Why are the Clintons such scandal magnets?

Scandal has dogged the Clintons since Bill first took the Oval Office in 1993. Now that they’re firmly back in the limelight with Hillary as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, the allegations are intensifying again. Hillary has already been called on to answer for her use of a private e-mail during her tenure at the State Department, for her exorbitant speaking fees and for suspect, irregularly-disclosed donations to the Clinton Foundation. More allegations are almost certainly coming down the pipeline. Right now, GOP operatives are hard at work, burrowing deeper into her history to dig up more dirt in time for the general election.

Of course, the same journalists that salivate over these Clinton allegations are less-enthusiastic about Jeb Bush’s use of private email while in office, his brother’s exorbitant speaking fees and a developing campaign that could raise more dark money through his super PAC than through his official committee.

Nonetheless, Frank Bruni of The New York Times seems to think that the Clintons invite their outsized scrutiny. In an opinion piece published this past Saturday, he had this to say:

It’s never as simple and humdrum as being for or against the Clintons. And while countless other politicians force supporters to make special allowances, stomach imperfections and come to terms with a tangle of good and bad, few do so on the Clintons’ operatic scale.

And later:

But the Clintons facilitate a thrilling scenario only to pollute it. They come wrapped in shiny folds of promise and good intentions, then the packaging comes off, and what lies beneath are emails from Sidney Blumenthal, shakedowns of Petra Nemcova.

There’s no denying that even the staunchest defenders of the Clintons have had their patience tested by the endless barrage of so-called scandals, and by the missteps that have armed their opponents with fresh ammunition. Think back to the line from Hillary’s Hard Choices about the Clinton family being broke when they left the White House, a claim that didn’t square with their now-lavish lifestyle. Whether it was true or not, it was tone-deaf, and it allowed antagonists to cast her as out of touch.
Still, Bruni’s fingering the wrong culprit here. In his view, the Clintons are to blame for all the negative attention they attract. If they were a little more circumspect, a little more sensitive to optics, then we wouldn’t find ourselves constantly scrambling to their defense, trying to minimize the damage. It’s a variant of victim-blaming. And as with all victim-blaming, it’s not only wrong, it’s harmful.

If you want to paint a comprehensive picture of the Clinton saga, with all its stomach-wrenching twists and turns, all its euphoric highs and maddening lows, then it’s not enough to look at the questionable transgressions of its subjects (and it’s worth noting that, despite all of the charges that have been levied against Hillary, not one of them have stuck thus far).

The Clintons, via stocklight / Shutterstock

The Clintons, via stocklight / Shutterstock

You’d have to take into account a bloodthirsty press, who for some time now has been bent on unearthing some damning secret about them, no matter how trivial. Bruni himself cites a startling quote from POLITICO: “While glory awaits the journalist who buries Hillary Clinton, carves her tombstone and tidies her grave, the makings of her demise cannot be read in these poll results.” It’s almost as though journalists regard Clinton secret-hunting as a sport. From Monica Lewinsky to Benghazi, the press has long sought to take the Clintons down, by any means necessary. And in the absence of a real scandal, they’ll just invent one by blowing a minor blunder out of proportion. All it takes is attaching a “-gate” suffix.

You’d also have to look at the American public’s expanding appetite for scandal and its diminishing appetite for substantive political discourse, and the way in which the press feeds this pernicious trend instead of counteracting it.

And finally, last but certainly not least, you’d have to examine the role of a rabid right wing, unwilling and unable to engage with the Clintons on matters of policy and so reduced to taking potshots at them. I have yet to hear one Republican presidential candidate go after Hillary on the basis of her ideas, instead opting to attack her persona. There’s no reason to believe that will change come the general election.

Whether he meant to or not, Frank Bruni has articulated a larger problem among liberals: we’re too content to sit back and let everyone else shape the narrative. We saw it during the most recent midterm elections: Instead of going after Republicans for their egregious dereliction of governing duties, Democratic candidates across the country tried to distance themselves from Obama and his agenda, leaving themselves vulnerable to attacks from their opponents. Needless to say, that didn’t work out too well.

