In Clinton, Inc., Daniel Halper exposes how Bill and Hillary Clinton went about systematically rebuilding their brand in pursuit of a Hillary Clinton presidency. “Clinton, Inc.” is a great metaphor, but it is perhaps the subtitle of the book that is more resonant today: The Audacious Rebranding of a Political Machine.
I had occasion to study political machines in my new book, A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption. Largely, political machines have ceased to exist. Even thirty years ago, there were still a handful of operations in a few big cities - - Chicago and Pittsburgh, for instance -- but those are gone now.
But, I would argue, the Clinton operation counts as a machine -- not just as a metaphor or allegory, but as a bona fide, contemporary update of the old 19th-century operation.
What is a political machine, boiled down to its essence? In a nutshell, it is a tightly-run, extra-governmental organization that conducts business on behalf of governmental agents. At first glance, political parties may be thought of as machines, but parties are basically open to any and all participants who more or less agree with the platform. Machines are closed off, premised on loyalty, and usually operated on behalf of a close-knit group of leaders, who control entry to and exit from the operation.
That the Clintons are an actual machine was given further evidence with the news that the Clinton Foundation has been accepting contributions from foreign governments, and that Hillary Clinton used a private email address when conducting her business as secretary of state. They clearly are operating a vast shadow organization -- a machine -- designed to clear a path for her to the Democratic nomination, and eventually the presidency.
From a purely political perspective, it is ingenious. We have not had a secretary of state become president since James Buchanan, and his tenure in that job had ended nearly a decade before he became president. John Quincy Adams, who served from 1825-1829, was the last president who, in his immediately preceding job, was secretary of state.
Why the long drought? After all, the job at State is an excellent training and proving ground for the presidency. The president has widest discretion in foreign affairs, so it stands to reason we’d sample heavily from our foreign service when selecting the next commander in chief. It seems like we the people are missing out on a great talent pool.
One reason is that the state job is inherently non-partisan, while the quest for the presidency has become a very partisan, and very lengthy pursuit. It now takes years to plan a path to the White House -- not just in actual campaigning but in laying the groundwork with party elites and top-tier donors -- something which a secretary of state simply cannot afford to do. In many respects, the State Department chief is the ultimate non-partisan agent in the government. The secretary’s purpose is to represent the interests of the whole country in negotiations with foreign governments. That is not a job that lends itself to a partisanship.
It appears that Clinton’s way around this precedent was to do what we lately learned: use the Clinton Foundation to collect money, including from foreign governments, have her husband participate in the more narrowly partisan activities, and use a private email address to correspond free from the prying eyes of the National Archives.
That, to me, was the big question coming out of the email story this week. A lot of people were wondering what public business she was conducting on a private account. What I wanted to know was: what private business did she not want to conduct on a public account? If given three guesses, I’d say: politics, politics, politics.