Over the past week, WikiLeaks has been releasing fractions of the reportedly 50,000 emails the organization has hacked from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The Clinton campaign has postulated insidious motives behind this email release, accusing WikiLeaks of playing into the hands of the Russian government and trying to tamper with election results, but it has not denied the veracity of the leaked information. Of particular interest are email threads in which top campaign advisors flagged excerpts of Clinton speeches that are potentially damaging to her presidential run.
These excerpts have been taken from paid speeches Clinton gave at private Wall Street events, the transcripts of which she has repeatedly refused to release to the public. One of the topics in the email chain that has been receiving widespread attention was Clinton’s assertion that a politician needs both a public and a private position on policy issues. Her critics have seized this claim as proof of her deceitful nature.
Unsurprisingly, this issue came into play on Sunday’s debate. Clinton was asked, “Is it okay for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues?” Clinton could have tackled this question in a number of ways that would have dispelled the heat on her, such as pointing out that holding a nuanced private opinion isn’t necessarily unethical. For example, her running mate Sen. Tim Kaine is a Catholic who personally eschews abortion for religious reasons, but is pro-choice so as not to force his religious views on others.
However, a closer look at Clinton’s statement lends itself to a more disquieting revelation and explains why she used her opportunity at the debate to critique WikiLeaks instead of explaining herself. Clinton’s original remarks were about the necessity for closed-door political strategizing:
You just have to sort of figure out how to- getting back to that word, ‘balance’– how to balance the public and the private efforts that are necessary to be successful, politically…I mean, politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.
While we admittedly only have a brief passage isolated from an entire speech that perhaps lends greater clarity to her remarks, the excerpt still raises several questions. First, Clinton acknowledges the fact that public efforts aren’t sufficient to make a successful political career, and that behind-the-scenes action or “private efforts” are needed to gain any traction. Are these private efforts mere networking opportunities, a chance for politicians to schmooze potential donors? Or a more sinister phenomenon, in which politicians allow their public policy plans to be unduly influenced by private benefactors, in a trade of integrity for moral and financial support? What exactly do these “back room discussions and deals” consist of?
With the ambiguity of this excerpt, coupled with the already suspicious fact that Clinton refuses to release the full contents of these paid private speeches, it’s no wonder that people have been getting “a little nervous, to say the least.” To be fair, her remarks could simply be innocent passing observations about the larger, ongoing phenomenon that dictates that no matter how good your ideas are or how popular you are with the American public, you don’t stand a chance for the presidency unless you’re wealthy to begin with. And even then, you must appease industry insiders in order to have a shot at success. While Clinton certainly doesn’t stand alone in this regard, the WikiLeaks revelation definitely raises deeper concerns about what exactly she is doing behind the scenes, and merits further investigation.