By now you have some vague notion that Hilary Clinton may have crossed a line because she used a personal email for all her government business. And, by now, you probably don’t even care anymore. It’s another story that got your attention for maybe a day and then you moved on. Our constant drip of mock outrage, half-truths, and overblown crises takes will make you jaded to even important things.
So bear with me, please. This one actually is important.
For those who need a quick refresher, the Clintons set up a (somewhat sophisticated) email server at their home in Chappaqua, New York. While she was Secretary of State, Clinton used that email for all her personal and professional correspondence. She didn’t even have a .gov email. It’s important to note, however, that she is not alone in this; other cabinet level secretaries under Obama and Bush have also forgone .gov email accounts. However, since 2009, the National Archives and Records Administration has required that “email sent on personal email accounts pertaining to agency business and meeting the definition of Federal records must be filed in an agency record keeping system.”
Clinton claims she fulfilled this obligation by turning over emails from her server. However, in 2014 – one year after leaving the Department – she turned over thousands of additional emails as part of a request from the Select Committee on Benghazi. Currently, she is refusing requests from the Committee to turn over her server so that they can look for evidence of other emails.
Whether or not Clinton’s actions were illegal aren’t what I want to focus on. For me, the verdict doesn’t matter, but the intent does. As the nation’s former top diplomat and the current front runner for the White House in 2016, it is disturbing that she would jump through such hoops to avoid transparency. It’s alarming that she would jump through even one hoop, no less several.
Even if she never intended to withhold any information, knowingly creating any hurdles to open information is inexcusable. In the wake of the NSA scandal, secret trade negotiations, and the general difficulty one encounters when trying to discern what the facts are, we should be striving for the fewest hurdles possible between the actions of America’s leaders and the ability to access an open account of those actions.
Without such information, it is impossible to discuss whether or not certain actions were correct or even to learn the lessons of past mistakes. It’s understandable that politicians don’t want to want to be put through the wringer if they make a mistake (or even appear to), but sadly it’s part of the job. Top level officials like Clinton help shape the direction of the country and understanding their motives – and having the ability to question them – is essential. Again, without access to all pieces of information, it’s impossible to get a clear perspective on our own country’s dealings. This is so vital to our democracy that accessing the information is almost more important than what we learn from it. The Benghazi Committee might be seen as GOP grandstanding, but in truth, the inability for them to see the complete picture is far more alarming than what they might do with that information.
Whatever her motives were, the fact remains that Clinton has clouded our hope that our government is open and transparent. For someone who seems to want to lead the country, the first step should be setting the best example. Having a private email for official correspondence is not setting a good example. Rather, it’s setting the tone that subversion and secrets are still acceptable in our modern democracy.
America’s citizens are already weary of their government given the almost countless examples of incompetence, negligent, and obvious lies coming from the top all the way down. But, it is important to remember that the system only stinks because we let it. If we want effective government that doesn’t attempt to subvert open information that is rightfully ours, than we owe it to ourselves to demand more from our politicians.
I’ll be starting with Hillary Clinton. Though I may agree with her on several issues, she has proven that she isn’t the sort of leader I’m looking for. Should she run, this recent debacle has cost her at least one vote, one that I hope can be used on someone more worthy of leading our country.