After The Hacking

During Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, the American people saw beyond doubt that Bill Clinton, once a symbol of youth and the future in political life )who campaigned with the theme song "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow"), is now an older more frail man. Many younger Americans remember him less now for his able stewardship of the country for eight years than for what today is largely understood to be his record of being a sexual predator. Bill Clinton proved a mixed asset on the campaign trail able to motivate some crowds, but clearly no longer the orator he once was.

Since the election it has also become evident that President Clinton, who always had a keen interest in and understanding of campaigns and politics, is still a smart political strategist. It turns out he urged Hillary Clinton's campaign to focus on the key rust belt states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that ended up all going for Donald Trump by narrow margins, thus allowing the real estate heir and dilettante to win the election.

Last week, following the meeting of the New York electors of the electoral college, in which Bill Clinton was one of 29 New Yorkers to cast our state's votes for Hillary Clinton, the former President again demonstrated his clear understanding of the political process. He did something that he did all too rarely as president. He told an important truth in plain language. "[A]t the end we had the Russians and the FBI deal and she couldn't prevail against them." Actually Clinton was slightly off in his comments. Hillary could have overcome all of those obstacles, but due to some poor campaign decisions she did not.

That quibble, however, is irrelevant. The reality that the Clinton campaign made strategic mistakes, and from the outside at least, seemed to be fatally overconfident in the last weeks should not detract from the grave truth that a hostile foreign power sought to help one of the candidates in this election. The notion that somehow it doesn't matter because a smarter Clinton campaign would have won anyway is nonsensical. That, however, is more or less what many around President Trump seem to be asserting right now.

The scope and unprecedented nature of this development has raised challenges for both parties. It is clear now that President Obama should have risked accusations of playing politics and more aggressively drawn attention to Russia's hacking in October when the intelligence agencies became more certain that Russia was, indeed, doing the hacking. The Republicans, with a few exceptions, have made the mistake of simply denying the findings of the intelligence agencies and of supporting Donald Trump, the beneficiary of this hacking, as he tries to distract and bully his way out of this scandal. For both parties, and all Americans, the question of what to do now is not an easy one to answer.

It is clear, however, that Russia's role in this election was significant and cannot be ignored. Some have tried to make this point by asking what the Republican position would be if, as unimaginable as it sounds, Putin has sought to influence the election in favor of Hillary Clinton, and she had won. That is the wrong question. Republican activists and leaders have been calling to "lock her up" or worse because of her use of a private email server for months. If Putin had helped Clinton, congressional Republicans would be calling for the immediate resignation of both Clinton and her erstwhile running mate Tim Kaine and probably for President Obama as well. They would also undoubtedly demand not just a congressional investigation, but criminal trials as well.

The more sober question to ask is that what if despite Putin, Clinton had eked out narrow victories in a few more states and won the election. If that had happened, Democrats and Republicans would have joined together to call for investigations and the like around the hacks because they would have understood the national security implications of Russia's role. Republicans, in that scenario would also see that as a way to distance themselves from Trump and his campaign. Of course, this is not what happened. Trump won; and many in the GOP are too excited about the prospect of cutting taxes, repealing the Affordable Care Act and making America less tolerant to get upset by a little thing like a foreign power helping somebody get elected President. It remains possible that a handful of Senate Republicans, like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, who are respected in foreign policy circles and who do not owe Donald Trump anything will continue to aggressively call for investigations, but winning support for that within their own party will prove difficult.

As Americans of both parties wrestle with how to respond to Russia's hacking, there is something else we may need to do that may be even more difficult than putting together a robust congressional investigation. The U.S. may want to take a long frank look at how decades of our involvement in the domestic politics of many countries, sometimes with good intentions but sometimes with only our interests in mind, may have created an environment that both emboldened Putin and muted criticism of his actions outside of the U.S. That is why, at this moment for much of the world, even among people who have no kind thoughts for either Trump or Putin, it is difficult to muster much sympathy for the U.S. at this moment.