Off the Record

Hilary Clinton maintained her own personal e-mail server during her tenure as Secretary of State, bypassing official government e-mail servers and essentially rendering all of her e-mail outside the control of government rules and regulations that require that such documents be available to the government and ultimately to the American people for the purposes of government transparency.  It’s a major breach of protocol that more than a few people are calling illegal.  There may be question as to whether or not Clinton as specifically broken a law.  What cannot be argued is that Clinton’s practice has violated the spirit and intention of the law.  If government officials are free to set up alternate, personal e-mail accounts to conduct official government business through, the entire purpose of laws requiring governmental transparency are a pointless sham.

This will undoubtedly be an issue surrounding Clinton’s hopes for a presidential bid.  It should be.  But the fact that there is argument about it – of course along partisan lines – shows how deeply gone our system is in terms of the protections in place intended to prevent abuse of power and to hold public officials accountable for their words and actions.  What I suspect is going to come out over all of this is actually secondary to Clinton’s personal and political fate.  Rather, what I think will begin to become apparent is that Clinton is not the first or only official to rely on out-of-the-loop technology.  This is already occurring in many places and ways, at all levels of government, on both sides of the political spectrum.  Examples here and here.

It might be argued that it is deeply cynical to assume that public officials do this specifically in order to break or circumvent the law, or to protect themselves against any incriminating paper trail (ironic when dealing with e-mail!).  However it is deeply naive to assume that this is not occurring.  If it has not, it is only a matter of time until it does.  As most citizens are aware of whenever they have to deal with their government, whether to update a driver’s license or deal with a Social Security office, the government is famously *not* efficient.  Lawmakers who claim that circumventing official channels to conduct business is just a matter of convenience need to remember that their service to their country is not a matter of their convenience.  They are paid – and in many cases paid very well, both officially and unofficially – to conduct their duties in accordance with the law, as people who will be called to give an account of what they have said or done – for good or bad.

If we as citizens are unwilling to hold them to this standard, if the idol of convenience is to be erected in place of the Constitution and derivative legislation aimed at protecting us from elected and appointed leaders who are only human and subject not just to errors in judgment but calculated abuses of power, we are all in very real danger of losing even more of our freedom than we have already been stripped of or voluntarily ceded.  And if this is the case, we must recognize that the idol of convenience is one that already dominates our own lives, and as such prevents us from being the concerned citizens we need to be for our own good and the good of our neighbor.

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3 Responses to “Off the Record”

  1. william b Says:

    A couple things. First, there is a Richard Gere movie from 1986 called ‘Power’ where one of the characters replies to someone, “Im a politician when Im not kissing babies Im busy stealing their lollipops!” What do you think would be the percentage of politicians, especially in higher office that would feel any remorse after lying to you? I would say a very small percent.
    Second while I think there will be a little blustering over Hilary’s emails it will soon die down. The only thing that will get a large portion of the American people outraged and charged to action is if you start messing with their teevee, interwebz or cell phonz.

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      I struggle to retain a shred of optimism in our leadership. I have to believe that there are men and women who do indeed, at least some of the time, attempt to act on behalf of what they believe is the public good. But I also believe that the temptations to personal interest must be overwhelming for nearly everyone at one point or another.

  2. Beating the Onion | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] brazen to pass it all off as some little goof on her part.  And while I’m at it, I’ll reiterate that the only reason Hilary hasn’t already been charged with breaking the law for routing her […]

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