Hillary Clinton is the presumed candidate to receive the Democratic nomination for President in 2016. Like any political frontrunner, Clinton is currently under a great deal of scrutiny. The most recent news involving Clinton criticizes the fact that she used a personal, private email account while serving as Secretary of State. The New York Times first reported the news, exposing Clinton’s failure to obtain a government email address during her four-year tenure in the Obama Administration. Her personal emails were not preserved, a security risk and a violation of the Federal Records Act. Clinton’s team only recently handed over a selected portion of her emails — 55,000 pages in total — to the State Department.
Clinton’s private email practices probably wouldn’t have been exposed were it not for her obvious interest in the presidency. The Times article knocks her down a peg, providing more fuel for the Republicans and others who have been overly-critical of her since the Benghazi scandal. It will be framed as an issue specific to Clinton, evidence of her inability to lead the country in an open and transparent way (or, in this case, a legal way). It will also be used as evidence of her carelessness in handling government business in an non-secure manner.
More realistically, this latest Clinton scandal is further evidence of the secret ways in which the U.S. federal government operates. In recent years, U.S. citizens have grown accustomed to learning about the terrible government practices that have been blatantly hidden from them: the N.S.A. leaks, the C.I.A. torture report, the list goes on. The fact that the majority of Clinton’s Secretary of State emails are unavailable is hardly surprising. As Vox reports, that lack of transparency is nothing new. Several officials of the Bush administration were investigated towards the end of that presidency for covering up or deleting archives of emails that could have possibly incriminated the White House.
Ironically, the White House website has an entire page dedicated to “Transparency and Open Government.” The first paragraph, signed by Barack Obama, reads as follows: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” The past several years have demonstrated that none of those ideals has been met.
Those statements are true, as is the case with many of the things Obama has said but failed to follow through with. Government should be more transparent. In countries like Sweden, emails and letters exchanged among government officials are made public record. That type of openness strengthens a country but could never exist in America. This recent Clinton scandal, however, should demonstrate that American citizens want their politicians to be as transparent as possible. More government communications should be public record. Anything that doesn’t cause security or privacy concerns should be accessible by citizens. That’s the way things should be under “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Every new scandal of secrecy like this, however, makes that ideal seem more and more hopeless.