Op-ed: Hillary versus Donald, Bernie and Hillary

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, May 31, 2016 2:58pm
  • Opinion

Maybe Hillary Clinton’s supporters are correct that after she’s finally put Bernie Sanders away, she’ll stop slipping and once again widen her lead against the outlandish Donald Trump. But that presupposes that Bernie has any intention of being put away, even after he finally loses and Hillary officially claims the nomination. It’s entirely possible that the hard feelings will remain and the natural allies will continue to be separated by the false hopes and resentments generated by the Sanders campaign. His millions of followers might be so embittered that they’ll simply stay home on Election Day, spitefully handing the White House to Trump.

But maybe her backers are missing the point that it’s not The Bern or The Donald that is their worst enemy — perhaps it’s The Hill herself that she has to overcome. Setting aside Sanders for now, her attempts to counter Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” campaign with some version of a “Dangerous Donald” barrage has been feeble and has landed with a thud. Meanwhile, the Trumpster continues to fling his garbage at her and anyone else who gets in his way, without fear. And why not? While he shoots from the hip — or to quote him, from “wherever” — Hillary doesn’t shoot from anywhere until her army of consultants has debated her particular sound bite. Then her presentation comes across as contrived, and she delivers it weakly, because it is contrived.

He lies constantly and gets away with it. His support hardens with each fabrication, as his supporters turn on the fact-checkers and applaud him for “speaking his mind.” Never mind that his mind changes, sometimes in mid-sentence. He has a deceit conceit born out of absolute confidence that he won’t be held accountable.

But it’s Hillary Clinton, who so carefully parses her words, who has the reputation for being dishonest. Frankly, it’s her own fault. She is predisposed to exist behind a bunker, treating every question as something that must be handled as opposed to answered. So when her evasions inevitably catch up to her, she creates a bigger problem than the original allegation. Her insistence on what she has called her “zone of privacy” is ridiculously unrealistic for anyone seeking public office, certainly the most powerful public office. Notice that word “public.” Hillary has never embraced the concept.

Instead, she dissembles, just like her husband did during his presidency. They are both attorneys and bring a lawyer’s mindset to language that is supposed to be parsed in litigation, but not in policy debate.

The email scandal proves all of these points, and yes, “scandal” is the correct word because of how her side has so consistently badly mishandled it. Like the Whitewater mess when her husband was chief executive, the lack of candor raises suspicions.

Fifteen years later, Donald Trump is able to infuse all the old suspicions into his current message of hate and ignorance. His simple-minded, stream-of-consciousness approach has overwhelmed everyone who has tried to get in his way. So now we’re informed that the Clinton advisers are working on their plans to counter Trump’s outlandishness. Therein lies the problem. They don’t need scads of strategy meetings and conference calls. They simply need to aggressively and relentlessly attack Donald Trump. Period. His past personal and business conduct are certainly treasure-troves. So are his unreleased tax returns.

All those Republicans who have suddenly developed a bad case of ethical amnesia about Donald Trump will be rallying around him to mount the brutal attacks against Hillary Clinton. If her email controversy does not prove to be fatal, and that’s not at all certain, the GOP will try to make it seem like it’s a deal-breaker. Trump has demonstrated that there’s no shame in being shameless. If the Democrats and Hillary stand any chance of winning the battle, they and she need to emerge from hiding.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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