Hillary Clinton, meet Richard Nixon, and learn from him

Hillary-Wall-Street-02-aThe Town Hall meetings with the candidates in 2015-16 have been outstanding. They provide a real opportunity to hear from the candidates when they are far more relaxed than in the debates. With Democrats, we get the bonus of real discussion on important topics.

I was watching the CNN Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, February 24, from Columbia, SC. Up until that point, I had been leaning in favor of Bernie Sanders, and I probably still am. But Hillary Clinton really impressed me with her presentation, her demeanor, and the specialness of her comfort with the large number of African-Americans in the audience.

But when moderator Chris Cuomo asked her about the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms, she seemed to tense up. It was interesting, because in the conversation, the name of President Richard Nixon (“I’m not a crook.”) came up. It struck me that Clinton was giving non-answers to questions in a way that was similar to Nixon’s answers when he was under fire.

Cuomo referenced Clinton’s lack of disclosure about the transcripts as the “temptation of the unknown.” Forty-three years ago. American citizens were curious about what happened on the morning of June 17, 1972 in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. They were also interested in what went on in Richard Nixon’s White House in the days just before and after the break-in. This temptation, this curiosity, set off investigative reporting that perhaps has never been paralleled, as well as possibly the most riveting Congressional hearings ever.

With Clinton, the reporting has been aggressive, but to date no journalist has publicly revealed the contents of any of her remarks to the titans of Wall Street. So long as there is mystery, there will continue to be interest. To use another phrase from Cuomo, this means that the “drip, drip, drip” will continue.

In a prelude to a question to Clinton, Cuomo showed a clip from Hillary Clinton’s recent appearance on the Stephen Colbert Show. In it, Colbert ask Clinton if she has ever told a lie. Clinton said that as a public figure she has never lied to the people and she never will in the future. Colbert, and later Cuomo, were a little bit miffed that she didn’t “just say no,” as in she has never lied.

That strikes me as an unrealistic standard; we all tell lies when we find something else to be so compelling that it temporarily takes precedence over the truth.

Perhaps what we really seek is reasonableness. For Clinton, or anyone else, to say they never have lied is rather preposterous. Why not be straightforward and say: “Yes, I have lied and probably will again, but I hope that whenever I do it is because ‘the greater good’ requires me to do so.”

When answering questions about her speeches to Wall Street, why not simply say that because she was getting paid, she said things that probably made the audiences happ,y but which do not reflect her real views on the relationship between Wall Street and Washington. In other words, she was paid to lie.

While some would deplore that, most would understand how that could come to be. Most importantly, she would get out in front of the issue. No more “drip, drip, drip” on this one.

Richard Nixon committed impeachable offenses, and before he resigned, he was on his way to being impeached. In the Hillary Clinton cases that have been fully examined, such as Whitewater and the death of Vince Foster, she has come out squeaky clean. Releasing the Wall Street transcripts could cause immediate damage, but that could be somewhat offset if she said that she now understands why the American people want her to be independent of the Street, and that she will no longer accept their money, and even better, return the money from the speeches (which she could now afford).

With the exception of her “rope-a-dope” responses to legitimate questions about her relationship with Wall Street, Clinton left a very positive impression in that Town Hall meeting. She has some distinct advantages over Sanders. He will never rise to the level of knowledge and confidence that she has when speaking about foreign affairs. While he has a very positive record on civil rights, her life experiences on the vanguard of change seem a little stronger than his. And it is Sanders, not Clinton, who does “the dance” when it comes to gun control.

Whether this is politically correct or not to say, it strikes me that Hillary Clinton looks a hell of a lot younger than the six years that separate their ages. She also has a calmer temperament.

Maybe Clinton will never change on the disclosure issues. There are observers who say that many people like to live on the edge. Two people who readily come to mind are Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. If that is where Hillary Clinton wants to be, then she has to accept the skepticism that comes with it. But I think that what millions of Americans would like would be for Clinton to get more in touch with her walks in the danger zone, and for her to learn the easy path back to a more trustworthy road. It’s not too late.