Hillary Clinton's ethics problems are worse than she understands

The purpose of the Clinton Foundation is to leverage Clinton fame into charitable donations. That purpose has important positive effects — shaking loose donations for AIDS prevention and training African farmers and other worthy causes. But it also has the unavoidable side effect of giving rich people a way to curry favor with a powerful elected official. The Clinton Foundation has announced that, should Hillary Clinton win, it will stop accepting donations from corporations or foreign entities, which mitigates the problem without dispelling it altogether. Wealthy individuals, or corporations passing their money through foundations, can still use Clinton Foundation grants as chits.

Ultimately, there is no way around this problem without closing down the Clinton Foundation altogether. Passing off management of the foundation to non-relatives or other third parties doesn’t do the trick, either. If the Clinton Foundation is not leveraging the Clinton name, it has no purpose.

The Clinton Foundation is a stand-in for the Clintons’ sloppy ethics in general. In the eyes of their enemies, the Clintons are criminals on a world-historic scale; in the eyes of their supporters, innocent victims of a massive smear campaign. The reality is that their venality is rather ordinary. There’s a reason the term politician is synonymous with lying, calculation, and ambition — these are common qualities for politicians. The Clintons are common politicians, motivated in general by a desire to implement policy changes they think will make the world a better place, but not immune to trimming and getting rich in the process. None of their behavior is disqualifying, given the number of elected officials, presidents included, who have done the same. Neither does it justify it.