Back in Precambrian times — that’s to say, in June 2016 — I noted that, while the primaries were over, there was nothing to suggest that the multifarious oddities of this exceedingly odd election season had run their course. On the contrary, there were plenty of reasons to believe that the oddities would continue. “There is a powerful tendency,” I noted in that column,
to believe that, whatever local disruptions we face in the course of life’s vicissitudes, “normality” will soon reassert itself and the status quo ante will reinstall itself in the driver’s seat … Whether you embrace or repudiate Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton doesn’t signify in the context of my contention: the oddity of this campaign season is not over. We are likely to see not just local disturbances like the sudden sacking of campaign managers, but spectacular changes, reversals, upsets, and dei ex machina.
I’d like to take a moment to thank FBI Director James Comey for illustrating my thesis.
This election has been hard on pundits espousing the conventional wisdom. They might turn out to be correct—anything not self-contradictory might turn out to be the case—but mere possibility is cheap.
What about the odds, the probabilities? To be frank, I suspect the polls are more aspirational than accurate. What does it mean that a “respected” poll by The Washington Post and ABC reported yesterday that Hillary Clinton’s supposed 12-point lead on Donald Trump had suddenly narrowed to 2 points? That poll, by the way, was conducted before the revelation that thousands of new State Department emails were discovered on a device used by Anthony Weiner when he wasn’t sexting 15-year-olds.
The Clinton campaign has been thrown into hysterical (by which I do not mean “funny”) disarray by the revelations, which undermine The Narrative in about 38 different ways. (Remember that Clinton’s chief aide, Huma Abedin, swore under oath that she had given up all devices containing State Department emails.)
In some quarters, there are vituperative cries against a “culture of corruption.” “Secretary Clinton’s note,” one such blast charged,
clearly shows that President Obama has not been telling the truth when he says he was out of the loop. . . . It demonstrates that President Obama knew and approved of Secretary Clinton’s treatment of the Benghazi crisis.
Actually, that transmission was garbled. It did not involve Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Benghazi crisis. It was Hillary Clinton in 1992 denouncing President George H.W. Bush after special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh issued an indictment the weekend before the election against former Defense secretary Caspar Weinberger in the Iran-Contra case.
As Paul Mirengoff notes at the Powerline blog, “The Clintons seized on the new indictment, howling about a ‘culture of corruption’ that supposedly pervaded the administration.” We all know what happened then: “Bush’s poll numbers declined and Bill Clinton won the election.” Mirengoff is right: we should “keep this history in mind during the coming days when you hear Democratic hacks talking about how awful it is for law enforcement officials and/or prosecutors to ‘interfere’ in the presidential election process.”
Back in August, I wrote a “New York Letter” for the Australian magazine Quadrant in which I imagined how the great director Akira Kurosawa might have retold the story of the 2016 presidential election according to the multiple-viewpoint technique he employed in his 1950 classic Rashomon. I proposed six different scenarios. At the moment, it looks as if something like scenario number 3 might win the day. “In this version of the tale,” I wrote,
Hillary rides high. The discipline. The zeitgeist. The cash. It all adds up to an astonishing surge in the polls.
Then this happened. FBI Director James Comey was eaten away by remorse over his subversion of the law when he declined to recommend prosecution for Hillary’s felonious breach of national security in Emailgate. He decided to make amends and take a serious look at the Clinton Foundation and its criminal pay-to-play schemes that traded millions of dollars in speaking fees for Bill and Hillary in exchange for various political favours regarding uranium rights and other desiderata.
The swamp of corruption in which the Clintons have marinated was long ago charted and described, most recently by Steve Bannon and Peter Schweitzer in the documentary Clinton Cash. But it took James Comey’s dogged pursuit of the truth to turn this sub rosa embarrassment into an actual indictment and a scandal from which the public and, reluctantly, even The New York Times recoiled in disgust.
All this came to a head in October, but in this version of the story the stench of corruption overwhelmed the Democratic brand. Joe Biden declined to run. Tim Kaine took the top spot, picked another non-entity as a running mate, and they lost catastrophically to Donald Trump.
We haven’t really gotten into the mephitic swamp that is the Clinton Foundation — that’s to say, the truth of the situation is out there for those who have eyes to see but neither the media nor the DOJ has shown much interest in it yet. Comey’s metanoia concerns the national security-perjury outrage that is Hillary’s email server, but it may well be enough to sink Hillary’s candidacy.
The Chicago Tribune is today demanding that Democrats ask Hillary to step aside. “If ruling Democrats hold themselves to the high moral standards they impose on the people they govern,” the Trib‘s John Kass writes, “they would follow a simple process”:
They would demand that Mrs. Clinton step down, immediately, and let her vice presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, stand in her place.
Democrats should say, honestly, that with a new criminal investigation going on into events around her home-brew email server from the time she was secretary of state, having Clinton anywhere near the White House is just not a good idea.
Of course, the chances of any of that happening are statistically insignificant. The Dems are not going to ask Hillary to step aside and she—we may count it as the one certainty in this very uncertain season—would never step aside.
But John Kass is correct: “FBI director James Comey’s announcement about the renewed Clinton email investigation is the bombshell in the presidential campaign. That he announced this so close to Election Day should tell every thinking person that what the FBI is looking at is extremely serious.” It’s not about Anthony Weiner and his interest in photography and underage fauna. It is about email exchanges between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin about matters of state.
For the last several years, Netflix has been running a show called House of Cards, based on a 1990 BBC show of the same title. In the American version, the starring couple are Frank and Claire Underwood, ostentatiously corrupt and self-serving politicians. So far, they have managed, just barely, to stay one step ahead of the law. Last season, they had to abet terrorists to distract attention from their trail of criminality. I wonder what will happen this season….