My friend and mentor, Joe Crangle, taught me many things. Some were very specific to the campaign at hand, but other pieces of wisdom were basic life-guiding principles.
There was one lesson that I learned more than 40 years ago that has stayed with me all this time. It is very simple: “never write or say anything that you won’t mind seeing on the front page of tomorrow morning’s newspaper.”
Of course, at the time that lesson was offered there were no personal computers, no tablets, no iPhones. No internet. No 24-hour news stations. No blogs. No texts, tweets or emails. Ahh, progress!
Actually, like many things that are labeled as progress, all of those things should come with a warning, like the black box on a pack of cigarettes or the details attached in fine print to the medicines we take: WARNING. EXERCISE CAUTION IN USING. COULD BE DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HEALTH.
Yesterday brought the decision of the Director of the FBI, James Comey, that Hillary Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her use of email. The FBI found that Clinton’s email was transmitted and stored on her personal computer server and that she transmitted things that at least potentially posed problems for the government. She is only spared from her presidential campaign totally collapsing because the FBI sees no intent to send and save classified and top secret government information in an unlawful way. Saved by “no intent,” and the judgment of former Deputy Attorney General (in the George W. Bush Administration) Comey that no prosecutor would pursue the case for that reason. Undoubtedly there will be many Republican attorneys who would be willing to try the case.
Last week we saw locally how emails can bring someone down. Justice John Michalek pled guilty to bribery charges and political operative Steve Pigeon was accused of nine charges related to bribery, extortion and grand larceny. Those charges all stemmed from exchanges of emails. No wire taps, no one carrying a wire – just emails.
The bottom lines of these two political episodes are considerably different:
- In Clinton’s case, she has the sword of Damocles removed from above her head. That instrument has now been replaced by a hundred daggers pointed in her direction.
- In Justice Michalek’s case, his career is in ruins. I have heard from many people who find the whole thing difficult to understand, given the John Michalek that they know. I accept all of their judgments as sincere, but a judge doesn’t usually voluntarily end his career by pleading guilty to bribery.
- In Pigeon’s case, he is at a minimum totally toxic politically, which for someone whose whole life revolves around politics is about as bad as it can get. Except that in Steve’s case, it is possible that it will get much worse, and that he may wind up in prison.
If Hillary Clinton were running for president this year against Jeb Bush, or John Kasich, or Mitt Romney, the pundits today might be declaring the election over. But she is running against Donald Trump – I know that because I just received a robocall from her telling me so. The bottom line of the election for president in 2016 is that Hillary Clinton – cautious, calculating, reasoning, consulting, thinking Hillary Clinton – is still eminently more qualified for the office than a racist, ego-driven rich guy who might have one hand on his Twitter feed and the other on the codes for the nuclear football.
Clinton, Pigeon and Michalek have all demonstrated incredibly bad judgment in these matters. Might as well throw in Bill Clinton for that stupid meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Whatever possessed Hillary Clinton to use a personal server? What in the world were Pigeon and Michalek thinking as they schemed through emails?
The Clintons seem to voluntarily fall into these messes fairly often, but they always seem to find a way out of them. Their political lives are like a political version of the Indiana Jones movie series.
In Pigeon’s case, he became comfortable with the realization that people in high places had his back, and that he could proceed with impunity in his election activities – until Eric Schneiderman came along.
By coincidence yesterday, my car’s music system played, “Don’t Stop,” the unofficial theme song of the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign. “Yesterday’s gone. Don’t you look back.” That’s how Hillary will proceed.
I don’t think Steve Pigeon has had a theme song, although one from Evita might work, “And the Money Kept Rolling In.” Here’s couple lines: “When the money keeps rolling out you don’t keep books … Accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way…”
Joe Crangle is acquainted with both Hillary Clinton and Steve Pigeon, but Joe obviously never had the opportunity when it would have done some good to impart his wisdom about exercising care when writing and speaking. Just another “what if” in the collection of political histories.