Entry from April 22, 2015

As a scandalologist of long standing, I am fascinated by the Clintons’ apparent invulnerability to the sorts of claims of wrong-doing that routinely cripple or disqualify other, lesser politicians, at least since Bill’s impeachment back in 1998. To some extent, of course, this is easily explained. For scandal to be wounding or fatal, it has to be relentlessly pursued by the media to precisely that end, and the media are in no mood to wound or kill the reputation either of Bill or of Hillary. In this month’s New Criterion I ventured to suggest that this was because the media felt guilty about their scandal-enthusiasm during Monicagate and that Ms Lewinsky and her blue dress had only been for Bill the non-fatal, homeopathic dose of scandal which gave him immunity to much more serious scandals down the road. Hillary, too, as an unwilling participant in that affair, somehow emerged from it with an immunity of her own.

When the news came out of large foreign donations to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation while Mrs C. was Secretary of State, I foolishly supposed for a moment that this would be an automatic disqualification for higher office and very possibly reason enough for her to be prosecuted for corruption. How was what she did any different from what Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia and his wife did, as a result of which both are now appealing their prison sentences? Mrs Clinton’s behavior is actually much worse, since she potentially jeopardized national security as the McDonnells never did. But they were prosecuted under the old standard for scandal, which involved merely the appearance of impropriety. There was no proof of any quid pro quo for the money they took — less than Hillary or Bill gets paid per speech — from Jonnie Williams.

Turns out their big mistake was that they failed to set up a non-profit foundation for Jonnie to give the money to — not a mistake of which the Clintons could be said to be guilty, obviously. But their long history of skirting scandal also means that the mere appearance of impropriety is nowhere near enough for them to be condemned by the compliant media, let alone prosecuted, let alone convicted. They’re old friends with the appearance of impropriety. Thus Paul Waldman of The Washington Post writes that

If you’re going to show that there’s something corrupt going on, you’ll need a lot more than the fact that a government gave a donation to the Clinton Foundation and later got something it wanted from the State Department. Rather, you have to show that there was a direct connection between the donation and the decision, and that in the absence of the donation the decision would have gone a different way.

And he even finds Megan McArdle, a "conservative writer" — though she’s actually a libertarian — to agree with him:

It’s not enough to show correlation; you also need to see a plausible mechanism (could the secretary of state plausibly have put her thumb on the scales here? Is there evidence that this happened?) and a pattern that differs substantially from her record on non-donor-related projects, as well as projects approved by predecessors and successors. That’s a pretty high bar of evidence to meet.

Indeed it is — though I think she must mean that the bar must be cleared rather than met. But why do you suppose the bar is so much higher for her than it was for the McDonnells? If Caesar’s wife had to be above suspicion, it seems that Bill’s wife is beneath it. People already assume she is on the fiddle, as they say in Britain, and so discount it, as her sycophantic spokesmen do, as "old news," no matter what it is. Or maybe corruption is like treason in the famous epigram of Sir John Harington:

Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?

Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

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