Fortunately, Hillary isn’t going to take those shots lying down. Last week, she outlined a bold voting rights platform, and took her Republican opponents to task for making it more difficult to cast a ballot. Rather than simply playing defense for fear of being called a radical, she counterattacked and posed an unarguably better alternative than the GOP is offering on one of the defining issues of the Obama era. That’s the kind of aggression we need in a candidate, and as a party. It sends a clear, resounding message to all her skeptics: Keep about decades-old non-scandals if you want, but I’ve got a campaign to run.

Jonah Allon is a senior at Tufts University from New York City. He has worked for the New York League of Conservation Voters and was a volunteer on President Obama's 2012 campaign. He primarily writes on the environment, reproductive rights and public policy.

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59 Responses to “Why are the Clintons such scandal magnets?”

  1. Sat Gold says:

    I always wondered what it would have been like to totally miss the last
    century with the victories of the Bolsheviks and the Fidelistas. cccam server

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  3. Houndentenor says:

    I fully agree about the Right. I remember as a kid Susan McDougal on tv all the time trying to sell those properties on the White River. It’s beautiful up there but the oil/gas boom crashed about that time and they couldn’t give those properties away. It was a poorly timed (no one’s fault) business venture. There was never any scandal to be had there. And then there was Ken Starr. I personally know people that he threatened to take away their adopted children if they didn’t lie and say what he wanted them to say about the McDougals and the Clintons. Oh yeah. No, it was bad. And the lies and the gossip and the rumors.

    But something you said really bothers me. We could investigate any politician and find 10 things to indict them on? if that’s true, shame on us all for elected crooks. Both parties need to clean house. No, they don’t all do illegal things. A lot do. Plenty of people on the Hill knew all about Hastert. Or knew enough. I heard rumors back then and you probably did too and I’m nobody from nowhere. People on the Hill didn’t hear about it? Please. We need to stop making excuses for corrupt politicians and demand better. As it is they are far more afraid of donors dumping them than they are of the voters kicking them out. That’s wrong. I’m really sick of excuses and just because I’m a liberal doesn’t mean I am going to make excuses for crooked Democrats.

  4. marknc says:

    Not saying the Clintons are saints. Never have, never will. But starting with Whitewater – they spent $60M or more turning over every rock to try and find an excuse to get Bill and came up with a blowjob. In my world, if they spent that much money investigating almost any politician they could fry him on 10 things. Benghazi is an endless witch hunt looking for an excuse to have a problem. Damn shame they didn’t spend 10% of that energy on how 911 happened while the Bush team slept through their first 9 months.

    But lets compare with a couple of other things that barely get discussed. Like GW Bush deserted his military post and nobody cared. Or Newt Gingrich cheated on his first wife and dumped her, cheated on his second wife a dumped her – then ran for President as a family values guy. Sarah Palin was billed as a model soccer mom with a son who was an addict and a 17yo daughter who was pregnant and unmarried.

    The crap on the “Right?” have always played this rotten game and always will. Why not – it works and they have no morals.

  5. Indigo says:

    Better a real zombie than the Wall Street one we’ve got now.

  6. Bill_Perdue says:

    I always wondered what it would have been like to totally miss the last century with the victories of the Bolsheviks and the Fidelistas.

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    Because he’s dead?

    And because he had a limited view of the dynamics of what’s really going on – the death agony of capitalism and fight between the rich and workers.

    He’s my favorite author with a wonderful ability to shine a light on historical periods but his political views never got beyond acceptance of the rule of the rich – he just wanted the rich to behave better. They never have and never will.

  8. Indigo says:

    Ultimate Revenge. I love the sound of that, it’s like Heavenly Bliss, only secular instead of spiritual. And just as I suspect those who speak of Heavenly Bliss of mythologizing, I suspect you’ve also turned into that same rhetorical cul-de-sac. The Workers’ State is every bit as much a myth as the Resurrection.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    Peddling lies that killed over a million people, half of them murdered by Bill Clinton. That’s not just a scandal, it’s a crime against humanity.



