I am not going to pretend to know enough about National Archives and Records Administration regulations to have a worthwhile opinion about whether Hillary Clinton violated them by relying on a private e-mail address while secretary of state. (Most of the people talking about it on cable TV, or writing their own hot takes, probably don’t either.) Right now, it looks like Clinton went out of her way to keep her correspondence secret when it was supposed to be public. But it’s also true that a lot of Clinton scandals turn out, upon closer inspection, to be bullshit. (See, for example, Benghazi, or Whitewater.) Worse, they tend to be bullshit that serves as a pretext for more bullshit, as each new uproar is said to “feed into the narrative” set in motion by the previous ones.
Yet at a certain point it stops mattering whether coverage of Clinton is as unfair as her defenders say it is. If she‘s going to be the Democratic candidate, part of her job is not to leave herself open to this sort of thing. If she wasn’t actively skirting the law by not using a State Department e-mail address, she was being sloppy. By not keeping her official e-mails separate from her private ones, she gives Republicans a pretext to subpoena them all. At the very least, there’s going to be a drawn-out fight over access to them. Should she be forced to turn them over, her genuinely private e-mails as well as her public ones will be used against her. Imagine what Republicans would be able to do with a trove of private correspondence that Clinton never thought they’d get to see.
The whole mess underscores the immense danger for the Democrats of holding a coronation rather than a primary. Even if the front-runner were as low-drama as Obama, the party, the country and even the candidate would benefit from a genuine debate about everything from foreign policy to the financial industry. And Clinton is not low-drama. She and her husband live at the center of a constantly unfolding political soap opera with endlessly proliferating subplots. Even if they’re not always treated fairly, they also seem to pathologically court trouble. See, for example, recent stories about foreign governments making donations to the Clinton Foundation during Clinton’s State Department tenure. One of those, The Washington Post reported, “violated [the foundation’s] ethics agreement with the Obama administration.”
Maybe there’s nothing more there, or anywhere, waiting to come out. But without other credible Democrats building the infrastructures they’d need to run, there’s no plan B if something explodes. Democrats are betting the future of the country on the Clintons’ ability to avoid crippling scandal. Maybe that wager will ultimately make sense, but there’s no reason to go all in so soon.