Why Hacking The Democrats' Emails Harms Our Democracy

Why Hacking The Democrats' Emails Harms Our Democracy
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Scott Audette / Reuters

Since WikiLeaks released thousands of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, the media has focused on two questions. How much do they hurt Hillary Clinton? And who did the hacking? The first question has gotten most of the attention. But the second question—who hacked the server—has profound importance for our democratic process. It rises above the parties and the candidates.

How Much Do the Leaks Hurt Sec. Clinton?

At first glance, the leaks do not hurt Clinton very much. Nobody but Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s family cares that she lost her job as head of the DNC. The story will fade in a day or two unless there are more leaks.

But these immediate effects are less important than the impact in November on Bernie Sanders voters. They have a legitimate beef with the DNC. They feel the Bern, and this time it’s heartburn.

The DNC was supposed to run the primaries as a neutral umpire. The emails reveal, with painful clarity, that it was actually part of Clinton’s home team. That bias should have been obvious from the start, when Wasserman Shultz resisted Bernie’s demands for more debates. Clinton didn’t want them, so the DNC said “no.” It changed its position instantly when Clinton changed hers. She began slipping in the polls and decided she needed more debates to vanquish Sanders.

Political observers could see this bias, but there is a big difference between seeing-and-guessing and seeing-and-proving. The emails prove the DNC was a vital cog in Hillary’s machine, just as the Super Delegates were.

Between now and November, Hillary has to repair the damage with Bernie’s supporters to get them out to the polls. Bernie has already endorsed Hillary, and he will repeat it at the convention. But he and his supporters think they were cheated, and they are right. Bernie’s endorsement may not carry along his crowds.

The most effective way to carry them, Clinton certainly knows, is to emphasize their common goal in defeating Donald Trump. That negative goal is even more important now, after the emails, and it means the campaign will be even more negative than it already was. You’ll have to read the newspapers and political websites with a muckrake.

Who Did the Hacking?

We don’t know for sure, but cyber-security experts and Clinton’s own campaign point to the Russians. We will surely know more about that in the new few weeks. If Moscow’s cyber spooks did hack the DNC server, there are four grave implications:

  • They probably did the same to Hillary’s private server, which was no better protected and was infinitely more valuable to foreign intelligence services;
  • They leaked the emails to hurt Clinton and, by implication, help Trump; that means they have a horse in this race;
  • They will certainly leak more damaging information, if they have it, as the election nears the finish line; and, finally,
  • Assuming the Russians or some other government did the hacking and leaking, a foreign government is now intervening directly to affect the outcome of a US Presidential election.

This last implication is deeply troubling for all friends of democracy, whatever their party. There are good reasons why we have laws preventing foreign donations for presidential elections. They are supposed to be elections by and for US citizens.

Whoever hacked the DNC server is hacking at the heart of American democracy. Remember, the Watergate scandal began with an attempt to bug the office of Larry O’Brien, who was then the head of the DNC. What Nixon’s plumbers tried to do, some modern computer hackers just did.

If those hackers were agents of a foreign government, or assisted by one, then all friends of democracy—Democrat, Republican, and Independent—ought to be enraged.

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