  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    We’ll get there. Out ultimate revenge will be the creation of a workers state and it’s defense because the rich will not react kindly to when the money they stole from workers as wages and interest is returned to it’s lawful owners.

  11. Houndentenor says:

    Can you not for a second consider the idea that some tiny part of this might be the Clintons’ fault? Yes, they were looking for crap to get him with but they didn’t exactly force him to play hide the cigar with an intern and then lie about it under oath. The thing that frustrates me so about the Clinton apologists is their blinders when it comes to ethical lapses on the part of both of them. I’m not saying it’s all their fault. Not even mostly. But a good portion of it is crap they could have handled better or just not done at all. And all this enabling way too many liberals do for them has just made that worse.

  12. Indigo says:

    Good old Gore Vida who wouldn’t go into politics because of “the gay thing.” I wish he’d step up right now and be the grand old man who understands what’s going on.

  13. marknc says:

    Bullshit. Doesn’t matter what they do the shit peddlers will keep peddling shit.

    Republicans know and live by one simply rule: Pick a big lie, stick with it, say it a million times, and even reasonable people will begin to believe it.

    Look in the mirror – it’s YOU!

  14. Indigo says:

    Not as mean as we should be.

  15. hidflect says:

    Hillary’s fantasy recount of dodging sniper bullets on the tarmac in Bosnia springs to mind. A self-aggrandizing delusionist.

  16. Bill_Perdue says:

    Real issues bore some people. They don’t want to talk about the real issues such as why Democrat Bill Clinton gave us Republican inspired bills like DOMA, NAFTA and the Clinton deregulation bills of 1999 and 2000 that directly caused the depression that began with the crash of 2007-08.

    They don’t want to talk about which party does the most union busting.

    They don’t want to talk about which party did the most damage to the fight for marriage equality.

    They don’t want to talk about which party is killing more people with fracking and other attacks on the environment.

    The Clintons are scandal magnets because their anti-gay, anti-labor and pro-war behaviors are scandalous.

  17. timncguy says:

    I doubt that she ever thought it would cause a problem. It was standard procedure for previous holders of the office to use a personal account. There was no rule against it. The only “new” part of this was for her to use her own server. And, even that didn’t go against any rules or regs. But, previous Secretaries of State had used personal email accounts without people going bat-shit crazy over it. Colin Powell used a personal account and got the same request to turn his emails over to the government that Hillary got about hers. Where is all the outrage about Colin Powell?

  18. Houndentenor says:

    Yes, but she’d be in a far better position. The way she did it was stupid and she’s NOT stupid, so explain that to me.

  19. Houndentenor says:

    So why hand them the bat to beat you with? That’s what I don’t get. If you know they’re looking for anything to hang you with, why do something so stupid. This isn’t the first time this has happened with the Clintons. Billing records and other nonsense. There was nothing to charge her with so why all the stonewalling? I just don’t get it.

    She’s probably going to get the nomination. I may even vote for her in the primaries. (I’ll decide when I know who’s on the ballot by the time the primaries get to wherever I’m living then). I’m certainly not voting for any of the ass-clowns running for the Republican nomination. But I really don’t know if I can take another 4 or 8 years of Clinton drama. Some of it is bullshit drummed up but the right, but way too much of it was self-inflicted.

  20. 2patricius2 says:


  21. timncguy says:

    even if she had a separate personal account and it had been on gmail instead of her own server, her opponents would still be demanding that gmail hand over her mail.

  22. timncguy says:

    you know that even if she had two email accounts the conspiracy theorists would still be demanding to see her personal account anyway. NOTHING ever satisfies the conspiracy theorists.

  23. Houndentenor says:

    No matter what, it was stupid. She’s not stupid so why did she do it that way?

  24. Houndentenor says:

    So why did she handle the email scandal so badly? She didn’t want to carry two blackberries? Like she carried them around in her pockets instead of having an assistant do that? Are you fucking kidding me? It’s the lame excuses that are so infuriating. It’s exhausting defending them and I’m pretty much done. They used up what patience I had for that in the 80s and 90s. (He was my governor before he became president.) Both of them would rather have a fight than just deal with a situation up front and be done with it. It’s not that I’m blaming them for all the drama, but they do seem to enjoy prolonging it.

