When I watched President Obama get his clock cleaned by Mitt Romney in the first 2012 presidential debate, one suspicion was foremost in my mind: this is a man who hasn't been seriously challenged in a long time.
I wonder if something similar has happened to Hillary Clinton since she left government in 2012. The 2016 campaign has barely started, and she's already been caught wrong-footed several times. Clinton is going to have to alter her tactics if she wants the upcoming election to be anything but an endless slog of attacks from the right-wing and mainstream press. One thing she could do is make her peace with the left.
I bring this up, of course, because of the story that currently has the Washington press in a frenzy: Hillary's use of private email during her time at the State Department. How big a deal this is remains a matter of debate, but at the very least it is clear that she does not appear eager to provide full transparency.
The virtue of transparency is a tad overblown, as Jeb Lund and Ezra Klein argue. Politicians need to communicate honestly with subordinates, and if disclosure of email is mandated, then they will likely turn to other forms of communication. Jeb Bush's "disclosure" of only a selection of his emails is not a model of transparency, but 100 percent cynicism.
On the other hand, it is important for the public to be able to understand how the government operates, as the recent Department of Justice report on the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, makes painfully clear.
At any rate, the big league media is not interested in that discussion. Rather, it is extremely thirsty for another Clinton scandal. Back in the late 1990s, the media was in the vanguard of the impeachment crusade. For basically prurient reasons, the nation's leading media outlets furiously despised Bill Clinton, and wanted him gone, reasonable justification be hanged. They have transferred most of that animus to Hillary — not least because she was a key part of his administration. As milquetoast a centrist as NBC's Chuck Todd straight-up admits that the Clintons "don't get the benefit of the doubt from reporters."
Understandably, then, the Clintons developed a closemouthed and paranoid personal style, the hallmarks of which are violent distrust of the media and prizing personal loyalty and secrecy. But however justifiable, this style has troubling side effects.
The first is some extremely bad choices in advisers. Rahm Emanuel, the foul-mouthed union-busting mayor of Chicago who just might lose a runoff despite outspending his opponent 12-1, got his start as a Clinton fundraiser. Lanny Davis, the utterly amoral PR mercenary, is another former Clinton aide. Mark Penn almost singlehandedly lost Hillary the nomination in 2008. Dick Morris was a Clinton aide for 20 years before he became the worst pundit in the nation. The manic fundraiser Terry McAuliffe, another Clinton associate, almost looks decent and upstanding by comparison.
What Hillary Clinton seems not to have grasped is that times have changed from the '90s and even from 2008. Most obviously, there is now a fairly strong left-leaning media counterweight. It has neither the lockstep message discipline nor the paint-blistering volume of the Fox-Drudge-Limbaugh axis, but it has far more clout than the handful of niche magazines and websites that existed in the late '90s. Relatedly, the mainstream press is far weaker than it was even in 2008.
So if Hillary can enlist the support of the actual liberal media, it could be a great help as she heads into 2016. The problem is she isn't doing enough to earn their support, particularly on the transparency front. As David Roberts puts it, liberals tend to value their "precious independence and moral superiority" more than winning brutal political propaganda wars. They won't rush to defend a walled-in candidate whose advisers get in email flame wars with Gawker staff.
If she wants anything besides grudging support, she ought to actually embrace some genuine transparency and just eat the potential scandals that could ensue. She has promised this will happen in a tweet, but as yet nothing is forthcoming. At this point, it can't be worse than what the conservative and centrist media will try to pin on her anyway.