's in those transcripts she's hiding so assiduously could lose her one or more of the upcoming primaries--simply as a matter of simple math. Given that I personally don't think Mrs. Clinton has much room for error in these final twenty primaries and caucuses, lest she appear to super-delegates to be so wounded a front-runner as to be non-viable, yes, I think the release of these transcripts could seriously endanger her campaign.
Again, I say so largely from reading the tea leaves Mrs. Clinton has herself strewn in our path. And I say so mindful of the fact that, no matter her pledged-delegate lead, her poor favorability ratings and even worse performance in polling against the remaining Republican candidates makes any additional damage to her reputation and electoral standing--as she would suffer, for instance, were she to permanently slip behind Senator Sanders in national polls--something the Secretary must do everything within her power to avoid.
JB: Regarding those mystery-shrouded Wall Street speeches, the Clinton campaign has put voters in the terrible bind of being asked to trust her while not providing them with any actual evidence to do so. I read numerous places that the condition for giving the speeches was that she would have sole ownership of any transcript. Is that commonly done? It sounds so paranoid.
SA: I think the arrangement she reached, with respect to ownership of the texts, is probably not such an unusual one for someone in her position, who might be expected to want to publish any prepared speeches at a later date, or excerpt them as part of a future book. I think public figures are often guarded about their intellectual property, as it does usually have some value on the open market.
All of which makes Mrs. Clinton's behavior in this instance so strange. She knew herself to be a public figure, indeed one of the most well-known people alive anywhere on Earth; moreover, she knew full well that she was likely to re-enter politics at some time in the near future; and yet, nevertheless, she gave speeches that clearly she believed at the time, and believes still, could not only significantly damage her political ambitions but also suggest that she exercises little care about speaking in a public manner in private spaces--that is, to be self-possessed enough not to speak off the cuff during speeches she clearly must have prepared extensively for.
All of this is why I must agree with Senator Sanders that in this instance, as in many others, her judgment should be called into question. At this point, the fault in her judgment is threefold: one, she should not have taken such a sum as she did from Goldman Sachs, particularly to speak to such a group at a time when she was aware that politics might again be in her future; second, having taken that sum to speak to that audience, she ought to have prepared a speech that could as easily have been delivered publicly as privately; third, having wrongly chosen to speak to that group for that sum at that time, and having wrongly chosen to speak in a manner that could publicly embarrass her later on, she then set about doing what she's still doing now: failing to provide American voters with an adequate explanation--or even a semblance that she cares to provide an adequate explanation--for being unwilling to release the transcripts. In short, she's bungled this entire affair so badly that it's reminiscent of...well, her conduct in numerous other instances.
And that's the thing, or rather the sort of thing, that I think so many of us are afraid to say: Mrs. Clinton, while as intelligent a person as any of us could ever hope to be, was not, in fact, a suitable candidate for the Senate when she ran in 2000. I say this mindful of the sort of qualifications that anyone without the surname Clinton would have needed to have to run for the post: for instance, time in the House, or at the highest levels of state government, or (at the outside) as the CEO or COO of a multinational corporation. She had none of those experiences under her belt in 2000.
While she performed admirably enough in the Senate during her very brief tenure there, I don't have any sense that she distinguished herself--merely that she was without question adequate to the task. Her appointment as Secretary of State came because she lost a presidential election, not because, in 2008, she had significantly more foreign policy experience than Senator Sanders, say, does now (travelling abroad as First Lady, and acting as an emissary, is simply not the same thing as working abroad in federal service as a functionary). Instead, she was given the position because President Obama needed to unify the Democratic Party and it was obvious that Mrs. Clinton wouldn't have accepted or been a good fit for the Vice Presidency. Her tenure as Secretary of State was above-average, as I understand it, but certainly not without blemish.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).