Politics as Usual: Hillary Clinton “Takes Responsibility”

Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH
Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In politics, words tend to take on double meanings — one for politicians, another for the rest of us. Nowhere is this more true than with respect to the word “responsibility.”

The latest example: Hillary Clinton’s latest statement on her illegal use of a private email server for US State Department business when she headed that department. “I take responsibility for that decision,” Clinton says, betwixt and between claims that she didn’t break the law, that if she did break the law it’s no big deal, and that it really was just a matter of not making “the best choice.”

Here’s how “responsibility” works:

If you or I “take responsibility” for a purchase, we pay the bill or bad things happen. Maybe we get sued. At the very least, our credit ratings take a hit.

If you or I “take responsibility” for a crime, we go to court, plead guilty, and get sentenced by a judge.

When a politician “takes responsibility” for something, he or she is saying something very different: “OK, I ‘took responsibility’ — now let’s move along,  forget all about it, and never, ever, ever suggest that I should face any actual consequences for my actions.”

For example, in 1993 US Attorney General Janet Reno and US President Bill Clinton took turns “taking responsibility” for the FBI’s massacre of 76 men, women and children at a church facility outside of Waco, Texas.

Neither Reno nor Clinton resigned from office in disgrace. In fact, Clinton finished his term and was re-elected, while Reno went on to become the second longest-serving Attorney General in US history.

Neither Reno nor Clinton faced criminal charges or impeachment over the affair. Clinton was later impeached for lying about an affair with an intern. But arson resulting in 76 deaths? Hey, no big deal. They “took responsibility,” right?

So here, 22 years later, comes that other Clinton. She wants to become — in fact, she she considers herself entitled to become — President of the United States. Pursuant to which she has graciously, if belatedly, agreed to mouth the words “I take responsibility,” as part of a script in which your role and mine is to reward that statement by shutting up and getting out of her way.

Well, maybe. Then again, maybe the rest of us bit part actors will flub our lines in USA Network’s presentation of “The Hillary Clinton Story.”

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Unacceptable Speech at Old Dominion

Ban Censorship (RGBStock)

With the fall semester beginning at colleges and universities around the US, it’s time for a new round of controversy over student speech. Right out of the gate, Virginia’s Old Dominion University takes an early lead: WTKR News Channel 3 reports that ODU “officials took time from their weekend to respond to some banners hung up at an off-campus home that are upsetting many.”

The banners: “Rowdy And Fun: Hope Your Baby Girl is Ready for a Good Time.” “Freshman Daughter Drop Off.” “Go Ahead and Drop Off Mom Too …”

Offensive? Yeah, I can buy that. Certainly not very respectful of women. But, on the other hand, also very informative and likely self-correcting. If I lived in that house, I wouldn’t bet money on me being able to get dates with any ODU co-eds this semester. Just sayin’.

But when it comes to truly offensive, sickening speech, let’s talk about this, from an official statement issued by ODU:

“Messages like the ones displayed yesterday by a few students on the balcony of their private residence are not and will not be tolerated.”

Old Dominion is a “public” — by which I mean tax-funded — university. And as the statement makes clear, the banners were displayed at a private residence, not on campus.

Public universities don’t get to decide to “not tolerate” student speech. Especially speech that takes place off-campus at a private residence.

ODU’s administrators, of all people, should be well aware of that fact. Old Dominion originated as part of the College of William and Mary, the institution where Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler  studied, and where George Washington got his surveyor’s credentials. The idea that the First Amendment has thus far escaped notice at ODU just isn’t plausible.

In a message to faculty, staff and students, Old Dominion president John R. Broderick claims to have spoken with a young female student who “described the true meaning of the hurt this caused.” The student, writes Broderick, “thought seriously about going home.” Broderick closes his message with dire threats of disciplinary action against those displaying the banners.

Broderick should have spent more time talking with the young student, explaining to her that if a few stupid signs hung on a private residence have her thinking about quitting school, she probably should. ODU is allegedly a university, not a daycare center, and she’s clearly neither intellectually nor emotionally mature enough to handle living on her own as a semi-autonomous adult.

Unfortunately, the teacup tempest at Old Dominion isn’t an isolated incident. America’s colleges and universities seem to be collectively sliding into daycare center mode, where the mission is to offer students four additional years of insulated, isolated childhood instead of educations to fit them for adult life in the real world.

The danger to free speech in this case may seem slight, but it isn’t and can’t be. Speech is free or it isn’t. To compromise that value at Old Dominion now is to cultivate future tyranny everywhere.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Whose Nuts? Deez Nuts! (Who’s Nuts?)

This One's for You (Deez Nuts album)
This One’s for You (Deez Nuts album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He’s polling at 8% or better for President of the United States in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Carolina, despite the fact that he doesn’t actually exist and that the young man behind his candidacy is 20 years short of constitutional eligibility for the office.

He’s Deez Nuts, also known as Brady Olson of Wallingford, Iowa. And as silly as the whole thing sounds, the points he’s trying to make seem pretty serious and worthy of our consideration.

Those points, according to an email interview Olson gave to Rolling Stone?

“Half trying to break the two-party system, half frustration with the front-runners. … I really didn’t want to see Clinton, Bush, or Trump in the White House, so I guess I’m just trying to put up a fight. … I side more with the Libertarian Party.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly a platform I can get behind.

Over the next 14 months, we’re going to hear a lot of stuff and nonsense from a set of “major party” candidates the average American would likely fail to distinguish from one another based solely on neutral descriptions of their issues positions.

And then, unfortunately, a minority of us are going to hand one of these clones the keys to the White House (for reference purposes, about 22% of Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2012 — about 78% of Americans chose not to vote, weren’t allowed to vote, or voted for someone else).

Then we’ll settle into the recurring four-year doldrum — some of us blaming the new president for everything bad that happens, some crediting the new president with responsibility for everything good that happens, most of us wondering if it’s really a good idea for this man or woman to have access to nuclear missile launch codes.

That’s nuts.

A vote for Deez Nuts is a vote for “none of the above.” It’s a vote for the proposition that nobody who really wants the office should be allowed anywhere near that office.

Unfortunately, it’s a vote you won’t be allowed to cast, except perhaps in some states where write-in votes for fictional candidates are counted.

Deez Nuts is a serious candidate cast in a fictional, satirical mold. The “major party” alternatives are bad jokes, editorial cartoon characters drawn as serious choices. And the system that dictates victory for one of the latter is their common punch line.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.