Saturday, August 27, 2016

Purity - updated

Glenn Greenwald has posted a lengthy and fairly thoughtful critique of the Clinton Foundation. But it contains a couple of important lacunae.

First, how did any U.S. policy during Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State change as a result of contributions to the Foundation? Let's look at the five Mideastern regimes he cites (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Emirates and Brunei). Is it even slightly reasonable to argue that the U.S. would not otherwise have maintained its support for these regimes? One can, of course, argue that we shouldn't support them at all, because of their misogyny, anti-gay and exploitative policies -- but that's a different argument. If we were committed to supporting them before the Foundation ever received a check from them, what difference did that check make? And if the check made no difference -- which is really the essence of the quid pro quo argument -- then all that remains is the argument that these are evil regimes and the U.S. should never have supported them.

Did prior Administrations and prior Secretaries of State support these regimes? Has the Obama Administration under Secretary Kerry continued to support them? If so, where's Hillary's "corruption"? Is it not the case, rather, that within the real world of international relations -- where the U.S. is going to provide support to some repressive regimes when we deem it in our national interest -- the Clinton Foundation was simply going about its business of extracting money from people who have it and giving it -- in the form of, say, AIDS treatment -- to people who don't have it?

Take this question one level deeper. Did the State Department under Hillary Clinton increase or decrease its advocacy for women and girls around the world -- including in these five countries? Did it increase or decrease its advocacy for LGBT people around the world and in these countries? What about other important progressive agendas? I don't know the answers to those questions, and if there's evidence that she cut support for such goals in those countries -- or anywhere else -- and if that can be persuasively tied to their donations, I will stand corrected. My general impression is that the reverse is the case -- but I admit my ignorance.

But here's the main point: The argument about global policy is one thing. But unless one can show that Bill and Hillary personally profited from these states' donations -- either economically or politically -- I don't see how there's any cogent argument that the Clinton Foundation was or is corrupt.

What I will accept is the argument that Bill and Hillary Clinton were getting those donations because people hoped not only for access but for favorable treatment. They have certainly played the game -- the only game in town -- in that way. And when it comes to things like the Goldman Sachs speaking fees, they have clearly benefited directly. I suppose one could also say that they've received reputation benefit from the Foundation -- though right now, it would be more than ironic to argue that.

Bill and Hillary Clinton are not purists. They are not outside the system. They are of the system. We can all agree on that. Having said that, who else would any reasonable person expect to attain power within the system? And what have they done with that power? Is their record, overall, one of progressive policy and helping people? Do we believe that Hillary Clinton will, when President, pursue, say, the policy objectives in this year's Democratic Party platform? Is there anyone else with a real-world chance of becoming President who is more likely to enact a more progressive agenda?

In other words, a defense of the Clinton Foundation isn't just some overly legalistic demand for unobtainable "proof" of corruption, based on a Republicanly standard of such proof. Greenwald's argument, for all his legal training, pretty much comes down to guilty until proven innocent. To defend the Clinton Foundation isn't to defend the current geopolitical situation, nor to defend all the policies of a center-left establishment government. What it is to defend is the effort to operate, within that reality, in such a way as to take a lot of money from rich people and put it to use for good -- even for good that those rich people would not and/or do not otherwise pursue. If selling access to Bill and Hillary Clinton is the price paid for that, and if that access doesn't materially block a progressive governing agenda that moves us forward, saves lives and helps empower more people... that's fine by me.

Update: This gets it about right. The question is: Would we rather all that money had not gone to help people around the world?

Update 2: Well, perhaps I stand corrected. I don't know enough about the facts to make a judgment on the truth of this critique of the Foundation, but it does make a big point I hadn't considered.

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