We are now at the stage in US presidential politics where partisanship kicks into high gear. People choose sides and which candidate they want to win and work towards that end. That is fine. The only problem is that once that decision is made, many people start to defend acts by their own candidate that they would condemn if done by the opponent. At that point, principled politics goes out the window as people start to defend the indefensible simply because their own person does it.
On the progressive side, we have no trouble laughing at the contortions that Republicans are going through to justify all the weird things that their candidate Donald Trump is saying, trying to maintain that he is consistent in his views even as he keeps changing his rhetoric. But we are often blind to similar things done by Democrats. As an example, consider the situation with Hillary Clinton and the work of the Clinton Foundation. Reports have emerged of large donations to the foundation from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Brunei, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Lee Fang has a roundup of the problems with the Foundation’s activities and the defenses proffered.
Clinton defenders have said that there is no evidence that those donations resulted in any quid pro quo. But Glenn Greenwald says that that misses the point and is the opposite of what they said when the infamous Citizens United verdict was handed down by the US Supreme Court that opened the gates to the influx of money by the wealthy to the campaigns of politicians.
Some of Clinton’s defenders suggest that critics of the Clinton Foundation are anti-gay and anti-women bigots because of the charitable work done by it in those areas, a charge that Greenwald says is risible.
That the Clinton Foundation has done some good work is beyond dispute. But that fact has exactly nothing to do with the profound ethical problems and corruption threats raised by the way its funds have been raised.
Theoretically, one could say that these regimes — among the most repressive and regressive in the world — are donating because they deeply believe in the charitable work of the Clinton Foundation and want to help those in need. Is there a single person on the planet who actually believes this? Is Clinton loyalty really so strong that people are going to argue with a straight face that the reason the Saudi, Qatari, Kuwaiti and Emirates regimes donated large amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation is because those regimes simply want to help the foundation achieve its magnanimous goals?
He then gives example after example of the awful record of those countries when it comes to the rights of women and the LGBT community.
Which is actually more homophobic: questioning the Clinton Foundation’s lucrative relationship to those intensely anti-gay regimes, or cheering and defending that relationship?
It doesn’t exactly take a jaded disposition to doubt that these donations from some of the world’s most repressive regimes are motivated by a desire to aid the Clinton Foundation’s charitable work. To the contrary, it just requires basic rationality. That’s particularly true given that these regimes “have donated vastly more money to the Clinton Foundation than they have to most other large private charities involved in the kinds of global work championed by the Clinton family.” For some mystifying reason, they seem particularly motivated to transfer millions to the Clinton Foundation but not the other charities around the world doing similar work. Why might that be? What could ever explain it?
Some Clinton partisans, unwilling to claim that Gulf tyrants have charity in their hearts when they make these donations to the Clinton Foundation, have settled on a different tactic: grudgingly acknowledging that the motive of these donations is to obtain access and favors, but insisting that no quid pro quo can be proven. In other words, these regimes were tricked: They thought they would get all sorts of favors through these millions in donations, but Hillary Clinton was simply too honest and upstanding of a public servant to fulfill their expectations.
The reality is that there is ample evidence uncovered by journalists suggesting that regimes donating money to the Clinton Foundation received special access to and even highly favorable treatment from the Clinton State Department. But it’s also true that nobody can dispositively prove the quid pro quo. Put another way, one cannot prove what was going on inside Hillary Clinton’s head at the time that she gave access to or otherwise acted in the interests of these donor regimes: Was she doing it as a favor in return for those donations, or simply because she has a proven affinity for Gulf State and Arab dictators, or because she was merely continuing decades of U.S. policy of propping up pro-U.S. tyrants in the region?
The inability to prove that politicians acted as quid pro quo when taking actions that benefited donors has long been the primary weapon of those opposing campaign finance reform. It is now the primary argument of Democratic partisans to defend Hillary Clinton.
So if you want to defend the millions of dollars that went from tyrannical regimes to the Clinton Foundation as some sort of wily, pragmatic means of doing good work, go right ahead. But stop insulting everyone’s intelligence by pretending that these donations were motivated by noble ends. Beyond that, don’t dare exploit LGBT rights, AIDS, and other causes to smear those who question the propriety of receiving millions of dollars from the world’s most repressive, misogynistic, gay-hating regimes. Most important, accept that your argument in defense of all these tawdry relationships — that big-money donations do not necessarily corrupt the political process or the politicians who are their beneficiaries — has been and continues to be the primary argument used to sabotage campaign finance reform.
Given who their candidate is, Democrats really have no choice but to insist that these sorts of financial relationships are entirely proper (needless to say, Goldman Sachs has also donated millions to the Clinton Foundation, but Democrats proved long ago they don’t mind any of that when they even insisted that it was perfectly fine that Goldman Sachs enriched both Clintons personally with numerous huge speaking fees — though Democrats have no trouble understanding why Trump’s large debts to Chinese banks and Goldman Sachs pose obvious problems). But — just as is true of their resurrecting a Cold War template and its smear tactics against their critics — the benefits derived from this tactic should not obscure how toxic it is and how enduring its consequences will likely be.
Defenders of Clinton will say that providing cover for her during the election season is necessary in order to have her win and that we can criticize her afterwards. But in my experience, that later switch does not happen. I have written before about my frustration with liberal Democrats who, in their efforts to be loyal, have defended president Obama’s “excessive use of executive power and secrecy, such as the drone assassination program, the NSA’s violations of people’s privacy, the use of military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees and the refusal to neither bring some of them to trial nor release them, and the harsh prosecution of whistleblowers who release information for the benefit of the public while condoning leakers who did it out of self-interest”, even after he was safely elected for his second term.
These partisans will continue to defend the indefensible even if and when Clinton gets into office because blind partisanship is a habit that, once adopted even as a mere tactic, is hard to shake off.