(Disclaimer: I spent the first eight months of 2002 working in former President Clinton’s Harlem office. I had a handful of brief, superficial encounters with then Senator Clinton).
For the last six or eight presidential elections, the state of New York has largely been an afterthought during the primaries (to say nothing of the general). New York is firmly in the “blue column,” and nothing is going to change that for at the least the next few cycles. With that as background, we New Yorkers have an incredible opportunity to actually impact the outcome of the race this coming Tuesday, April 19th. While most polls have both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton safely winning their respective primaries, there is still the chance things could turn out differently (a la Michigan).
There are five people left in the presidential pool—anyone who thinks either Trump or Cruz isn’t coming out of Cleveland as the nominee should put the pipe down. Of those five, one is entirely unqualified to hold the office and has probably also disqualified himself as a member of the human race, if in alien skin tone and hair color alone. An additional two have held office but have demonstrated time and time again they do not have the wherewithal to occupy the most powerful office in the world. The final two remaining are Hillary Clinton and John Kasich—the latter of whom stands little to no chance of being the Republican nominee.
This leaves us with Hillary Clinton, a former first lady (actually the most active in history, next to Mrs. Wilson), former senator and former secretary of state. It is hard to suggest that from biography alone she is not qualified for the office—which means one needs to look at her policy position and personality as potential disqualifying factors.
It should be said that this is not what anyone would define as a “change” election, for one simple reason: no one party will control the legislature and executive. This means that compromise will be required for anyone to accomplish anything. And with a split government, domestic issues will likely take a back seat to international issues. This makes it vital to revisit Mrs. Clinton’s positions and how they may play out should she become president. Focus, for a moment, on one such key policy area in the international realm: Israel.
Clinton’s interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, her recent speech to AIPAC, her speech to the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution, her oped in the Forward, and a recent interview with The Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt all send a clear message – as does her statements in the debate last night. She speaks of Israel in a different way than President Obama has—one that is sure to make those who disdain the current president’s existence feel much better about the future of the unbreakable bond between Israel and America. Hillary is a hawk, there’s no other way to say it. Whereas the current administration seemingly has lacked the gumption to pursue an aggressive foreign policy, it was Mrs. Clinton who advocated an aggressive approach to Libya, arming a vetted faction in Syria and in general took a significantly more proactive stance than Obama’s “Don’t do stupid sh!t” approach.
No candidate (not even The Donald in his famed AIPAC speech) will go as far as many in the pro-Israel camp would like. Specifically, calling out the Palestinians for human rights violations, misallocation of funds, etc. Holding any candidate to an all or nothing status does no one (Israel included) any good.
An even more specific issue to consider is the Iran deal. While Mrs. Clinton was the one who pulled together the unprecedented sanctions regime that led to the deal, the abovementioned interviews make it clear that she is far more hawkish towards Iran than President Obama. Her position that there is no right to enrichment is a big deal. But it’s also important to remember that there are two essential things we know now that we didn’t eight months ago. First, our international partners had no interest in continuing the sanctions regime (read here, here, here and here also see the sheer number of deals being done between our European partners and Iran), and as we’ve seen since the deal was struck, American-solo sanctions do not pack much of a punch. Secondly, Iran’s compliance with the aspects of the deal getting to adoption day set it’s program back farther than any Israeli or American aerial attack would have.
Is it a good deal? Far from it. But as I’ve written before, it’s better than what the results of no deal would have been: war, or Iran rushing towards a bomb after the sanctions regime collapsed due to political infighting between the president and Congress. In any case, I have little doubt Clinton will meet any cheating by Iran substantially more harshly than the current administration has thus far demonstrated an appetite for. For more on her approach to the Iran Deal, I suggest a careful reading of Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with her (linked above) and reviewing her September speech at Brookings specifically on Iran. (also see pages, 18-20 and 33-37 of the previously mentioned Brookings speech)
If you’re still reading, let’s move on to the email issue—here, perhaps, is where personality comes into play. Was it a good idea to set up her own private server? Nope. Has her campaign handled the issue well? Nope. Has she answered questions about the issue to a satisfactory level? Nope. But was her appearance in front of the Benghazi Select Committee pretty demonstrative of how formidable she is? Absolutely yes—and to me, her standing alone against tides of attacks and inanity – over a 25+ year period – says more about her character than a stumbling campaign apparatus’ attempts to explain away behavior that really doesn’t matter in the end.
In the end, there are only two questions that really matter. The first is simple: did she break any laws? I’m no lawyer and far from an expert, but it doesn’t seem like an indictment—indicating illegal activity—is coming, no matter how much some rival politicians might want it. Two, did she put national security at risk by having her own server? This would only be the case if her server was hacked, but there is no evidence that a breach took place. The uncomfortable truths are that the State Department servers are no more secure than any other server, and that the U.S. government is far from immune to intrusion (just ask OPM).
With that out of the way, the question turns to the contents of her emails, and with the “one-issue” crowd, that means addressing Sydney Blumenthal. It’s worth going through these yourself at the State Department FOIA website. The real issue is Blumenthal’s forwarding to the then-secretary, articles written by his zealously anti-Israel, bigoted son: Max. There is no question his articles are disgusting. However, as someone who writes articles, this forwarding of the articles does not strike me in the same way it has Shmuley Boteach.
Why? For a simple reason: any parent takes some pride in their child’s work—even if they disagree with it (something my parents certainly do regarding some of the things I’ve written). If my father had an ongoing relationship with a former president and secretary of state, I’d expect him to forward my articles to them even if he disagreed with them, and I would expect his friend to respond in much the same way Hillary Clinton did: with an “atta boy” and no comment on the substance.
This is solely my opinion as to way this specific issue is not a reason for me not to support her candidacy, but it is worth saying nonetheless.
Based on what she has said publically – and is therefore accountable for – I think this theory is not entirely off base. Nothing she has said publically in any way shape or form is reflective of anything Blumenthal (Sydney or Max) recommended. At some point the idea of “private” email and public pronouncements must be recognized. In sum: emailing someone a bunch of stuff and having them say ‘thanks bud’ and patting you on the head does not equate with advising them and falls far from any level of sway them to do something you’re suggesting. High-ranking people get all kinds of stuff passed to them, and decorum/societal norms prevent them from flippantly saying “screw off” especially to someone you have had a 20+ year relationship with. Think of the amount of absolute trash you’re forwarded on a regular basis and how you respond.
Indeed, I have no doubt that there are countless emails Rabbi Boteach receives on a regular basis to which he responds politely…right before deleting.
At the end of the day, I guess that’s why I’m with her. Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate, hands down. She’s got the credibility and the experience on the issues that matter. And questions about her judgment and personality—raised endlessly by the media and a legion of antagonists over her decades in public service—seem moot when sensationalism is let go in favor of asking what really matters. Her opponents will always find something not good enough about her, but to me, she’s far and away the best qualified candidate—especially compared to the others. But, in the end you really have to weigh the options and none of the other candidates come close to her. Imagine January 20, 2017, which of the five people remaining in the presidential race would you rather have behind the Resolute Desk?
Oh, and if you’re still a Trump supporter reading my columns, I apologize for using so many multi-syllabic words.