  25. Houndentenor says:

    How are the Clintons not part of the corporatocracy? Hillary had already served on the WalMart and other boards before becoming first lady.

  26. Houndentenor says:

    He’s another one. He should have gotten out in front of that story. WTF? The best way to deal with these stories is to address them quickly, honestly and move on, even if that means admitting that you played hide the cigar with an intern in the oval office rather than lying under oath and putting America through all that drama. (Yes, it was ridiculous but he knew better than to lie under oath so I’m aggravating at all of them.)

  27. Houndentenor says:

    Most of their “scandals” could have been over quickly if they’d just have addressed them quickly rather than dragging them out and fighting every step of the way. There are several cases where they fought and fought over disclosing document when as it turned out there wasn’t anything incriminating in the documents anyway. They are scandal magnets because they are drama queens. Both of them. They love it. Yes, there was a whole machine that dug through their trash and even made up shit about them. But they also mishandled so many of those situations that I’m sticking by my assessment.

  28. Bill_Perdue says:

    Hillary Clinton is guilty of the crimes of warmongering, imperialism, the mass murder of civilians and oil piracy in Libya and Iraq and so is Obama, the Bushes and Bill Clinton.

    That is the sole relevant topic in any discussion of the events at Benghazi.

  29. timncguy says:

    They are not among the scandals being discussed by the author of this posting. Teapot Dome is a scandal too. So is Watergate. But, they’re not relevant to this discussion either.

  30. Bill_Perdue says:

    Democrats are mean to Republicans and vice versa in election cycles. They lie about themselves and they lie about each other. Yawn.

  31. Bill_Perdue says:

    Warmongering, imperialism and oil piracy are scandals.

  32. emjayay says:

    You forgot the swiftboatload full of lies aimed at Kerry.

  33. timncguy says:

    it’s not a straw man. And, if it is. you are the one who started it by bringing an issue into the conversation that wasn’t part of the conversation. This post is about scandals being pushed by the media and the Clinton’s opponents. What you want to talk about has nothing to do with that. You need to stay on topic.

  34. nicho says:

    I see what you did there.

  35. nicho says:

    Hell, we should start up an investigation about what Obama and Hillary and the CIA were doing in Libya. That, actually, is a story that needs to be told. I will send back by return mail your straw man about Hillary not running the CIA. He failed in his mission. No one said she was.

  36. 2karmanot says:

    And the Teflon Clinton’s will turn golden showers into bit coins.

  37. 2karmanot says:

    But Googleghazi is so Now!

  38. timncguy says:

    But, that’s not the scandal that the republicans and the media are pushing, right? So, let’s stop pushing what they are pushing and move on. If they want to start up an investigation about what you are talking about, then go right ahead. But, it’s a different issue. And, if it was a CIA operation, what does that have to do with Hillary? She wasn’t running the CIA, right?

  39. nicho says:

    Some people obviously knew — especially those who received and sent emails to Hill&Bill.com — or whatever she was using. But most people probably didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t think about it, but had I thought, I would have assumed she was using government servers for official email.

    But all of your protestations will be academic if someone decides to do a major email dump — a la Wikileaks (who actually could have some of them).

  40. nicho says:

    The overarching question is what was going on in Benghazi. It wasn’t a “consulate.” It was a CIA operation that the administration knew about. It was being used as a prison (and maybe torture facility). There are a lot of unanswered questions about our effort to destabilize a relatively stable government in Libya (as we have in so many other places) and turn it into the snakepit it is today. That is the bigger scandal. This wasn’t some spontaneous popular uprising. This was a US plot.

  41. timncguy says:

    and yet, everyone was shocked and surprised to find out she was using only one account and on a personal server. amazing, huh???

  42. timncguy says:

    what real, bigger scandal? And, the point is to address the scandals that have been presented by her opponents and the media. Not make up new ones. You even admit here that the Benghazi scandal, as presented by the GOP and the press, is nothing. So, why does the press continue to provide cover on it for the GOP?

