I started the election cycle as an independent who normally votes for Democratic candidates for president. Like many of my stripe, I espoused the cause of Bernie Sanders, and week after week I responded to his call on the internet, “So,
Elias, I have to ask…” by sending him $27 which was what he asked for.
It was always clear that Sanders’ chances were slim, not because he wasn’t popular. First he had to contend with the super-delegates handpicked by the Democratic Party apparatus, who were almost unanimously for Clinton. The presence of the super-delegates was no indication of Clinton’s popularity, and yet their overwhelming numbers were trotted out at the conclusion of every primary. Each Sanders victory was carefully hedged by a recitation of the numbers of super-delegates, which of course remained overwhelming, followed by the comment, “Of course Sanders’ path to the nomination is so steep as to be virtually impossible”.
Nevertheless, actions on the part of the Clinton campaign began to betray a certain impatience that Sanders’ movement would not go away. The Clinton people made false allegations of violence by the Sanders delegates in Nevada, and the media picked them up and transmitted them uncritically. A video clip showing someone moving a chair turned into reports of widespread chair-throwing. The same kind of uncritical support for Clinton by the media began to be a pattern.
Then, the Associated Press called California for Clinton before the polls had even closed, with the obvious effect that people who hadn’t yet voted could be influenced by the premature announcement. Sanders was called on to concede, and it would be interesting to know if he considered any alternative to supporting Clinton. If he did, he did not act on it.
Instead, Sanders acceded to pressure from the party and from President Obama and urged his supporters to vote for Clinton because the most important thing, he said, was to defeat Donald Trump. That became the only real reason to vote for Hillary Clinton that was advanced by her campaign, and attacks on Trump’s character began to be a substitute for any arguments in Hillary’s favor. Even President Obama now says that Trump made a case that connected with American voters, while in contrast Clinton failed to do so. Obama also recalled that in 2008, he campaigned in every county in Iowa, drawing a contrast with the fact that Clinton did not go far out of her comfort zone or venture beyond her circle of donors and celebrities.
Then came a series of revelations. Wiki-leaks uncovered the cooperation between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to sideline Sanders. The Clintons’ response was not to deny charges but to assert that Russia was hacking the DNC to tip the election to Trump. The DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to step down, and after her resignation, the Clinton campaign picked up the bill to keep her on salary. The new chair Donna Brazile, who had a parallel position as an adviser to CNN, was discovered to have told the Clinton campaign a question the candidate could expect to be asked during one of the debates. Though she was supposed to be an exam monitor, Brazile in effect gave Hillary one of the test questions ahead of time, and Hillary accepted it. Was it any wonder that the polls began to show Clinton losing support?
Then came the last act, with the F.B.I. Director Comey in the center of the action. Hillary Clinton reportedly considers him to blame for her loss. Clinton is also reported to think that President Obama did not do enough for her, not that he did not campaign enough, but that he did not intervene enough, presumably to quash the F.B.I’s investigation. We may never know what was going on in James Comey’s mind, or in his interaction behind the scenes with the Obama Justice Department. But at the time of Comey’s seeming vacillation, an interesting question began to be asked—did some of Hillary’s big backers decide she was bringing too much baggage and put her off the train?
My opinion is that President Obama did far too much for Hillary Clinton. Harry Truman was the incumbent Democratic president when Adlai Stevenson ran against Eisenhower in the election of 1952. Still occupying the White House the way President Obama did during the election this year, Truman nevertheless remained above the fray and did not campaign for the democratic candidate. Stevenson, it should be said, was a far more reputable standard-bearer for the party than Clinton.
But not only did President Obama support his former secretary of state, he bent the truth for her when he felt it was necessary. Asked when he learned that Hillary Clinton had set up a private email server, the President replied, “ the same time as all of you” ie. the press. That was not true, as Wiki-leaks proved when they revealed that e-mail exchanges between the President and Mrs. Clinton took place on her private email server well before anyone knew there was such a server. What would lead a President with Obama’s reputation for rectitude do so much for such a soiled princess? Was he afraid there were more revelations to come if an investigation went further?
“I know her. I trust her,” Obama said about Clinton, and however protected the President may feel by the aura of nostalgia surrounding his departure from the Oval Office, I believe those words may return to haunt the record of his final year in office.
Yet the effect of untrue words can be corrected by good deeds. What one says, whether by design or by mistake, can be mitigated by considered action. President Obama claims he cannot pardon the whistleblower Edward Snowden unless Snowden goes before a court, but President Obama’s claim, I’m afraid, is also untrue. Marc Rich, fled the U.S. before a court could pass judgment on him for fraud and tax evasion; nevertheless Bill Clinton pardoned Rich on his last day in office. Richard Nixon had not gone before a court when President Ford pardoned him after Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal. President Obama could pardon Edward Snowden and establish himself as a liberal humanitarian and a partisan of democracy as easily as Bill Clinton pardoned a fugitive charged with fraud and tax-evasion, frustrating American justice in his farewell act.
Throughout this tempestuous and often sordid election campaign, the only real gains made by the American people have come as a result of actions taken by those who revealed what we otherwise would not have known. Whichever candidate one supported and whoever one wishes to exonerate now, no one can deny that the American people are better for what we have learned about the way our democratic can be used and misused. That gain in knowledge, which cannot be revoked or rescinded, we owe to the contributions made by Julian Assange through Wiki-leaks and by Edward Snowden before the campaign started. If President Obama pardoned one or both these men, any stain on his legacy, even from revelations that may be yet to come, would fade from public memory. The President could then also pardon Hillary Clinton if it was deemed necessary and politic to do so.