2016's lesson: We get the leaders we deserve

Now that we’ve skipped over much news coverage of the damage done to national security and our intelligence capabilities by Hillary Clinton and her secret e-mail system, as I noted earlier today, it’s time for political analysts to take stock. Michael Barone argues that James Comey’s indicting non-indictment may not have forced Hillary out of the presidential race, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t do serious damage to her hopes of winning it:

Then again, so might many passages in Comey’s statement [cost Hillary votes], if they are hammered home by Republicans. He showed how she lied again and again and again about her email system. He showed that she violated the letter of the law. Her fans are treating her non-indictment as a triumph. Another attempt by hateful Republicans to tarnish the wondrous Clintons has been foiled. Nothing to see here, time to move on.

Maybe not. Clinton’s dishonesty may already be priced in by the electorate, with 60 percent or more of voters considering her dishonest and untrustworthy. There are many voters who believe she’s better on the issues or that Donald Trump is dangerously unreliable, who are willing to overlook her dishonesty.

But it’s also possible that the minuet we’ve witnessed, from the tete-a-tete on the tarmac to the particulars of the Comey non-indictment, will sap the morale of many Democratically inclined voters.

John Hinderaker agrees, and thinks that having the FBI confirm that she lied and proved incompetent (if not criminal) will have an impact in November:

What will the political impact be? By rights, it should be devastating. If the Director of the FBI made similar findings about another candidate–Donald Trump, for example–it would be considered the end of that candidate’s career. The press would be full of demands that he withdraw and allow a more fit candidate to be nominated. We are not seeing that with Hillary, of course. For her, the bar is set extraordinarily low. Anything short of criminal charges is claimed by her as a victory, and the press largely goes along with those low expectations.

Still, it is not a great platform from which to seek the presidency: Vote for me, I’m not going to the federal penitentiary! Many observers think that voters already consider Hillary to be a liar and a crook, so this won’t damage her reputation. I think that, for once, this is too cynical a view of the electorate. I expect that as the FBI’s findings continue to reverberate, reinforced–one assumes–by competent Republican campaigning, they will be an albatross around Mrs. Clinton’s neck.

If Mrs. Clinton were a skillful politician, she might be able to throw off the albatross. But she isn’t skillful. She is like Richard Nixon, determined to make a career in a field for which she is not naturally suited. (Only Nixon had more ability.) As the campaign wears on, and as she grows ever more shrill and desperate, and her health increasingly becomes a question mark, I predict that Director Comey’s denunciation of Hillary’s conduct as Secretary of State will be seen as a turning point in an election that Hillary won’t win.

Both men are sharp thinkers, and John’s a good friend of mine. However, I think both are engaging in overly optimistic thinking, especially when it comes to “competent Republican campaigning.” As I conclude in my column for The Fiscal Times, this will have no impact at all on November — not so much because of media bias or Republican incompetence, but because our values have eroded so much that not enough voters will care about it to matter:

Short of an indictment, this statement will barely rattle the narratives of the campaign. Even the media outlets that rushed to produce damning fact-checks of Clinton’s statements didn’t bother to ask the deeper questions about what those lies, and the violations of laws and regulations by a Cabinet official said about her character or how she would approach the presidency if elected. It took almost no time for the media to contextualize this into the horse-race dynamic of the election alone – and for the same media to seize on a months-old Donald Trump trope about Saddam Hussein to balance the news cycle of the day.

By the next morning, the news that Republicans had called Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to the House Oversight Committee to answer questions about the probe allowed another horse-race shift in the media. Instead of Hillary Clinton’s corruption, the central question morphed into whether Republicans would “overreach.”

In the end, this corruption and contempt for the rule of law will matter little to voters, even if it should. The values that would have made this scandal disqualifying with or without an indictment have faded, replaced by cynical utilitarianism for one’s own hobbyhorses and an unrelenting obsession with the immediate over the timeless pillars of character and integrity. It’s easy to blame the candidates, or even the media, but all they do is reflect the electorate and the consumer market of both. We have gotten what we deserve.

In a complete coincidence, my friend Salena Zito reached the very same conclusion in her column at The Hill, although in a different context:

I often say we get the elections we deserve. I’m not sure what we’ve done to deserve this, except that perhaps we’ve spent too many years staying home and not voting, and this is the end result of that apathy.

The thing is, chronic voter apathy weakens our choices, inevitably leading to a populist explosion. One without ideals but a sheer purpose: to blow-up the kind of behavior we witnessed Tuesday.

Maybe. But if that was the case, then Hillary wouldn’t have won the Democratic nomination, and certainly wouldn’t be leading in almost every poll now. By the end of the conventions, any impact on voter support will have dissipated, and attempts to mention that Hillary’s attempts to bypass Congressional oversight may have costs lives and intelligence sources will be met with protestations of “old news” and “move on!”

I hope I’m wrong, but … there’s not much evidence that I am.

Note: The front-page image comes from Jeff Dobbs.