    It’s the same with the email scandal. If she had used two different email accounts, the republicans would still claim a need to see all her personal emails to find where she hid the Benghazi emails.

  43. nicho says:

    Well, she was sending out emails to everyone in sight from that address. You don’t even need a degree in computer science to know what servers an email comes from. When Mossad or the KGB intercepted an email she sends to someone, all they need to do is look at the headers and they know exactly where it’s coming from. So, I’m not suggesting, I’m saying outright that anyone with an ounce of tech savvy would know precisely that she had private servers.

  44. timncguy says:

    you are suggesting that anyone outside the state dept even knew she had a private server for her emails. If that were the case, the republican pols would have been screaming about it long ago. And, based on current events with the data at OMB, I’m betting her personal email server is every bit as, or maybe even more secure than a government server.

  45. nicho says:

    I think you’re missing the point. There was a lot of skullduggery around Benghazi, as Bill says, and Hillary was in it up to her hips. Now, it’s not the scandal that the GOP is claiming, but to extricate herself from the phony scandal, she’d have to blow the cover on the real, bigger scandal. She’s kind of caught between a dog and a hydrant.

  46. nicho says:

    But there is an odds-on chance that whole email thing will come crashing down around her. She claims that her people have told her the servers were secure and were never infiltrated. I deal with IT security people at a very high level, and don’t know anyone who would make that statement. In fact, they would tell you quite the opposite. There are two types of organizations — those that have been hacked and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked.

    I would gladly bet you a shiny, new quarter that Mossad, the KGB, the NSA, Anonymous, and a handful of script kiddies from Romania or somewhere have been tiptoeing through the tulips in Hillary’s home-brew servers without leaving a trace.

    If any of those has a mind to do it, there could be an apocalyptic and embarrassing document dump — maybe while she’s in the middle of her acceptance speech at the convention. It could end her viability as a candidate in an afternoon.

  47. 2patricius2 says:

    I never will forget sitting in my kitchen on an Easter morning during Bill Clinton’s first term, with the Jerry Falwell show playing on my TV. He was running and hawking a half hour video claiming Bill Clinton was behind drug running and assassinations in Arkansas. A wonderful program for a Christian minister to present on Easter Sunday morning.

    If another Democrat – Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or someone else – is elected president next year, the right wing haters will produce boatloads of lies to try to take them down. They did this to Bill Clinton. They have been doing it to Barack Obama. They are doing it to Hillary Clinton. And they will do it to whomever the Democratic candidate or president is.

    Unfortunately, the mainstream press is filled with gossip columnists who are more focused on who is up and who is down, and on whichever Democrat has Fox created scandals following their every footsteps. Republicants generally get a pass. And real issues take the back seat to manufactured gossip stories. We have real problems in our country and real challenges. There is more real news on comedy shows and on some blogs than on all the so-called news and talking-heads shows on mainstream networks put together.

  48. nicho says:

    Second party needed.

    There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt — until recently . . . and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.

    –Gore Vidal, 1975

  49. nicho says:

    Part of the reason is that the Bush Crime Family is part of the corporatocracy. This goes back 80 years when Prescott was going to help overthrow FDR and be named as the fascist dictator of the US. The plot was uncovered and the corporatists managed to cover their tracks — as did the Bush Family. But their roots run deep. Poppy has been involved with the CIA since its inception.

    The Clintons, on the other hand, are not part of the corporatocracy as much as they are servants of the corporatocracy. They’re house servants, not field servants. As such, they benefit mightily, but they are not part of the inner group. As parvenues, they have to be “hazed” — just like the new kid at boarding school. Poppy Bush had a mistress — an open secret — but the press and other politicians provided cover for him. She even traveled with him abroad and was the only non-White House biggie to stay on the presidential floor of hotels. No one squealed.

    At the same time, American politics is a Punch and Judy Show. Some say “kabuki,” but that’s incorrect. If you know anything about Punch and Judy, a puppet show, they fight fiercely, yell at each other, and hit each other with sticks. The audience out front (us), picks sides, moans and groans, and cheers and jeers. However, if you look behind the curtain, the same guy has his hands up both their asses.

