Bill Clinton

The Dog Days of Trustworthiness

Of all people, the Clintons know there are no mulligans in the game of politics. So why didn’t they act sooner to address what appears like conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation and their government roles and ambitions?

Of all people, the Clintons know there are no mulligans in the game of politics. So why didn’t they act sooner to address what appears like conflicts of interest involving the Clinton Foundation and their government roles and ambitions?

Questions of trustworthiness dog the Clintons, and they shouldn’t be surprised.

As the fall presidential election approaches with Hillary Clinton in the lead, the Clintons have begun to position themselves for returning to the White House. They have put someone in charge of the transition and begun to discuss separation from the Clinton Foundation.

The only problem is they are late to the party.

After questions arose about pay-for-play influence-peddling, the Clintons are talking about drastically shrinking the size of the Clinton Foundation if Clinton wins the election. Hillary, Bill and Chelsea would leave the foundation's board, and Bill Clinton says he will stop fundraising for the foundation.

Fine, but why didn’t these declarations come much earlier? Why didn’t they exist when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state? Instead, they came after big-headline stories about possible favors and special access for Clinton Foundation donors. There may very well be an explanation for the favors and access, but there is hardly an excuse for not anticipating this would be an issue in the 2016 presidential election. Worse, the allegations fit to a larger narrative of the Clintons as political insiders who play loose with the rules.

The Foundation flap overlaps Hillary’s Clinton's painfully chronic email fiasco. The latest twist involves former Secretary of State Colin Powell denying that he encouraged Clinton to use a private email server. He says he gave advice on managing private email after she already had set up hers. It’s not an indictment, just another off-center, not-quite-true explanation that inflames Hillary haters and creates a media feeding frenzy.

If Clinton was facing anyone but the unpredictable and inexplicable Donald Trump, she may find herself in a political free-fall. Trump has picked up the issue and could make it his comeback cause. Even if Clinton wins the presidency, these apparent ethical lapses and tone-deaf media responses could deny her a solid mandate and weaken her ability to govern.

James Carville, the hominy grits political guru who guided Bill Clinton, tried to explain the Clinton predicament in an interview on the Today show with little success. You have the feeling that in private, Carville scolded the Clintons for failing to vet their vulnerabilities a long time ago as opposed to allowing these stories to become the equivalent of slow-drip campaign chemotherapy.

The Clinton Foundation has indisputably done much good. As a former president, Bill Clinton has used his status and clout to good effect and worthy ends. Yet, Hillary Clinton’s ambition to become president, strongly supported by her husband and daughter, should have aroused the usually keen political instincts of this very political family. They should have looked forward to contemplate Hillary’s historical presidential quest and proactively recognized and removed obstacles and provided clear, accurate explanations for behavior that raises eyebrows, even among supporters.

Yes, right-wing critics have dished out disinformation – or at least information without any supporting data – about Hillary Clinton, most recently about her health. But all the more reason to have your guard up, not in hibernation. In the game of politics, the Clintons, of all people, know you can’t declare a mulligan.

Now Hillary Clinton is left with pulling a heavy ball and chain of suspicion through the final 75 days of what seems like an indeterminable presidential campaign. It didn’t have to be like this. And it would be a shame if the Clinton Foundation wound up paying the price.

The Longest Wait

Loretta Lynch will become the first African-American women to be the U.S. attorney general, but only after setting a contemporary record for her delayed confirmation, which has stalled because of politics. Photo by  United States Mission Geneva .

Loretta Lynch will become the first African-American women to be the U.S. attorney general, but only after setting a contemporary record for her delayed confirmation, which has stalled because of politics. Photo by United States Mission Geneva.

Much of what goes on in the Capitol is opaque to most Americans, including the lengthy delay in confirming a presidential cabinet nominee.

Loretta Lynch is close to becoming a record. President Obama's choice to become the next attorney general − and the first African American woman to hold the job is approaching the 147-day record of Togo West, a President Clinton appointee for Veterans Affairs. Republicans delayed West's confirmation because of concerns Clinton gave Arlington Cemetery plots to campaign donor, allegations that were later called unfounded.

John Bryson, Obama's nominee for Commerce secretary, stalled for 142 days. Republicans held up his conformation until free-trade deals were passed.

Lynch is in limbo because Republicans, who control the Senate, are using her confirmation as political leverage to pass an anti-abortion provision as part of a human trafficking bill that enjoys bipartisan support. Some Democrats have charged that Lynch, a Harvard law graduate with impeccable prosecutorial credentials, has been left waiting in the wings for 137 days so far because she is black. Some Republicans were enraged because she defended Obama's executive order on immigration.

The Washington Post assembled a chart showing the longest confirmation delays over the last three presidencies. It shows that the average confirmation time for Obama appointees is 56 days, compared to 44 days under President George W. Bush and Clinton.

Lynch is likely to be confirmed at some point. Her delayed approval is also likely to deepen partisan feelings that already run pretty deep. Her appointment and confirmation is a case study on how political parties wrestle for advantage, using whatever holds they can.

Related Link: Which Clinton, Bush or Obama Cabinet nominee waited longest to be confirmed? Soon it will be Loretta Lynch.

Lewinsky Scandal Tipped Presidential Approval Ratings

The spike in partisan presidential approval ratings can be traced to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

The spike in partisan presidential approval ratings can be traced to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

President Obama's approval ratings have continued to droop under the weight of criticism about his handling of the Ebola crisis as he has steadfastly refused, as critics have demanded, to close the U.S. border to anyone traveling from West Africa.

