Clinton and Trump: The Moral Universe of Liars

Published May 27, 2016

National Review Online

As someone who believes that excessive partisanship and Balkanization are poisoning our politics, I have tried to view Hillary Clinton as something other than the ghoul she is portrayed as in conservative circles. No accusation against her is considered too outlandish to gain assent in some precincts of the right: Vince Foster was murdered. Clinton covered up a cocaine-smuggling operation in Arkansas. She assassinated Kathleen Willey’s cat.

It seems a waste of effort to conjure lurid theories about Hillary Clinton when the truth is thoroughly, totally damning. Of course all politicians shade the truth to some degree and we’re not electing a pastor and all that — but as a voter, one likes to believe that candidates are at least operating broadly within the same moral universe as the rest of us. She isn’t — and neither is Donald Trump.

As the new report from the State Department’s Inspector General hammers home, Hillary Clinton endangered U.S. secrets and then repeatedly lied about it. “Everything I did was permitted,” she has claimed. Actually, while she was serving as secretary of state, the Department sent out an advisory over her signature to all State Department employees warning them against transacting public business on private e-mails. Not clear if the dateline of that cable was Chappaqua, N.Y. . . .

Clinton has maintained that classified material was never discussed on her bathroom server system. In March 2015, Clinton said, “I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail.” But the State Department itself has declined to release 22 Clinton e-mails because they were deemed secret. Having been trapped in a lie, Mrs. Clinton has attempted to cloud the issue by criticizing the over-classification that afflicts government departments. Maybe it does, but even matters that are not strictly top secret are sensitive when you are the secretary of state.

This is where we enter the different moral universe. Of the more than 300 million Americans, how many would be casual to the point of reckless about national-security information falling into the hands of our enemies?

I worked in the White House for Ronald Reagan and recall with special intensity the protocols that governed handling secret materials. This was before the e-mail age. Classified documents were paper. They were kept in a safe. They did not leave the grounds. You were careful to the point of reverence about classified materials. It was a high honor to be entrusted with them.

Hillary Clinton couldn’t be bothered to trouble herself about security. Why? Who knows? Perhaps she didn’t want Freedom of Information requests to reveal that she was selling valuable American policies in return for contributions to the Clinton Foundation, as alleged in Peter Schweizer’s new book Clinton Cash. Perhaps she feared that congressional investigators would comb through her records in search of damaging revelations that would harm her political chances (yes, the irony here is rich). Whatever the reason, she has demonstrated utter contempt for the American people by endangering national security. When caught, she stares straight into your face and lies. When old lies are exposed, she concocts new lies without shame.

Donald Trump has not yet had the opportunity to endanger American security. So far, he has merely been able to cause tremors of panic among American allies and among those Americans who blanch at the thought of such an unstable, emotionally stunted man with access to the nuclear codes. But he lies with as much as or greater fluency than she. Trump deceives not just about petty matters — his polling numbers, how many books he’s sold, whether his vodka or steak brand is still in business — but about serious matters as well. Thousands of American Muslims were not celebrating in the streets on 9/11. Ford did not cancel plans for a factory in Mexico in response to Trump criticism. Trump did not oppose the Iraq War pre-invasion. We are not “losing” $500 billion a year in trade with China. (Our trade deficit with China was $365 billion last year, and it’s not “losing” — we are buying products.) Wisconsin’s “real” unemployment rate is not anywhere close to 20 percent.

American primary voters have left us with this excruciating choice. Both candidates fail to clear even the lowest bar of basic political/personal decency, far less offering anything approaching responsible leadership.

With such a choice looming, and with six in ten voters expressing disgust with both candidates, an independent run by Mitt Romney would be a lifeline. One could praise Romney in many ways, but I give you the times: Romney is not a corrupt, despicable liar. If, in democracies, people get the government they deserve, at least let there be a fighting chance for integrity.

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Copyright © 2016

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