August is traditionally a vacation month, and East Coast elites, following European tradition, are thick on the ground in the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard (the Obamas’ choice) and Nantucket.
But news — in some cases, shattering news — keeps breaking out all over, at home and abroad this August. Actually that’s not unusual. Saddam Hussein overran Kuwait in August 1990; Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland in August 1939; the great powers of Europe went to war in August 1914.
Nothing quite so momentous has happened so far this August. But the political world seems to be spinning out of control.
Thus last week 24 million Americans watched the Fox News Republican 9 p.m. Thursday presidential debate, an unprecedentedly enormous audience. And 6 million watched the 5 p.m. debate featuring candidates with low poll numbers. That’s 5 o’clock Eastern, 4 Central, 3 Mountain, 2 Pacific. How many Americans usually watch political debates at that hour?
Undoubtedly many, perhaps most, of the 24 million tuned in to see celebrity billionaire Donald Trump, and they got quite a show that night and for days after from Trump’s twittersnit at Fox’s Megyn Kelly.
But what did viewers think of the other 16 candidates? There’s no way to know for sure, but polls show Trump’s support ebbing a bit, with others (Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio) moving up. Republican voters — and there may be a lot more of them than in past years — seem to be shopping around, kicking tires and checking out the odometers.
Even bigger news came from the Democratic side when Hillary Clinton, finally and more than two years after leaving office, turned over her private email server to the FBI. Nothing criminal about the investigation, Team Hillary says, and a media apologist says that the FBI is not investigating Hillary, but only Hillary’s conduct.
This came after the revelation from the intelligence community’s inspector general that two of a small number of Clinton emails examined included information then classified as “top secret,” the second-highest level of classification. So much for her flat denial in March that she ever transmitted classified information on her home email system.
“I think that in an age where so much information is flying through cyberspace,” one expert said as the court-martial of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning opened in 2011, “we all have to be aware of the fact that some information which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected, and we will continue to take the necessary steps to do so.”
That expert was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as quoted by Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald, a defender of Manning, has a point when he criticizes the Obama administration for “wildly overzealous” prosecution of lower-level officials for mishandling classified information. And he has a point when he argues that by the same standard Clinton would be facing prosecution herself.
Now many Democrats are still prepared to vote for Clinton on the grounds that, even if she lied and cheated about emails, a Republican’s policies would be worse for the country. That’s an intellectually defensible position, though it suggests a certain discomfort.
Which may explain the latest Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce poll, which showed Clinton trailing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders 44 to 37 percent in New Hampshire. Conservative analysts may be exaggerating Clinton’s plight when they ask whether her campaign is “imploding.” But it sure ain’t having a good week.
Sanders, meanwhile, is attracting huge crowds on the West Coast — much larger than Clinton’s or any Republican’s — with some 27,000 cheering him on in Los Angeles. He has clearly struck a chord with a high-education, all-white constituency.
But he also has some problems. He has been shouted down and off the stage by Black Lives Matter protesters, one of whom demanded four-and-a-half minutes of silence for Michael Brown, shot a year ago in Ferguson, Missouri. But what the protesters — and Sanders — failed to note is that all the evidence indicates that Brown was shot after robbing a convenience store and assaulting a policeman, whom the Obama Department of Justice decided, rightly, not to prosecute.
Clinton later met with Black Lives Matter leaders, though as is her wont behind the range of cameras and microphones. Her near-unanimous support among black voters is her trump card against a Sanders insurgency.
Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump, has the strength of being incapable of embarrassment. But voters might prefer presidents who don’t embarrass themselves so often.