    Just like American politics, it’s all theater.

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  51. 2karmanot says:

    So true! Waves hand and then subsides into golf clap! :-)

  52. 2karmanot says:

    “It’s a variant of victim-blaming” OMG! The Clinton’s are victims? ROTFL!

  53. taxicolor says:

    There seem to be a lot of “agendas” here. I disagree with all of them. I think that Jonah Allon has written a very good article as it is. That said, I don’t particularly like the Clintons as they are too cozy with the same people that the right adores. I don’t consider them “liberals” in any sense. Still Hillary Clinton is a better presidential candidate than any of the Republican candidates. It would be a miracle but I back Bernie Sanders a true liberal.

  54. timncguy says:

    Your version of the Benghazi scandal is completely different than what the republicans and the press are pushing as the Clinton Benghazi scandal. That being that somehow Clinton somehow caused the death of the embassy personnel or at minimum didn’t respond to save them when she could have. None of this is true and none of it has anything to do with what you are talking about.

  55. Bill_Perdue says:

    Benghazi is a scandal. The issue with Benghazi is not who made tactical mistakes but why the US attacked nearly every nation in the region that produces resources or products that US multinationals want to steal or control.

    Both parties support that strategy of mass murder during wars of aggression. So when Republicans criticize H Clinton/B Obama for events in Libya they’re really criticizing the common policy of both parties. There are no differences between them on this and most questions.

    Both encourage and fund efforts to attack Arab and muslim nations. They’re both committed to a neo-colonial policy in North Africa and SW Asia to promote the control of the regions oil resources by American corporations. They also remain committed to a policy utilizing mass murder and state terrorism to control events and have recently done so in Iraq (again), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Bahrain, Palestine, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere.

    In addition the US is vastly expanding its military intervention in all of Africa and is coordinating efforts through the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM or AFRICOM). The Obama and Netanyahu regimes are rogue aggressor terrorist states with Canada, England, the Saudi royals and the rest of the NATO satellite states playing a lesser role.

    Criticisms by Republicans of the Obama regimes imperial strategy and their defense by Democrats are equally reactionary and racist.

  56. timncguy says:

    Scandal magnates? because, no matter what they do, the media will find someway to “create” a scandal. Examples….

    Every government investigation has found absolutely NOTHING wrong in regard to Benghazi. Yet, the media still describes it as a “scandal”. Why is that?

    The email scandal would be a scandal no matter how Hillary had handled her emails. If she had two different email accounts, one on a government server for work and another on a personal server for personal email, it would have still been up to her to decide which account to use for each email. If people believe she could have been trusted to do that, then they should also believe she can be trusted to sort through all the emails she has on her one account and turn over the work emails to the government and delete the personal ones. But, they don’t. And, I believe that if she had kept two email accounts those who don’t trust her would still be demanding to see her personal emails.

    Jeb Bush only released a limited number of his emails to the public. And, when he did, he didn’t bother to redact people’s personal information. Do you hear the media harping on it continually as a scandal?

    the list could go on and on…..

  57. Bill_Perdue says:

    The problem is not just their sleaze and scandals, although there’s plenty of that to go around. The same sorts of sleaze and scandals haunt the Republicans. Huckabee is a biological sport, a throwback to a cruder, more ancient species. Walker is an imbecile. The Bush family have deep roots in American fascism. Etc.

    Both Democrats and Republicans will emphasize the sleaze and their differences on social issues because they want to avoid at all costs discussion of what they hold in common – attacks on the Bill of Rights, endless wars of aggression, union busting and the joint and artificial creation and maintenance of income inequality, underemployment, low wages and massive, unrelenting, soul destroying poverty.

    Fortunately, more and more people see through their campaign rhetoric and are moving to the left or becoming independents.

  58. Indigo says:

    The Clintons? They’re reasonably good looking, breath-takingly wealthy, and impressively powerful. Scandal follows people like that. What’s not to hate?

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