As the stack of investigative stories around Hillary Clinton, her family's charity and her work as Secretary of State continues to climb higher and higher, her defenders can still say that there is no smoking gun anywhere in the pile. Yet even if they can't prove some definitively corrupt act on the part of Clinton, the stories are still a problem.
It's not easy to put our finger on what, exactly, makes us uneasy about all of this. But it turns out that several thousand years ago, somebody figured out precisely the reason why people find the Clintons creepy. Hillary Clinton, meet Confucius.
A new book by Henry Rosemont Jr., "Against Individualism," argues that the fundamental problem with our politics and ethics today is our misplaced faith in the idea of a rational, autonomous and free individual. Rosemont says there's no such thing.
In order to straighten out our view of the world and society, we need to understand, as the Chinese philosopher Confucius explained centuries ago, that people are defined not by some abstract inner self but by the roles they live, the relationships they nurture and the people they surround themselves with. In this Confucian sense, the Clintons have always fallen short.
Without knowing it, we often live and think in Confucian terms, Rosemont argues, and we ought to conform our ethics accordingly. When we act like a "different person" around our parents than we act around our friends or coworkers, we're behaving in a way Confucius would recognize, because we're letting ourselves be defined by our relationships and the roles we live. When we point to a person's well-attended funeral as evidence of a life well lived or feel skeptically about a father who's estranged from his children, we're thinking in Confucian terms.
It is not a coincidence that humans often experience an "identity crisis" when their relationships are changing dramatically: a student during her first year of college, a parent whose children have all left the house, a new husband without his drinking buddies. By thinking of ourselves as essential individuals, we can't make sense of our new circumstances.
For Confucius, we feel like a different person in these new scenarios because we are a different person. And embracing that intuitive reality -- we are the company we keep -- can help us better understand our own roles in life.
But it also explains that icky feeling so many voters talk about in polls and focus groups on the Clintons.
Take the New York Times' big scoop on Thursday, which revealed that during her time as Secretary of State, Clinton signed off on a deal that helped strengthen Russia's grip on the worldwide uranium supply, an arrangement that greatly benefited a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. The scene takes place in Kazakhstan, where former President Bill Clinton was paid to fly out and praise a brutal dictator in front of a uranium mining and oil magnate who had done billions in business with the State Department. Money followed from a Russian investment bank.
Did the money flowing to the Clinton Foundation persuade Hillary Clinton to sign off on the deal? The evidence appears to say no. But it's still a problem because of what the move says about Clinton herself.
Throughout the Clintons' time in the public eye, we've been subjected to a parade of oligarchs and dictators, from Wall Street titans to Middle Eastern autocrats. Former Clinton operatives like Mark Penn, Lanny Davis and Dick Morris then go on to lobby for those oligarchs and dictators.
If you are who you surround yourself with, it's not hard to see why Clinton's campaign would rather we see her as a grandma. Indeed, Clinton herself seems to have internalized this view of herself. Penn is at Microsoft; Davis works in PR, not on the Clinton campaign, and Dick Morris hasn't been anywhere near the family for years. Ron Burkle, Bill's post-presidency billionaire buddy, is no longer a pal.
But is it too late? Can Hillary Clinton become a new person?
Confucius says, yes she can.
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