Curiously, Monica Lewinsky, now in her 40s, has resurfaced to talk about her love affair with President Bill Clinton. A Washington Post political blogger sees a connection.

Presidential approval ratings have taken on a partisan flavor, just as other aspects of political life. Gallup generated data showing the most polarized viewpoints of Presidents over the last 50 years have occurred since 2000 with the contested election of George W. Bush.

The gaps between Republicans and Democrats is astounding. Approval ratings for Obama in 2012-2013 and for Bush in 2004-2005 showed a 76 percentage point spread among partisans.

President Bill Clinton's approval rating in 1996-1997 was 85 percent by Democrats, but only 23 percent by Republicans — a 62 percentage-point spread.

President Ronald Reagan's approval rating in 1984-1985 was 89 percent by Republicans and 29 percent by Democrats — a 60 percentage-point spread.

Chris Cillizza, writing "The Fix" political blog in The Washington Post, says the Clinton scandal involving Monica Lewinsky was what cemented polarized perspectives on Presidents.

"Democrats came to view the whole Lewinsky saga as a personal foible that, while awful for the Clintons, meant nothing as to whether or not Bill Clinton was — or could be — and effective President," Cillizza wrote. "Republicans, on the other hand, viewed Clinton's initial lies about the relationship as fundamentally disqualifying."

"There's no question that the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal – and by that I mean the whole thing, including how the media covered it, how politicians reacted to it and how technology turned it into a worldwide sensation — was a pivot point in American politics, a time when things changed and haven't changed back."

DC Dithers as the World Swirls

Terrorists abduct schoolgirls in Nigeria. Tornados devastate the South. The housing market remains shaky. Climate change is blamed for rising number of deaths due to heat stroke.

Then Monica Lewinsky resurfaced in a tell-all essay and Republicans pencil in yet another congressional hearing on Benghazi. And politicians wonder why people regard Washington, DC as irrelevant.

After finally getting the green light from a proud, but internationally embarrassed Nigeria government, the United States is sending help to locate and rescue almost 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Some worry help may be coming too late, even as the terrorist group pulls off more daring abductions. Nobody knows where the schoolgirls are.

President Obama flew to Arkansas to commiserate with victims of the latest serious tornado that killed at least 15 people and left a wake of destruction in its 40-mile path. He reassured victims and local leaders the nation stands behind the survivors who face rebuilding their community for the second time in three years. While people expressed appreciation for Obama's visit, one woman who lost her son in the tornado said all the President really could do is "be here."

New Fed Chair Janice Yellen said the U.S. economy remains vulnerable after a cold winter and amid a sluggish housing market.

Scientists issued another grim warning about climate change, saying its effects are already being felt in harsher droughts, more torrential rainstorms and more severe wildfires. They said average temperatures on the planet could increase 10 degrees by the end of this century, as climate change effects accelerate.

The Politics and Facts of Obamacare

The bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, coupled with a tide of canceled health insurance policies, has put a dozen Democratic senators, including Oregon's Jeff Merkley, in a defensive position a year ahead of the 2014 election.

Merkley has joined other Senate Democrats in supporting legislation to allow people to retain their health insurance plans that have been canceled because they fail to meet the minimum requirements under the Affordable Care Act.

The balky federal Affordable Care Act website is blamed for embarrassingly sluggish sign-ups for health insurance coverage, which totaled only slightly more than 106,000 in October. However, the political panic button has been pushed because the existing health care plan cancellations undercut President Obama's oft-repeated promise than no one would be forced to give up their health plan. No less than former President Bill Clinton says action is needed to make the promise whole.

Republicans have dubbed 12 Democratic senators up for re-election in 2014 the Obamacare Dozen. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan is already the target of attack ads, which have eroded her poll numbers so she now finds herself in a dead heat with potential GOP challengers.

Several of the 12 Democrats, including senators who just months ago were viewed as invincible in 2014, are pivoting to separate themselves from Obamacare by supporting a fix to the canceled policy problem, advocating for a longer period to enroll in a new health plan or demanding an investigation on why the website rollout tanked.

For his part, Obama has tried to absorb some of the frustration by apologizing for the poor website rollout and admitting "we fumbled the rollout on this health care law," as he unveiled his own fix to allow people to retain current health care plans.

The Clinton Speech

Bill Clinton's speech to the Democratic National Convention cemented his reputation as a great speaker with impeccable technique and mastery of "arithmetic." Photo by Joeff.In an era when political speech is scripted in sound bites, Bill Clinton's point-by-point, almost wonkish defense of President Obama's first term stands in stark contrast.

Spanning nearly 50 minutes, Clinton mounted a fact-based refutation of Republican charges against Obama about the economy, Medicare and welfare-to-work, a program he initiated during his presidency. Employing masterful technique, simple language and colorful phrases ("double down on trickle down"), Clinton kept Democratic National Convention delegates glued to his every word.

The speech won wide praise and reinforces the point that political speech can and perhaps should be more than a string of platitudes, half-truths and evasions. Facts still matter. (FactCheck.org said, "With few exceptions, we found his stats checked out.) 

Speakers who respect their audiences enough to talk with them about serious issues, not just talk at them with bromides, are very much appreciated, even in this day of the short attention span and the need for TV networks to pause for station breaks.