This column appeared in the August 31, 2016 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
By: Scott Jennings
There are two kinds of people in the world – those who believe the rules apply to them, and those who don’t.
Most of us follow the rules. We pay our taxes. We drive the speed limit and use turn signals. We don’t engage in drunken vandalism at the age of 32 while representing our nation overseas at the Olympics. We use the standard email system that comes with our job, same as everybody else at the office.
We have all encountered someone who believes the rules don’t apply to them. The blowhard who constantly fibs and exaggerates, seemingly unaware that everyone believes him a liar. The neighbor who lives beyond their means, expressing exasperation when bankruptcy catches up. The Secretary of State who can’t bring herself to say what we all know about her judgment. The swimmer whose lying eyes are visible even through mirrored goggles.
This summer has treated Americans to gross displays of public relations negligence by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, people with advisers capable of telling them the right thing to do but without the courage or common sense to do it.
They just don’t believe the rules apply to them.
Clinton’s failure to come clean on her email practices, even after the FBI Director called her “extremely careless,” threatens her presidential ambitions. Clinton sits at 42 percent in the RealClear Politics four-way polling average, leading by four points but hardly in a position of strength among an electorate that views her as grossly dishonest.
To maintain this small lead over Donald Trump, who has taken a spectacular beating in the press since the Republican National Convention, Clinton’s apparatus has spent $115 million on television advertising against roughly $20 million for Trump’s. Hillary has lurched from Whitewater to whitewashing, an expensive proposition what with television advertising rates these days.
While the national polling shows Clinton slightly ahead, it also shows a nation desperate not to elect her.
A simple, “Man, I screwed up on the email thing. I am sorry and it will never happen again,” would have saved Clinton a lot of trouble. Instead she does what the “no rules” types do, flailing for the next obfuscation.
Clinton claimed the FBI Director said she was “truthful” in her answers. That’s false, according to fact checkers. She laughably blamed it on former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who slammed her excuse. And she told a late night talk show host her emails are “boring.” Then why work so hard to hide what they might tell us about the Clinton Foundation, an increasing albatross for her campaign?
It is always another excuse with the Clintons but never an apology or promise to have better judgment. A possible president owes us more, unless they think the rules just don’t apply to them.
Clinton is smart enough to know better, but whatever sense of shame humans are born with skipped Clinton Town long ago. She’s winning because Democrats are overlooking her dishonesty; Clinton is getting 90 percent of her party while Trump is getting about 80 percent of Republicans. A comparable consolidation of the GOP base around Trump (something that remains possible) would make this a very close election.
As for Lochte, the 32-year-old Olympic gold medalist who allegedly likes to urinate in public places, his gaucheness appears to stem from a life of never being told he is a complete tomfool. At some point for Lochte, perhaps when it became clear he would become rich and famous, people stopped telling him “Dude, no.”
Like Hillary, the behavior itself wasn’t enough for this “no rules” lifestyle adherent. The follow on explanations, even as the story had clearly unraveled, earned Lochte a gold medal for prevarication.
“I want to apologize for…not being more careful and candid in how I described the events…” Lochte said in response to being caught lying about the embarrassing incident.
Careful and candid? This is not a guy who gets it. That statement, combined with ditching his swimming buddies by fleeing Brazil while they slept off their bender, turned someone who should be a national hero into a global punchline. Not one for humility, Lochte was spotted arm in arm in North Carolina with his Playboy Playmate girlfriend while at the same time his friends enjoyed the loving arms of Brazilian police as they were being dragged off an airplane.
Lochte finally delivered a bit better apology to NBC’s Matt Lauer, but looked like a seven-year-old boy forced by his mother (or PR team) to apologize for whacking his little brother with a stick. It was a sorry-not-sorry moment that came too late – his corporate sponsors couldn’t backstroke away fast enough. At least he abandoned the absurdly obnoxious hair dye for his close up with Lauer.
The summer gormlessness of Lochte and Clinton reminder us that the rules do, in fact, apply to all of us. When you pretend they don’t it eventually catches up. The Clintons have always remained one step ahead of a reckoning with their behavior, but can they outrun the consequences of their actions once more this November?
Scott Jennings previously served as an advisor to President George W. Bush and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY. The online version of this article contains hyperlinked citations.