What Everyone Is Avoiding Saying About Hillary Clinton’s Email Scandal
Like everybody else, I’ve been reading way too much about Hillary Clinton’s emails. I’ve read that her use of a private in-house server violated federal law. I’ve read that her use of the server didn’t violate federal law. I’ve read that her using that server is a big-ass scandal. I’ve read that it wasn’t a big-ass scandal. I’ve read that she had information in those emails that was classified, and that she didn’t have information in those emails that was classified — at the time. Frankly, the whole mess makes my head spin.
Why does it make my head spin? Because I’m a Technically Challenged Person (TCP), and technology perplexes me.
I’m the person you don’t want to ask to take a picture of your family with your iPhone, because I’m the person who keeps seeing pictures of my own face on the screen of my iPhone when I’m trying to take pictures of my son’s football game. And I’m not alone. There’s a substantial subset of Americans who get very, very flustered when they can’t get the remote control to make the TV set come on. It’s been my experience that the children and spouses of people with this condition will rush to their aid and perform the necessary technical operations themselves, rather than patiently walking the TCP through it, because a) it stops the screaming so much sooner; and b) trying to walk a TCP through it is a waste of time.
Look at the excuse Clinton gave for having the server installed: She didn’t want to have to carry both a BlackBerry and an iPad. Why? Because having two different devices is so damned confusing! She revealed as much herself in an email to her pal Sid Blumenthal after Hurricane Irene knocked out BlackBerry coverage on the East Coast:
I still don’t have electricity or Blackberry coverage post Irene, so ive had to resort new iPad! Let me know if you receive this
I can almost not bear the poignancy of that email — the hopeless “resort” lacking its “to,” the false bravado of the exclamation mark, the plaintive uncertainty as to whether her message would vanish into the void. I personally was unable to understand how email works until my husband explained that all the messages I and everyone else has ever sent are stored in a huge warehouse in Iowa. I hope to visit there someday.
There’s an even more heartrending exchange in the emails Clinton finally released to the public, and when you read it, it’s clear why she went to the lengths she did to keep her messages unseen even by her State Department colleagues. It’s a discussion with aide Huma Abedin regarding the sending of a fax back in 2009. Abedin writes in the subject line of her initial message:
Can you hang up the fax line, they will call again and try fax
I thought it was supposed to be off hook to work?
Yes, but hang up one more time. So they can reestablish the line.
Abedin (and it’s a pity we don’t have video of her face at this moment):
Just pick up the phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up.
If that doesn’t speak to every millennial who’s ever tried to explain Snapchat to his or her mother, I’ll eat my hat.
To Clinton’s credit, she was more than aware of her deficiencies, once borrowing from an aide a book called SEND: Why People Email So Badly And How To Do It Better. (“Emails can come back to haunt us—any of us,” one Amazon guest reviewer of the work wrote, presciently.)
The thing about being technically challenged is that it doesn’t really matter so long as you have children in-house, or a mate who doesn’t curl into the fetal position at the prospect of resetting the router. But Chelsea moved out long ago, and Bill doesn’t strike me as particularly technologically adept. (He nonetheless made it through two White House stints, but those were early days.) Sure, the Secretary of State could — and did — surround herself with savvier aides. But the fact remains that using a government server would have left an indelible and publicly accessible record of her technical ham-handedness, which, of course, is exactly what we now all have.
Personally, I don’t consider technical ineptitude an automatic disqualification for the highest office in the land. Some of the smartest people I know (ahem) still have AOL accounts, and endure the snickers of millennials passing by their office doors every morning as that jaunty little fellow chimes out “You’ve Got Mail!” There are, no doubt, Republicans and even some Democrats who thought Clinton was being disingenuous when, in response to a recent town-hall question about whether her server had been wiped clean, she posited, “What, like with a cloth or something?” Me, I know better. I know that she was wondering: Gee, would that really work?
Another former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has been courteous enough to come to Clinton’s defense and point out that he, too, used a personal server for his emails during his State Department tenure. Alas, he did so in the course of his forceful push to modernize the government’s antiquated system, rather than because he is a TCP. Clinton’s immediate predecessor as SOS, Condoleezza Rice, scarcely used email, and Madeleine Albright, SOS from 1997 to 2001, didn’t email at all. How times have changed. Clinton, in contrast, has showered the public with thousands and thousands of her emails, after culling through them to excise any that were strictly personal, or that, presumably, showed even less prowess with the tools of modern life (if you can call a fax machine modern) than her Abedin exchange.
Much will no doubt be made in the press of the fact that last Thursday, Bryan Pagliano, the former State Department staffer who set up Clinton’s private email server (in her bathroom!), asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself before the House panel that is (still, yet, again) investigating Benghazi. That committee’s chairman, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, told reporters, ominously, “I know in the past why people have invoked that privilege, and you’re free to glean whatever inference you want from the fact that he did.” Gowdy is within his rights to imply that Pagliano is shielding evidence incriminatory of his former boss. But as a Technically Challenged Person myself, I’m within mine to believe this chivalrous young man is simply trying to protect Clinton from the mockery and shame that would engulf her were the true depths of her Luddite-hood to become known. We didn’t expect Steve Jobs to be a great diplomat — indeed, by all accounts he was a raving asshole. Why would we demand that a president be a tech geek?
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