05/31/2015 08:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Frum vs. Conason: Are Billary Unethical Grifters or Boomer Idealists?



By Mark Green

The leading conservative and progressive commentators on Hillary clash -- is the likely next Democratic nominee and president more motivated to make history and policy... or money? They review charges, point by point, and actually arrive at one consensus. Then: "Who Lost China," er, Iraq?

Is Hillary ethical -- and will it matter?

Another BSN contributor, Rich Lowry, best framed the criticism when he asserted on Meet the Press a week ago that Hillary Clinton is an unethical "money grubber" but it won't matter to Democrats.

David Frum of The Atlantic is asked -- so what's wrong with Bill and Hillary's ethics? He makes two comparisons to explain his dismay: first, Al Gore has probably made even more post-White House money than Bill Clinton, via investments, but there's been little criticism because he's provided services without any conflicts of interests; and Barack Obama, whatever one thinks of his policies or the racial motives of some of his critics, "is an honest person. No one's questioned his integrity." Unlike the Clintons, says David.

Joe Conason of The National Memo vehemently disagrees. If Gore were running now, Foxland would surely go after the ethics of selling his cable channel to al Jazeera and Obama's attackers have been as hyperbolic as Hillary's, just on different targets. Sure it's a unique situation for an ex-president to have a wife who may become one. But they earn money ethically in a free market called "speeches" where sponsoring organizations assume they're worth what they pay... and now 10 million Africans now have access to HIV treatment because of the Clinton Foundation.

As for specifics:

^Benghazi. David says this didn't involve financial shenanigans but does raises questions about her veracity after the attacks. Joe wonders what questions he still has after seven congressional investigations, especially one by a GOP Select Committee, found no misconduct. But David notes that failures like Benghazi and Libya indicate how the Obama-Clinton foreign policy will tarnish her record and candidacy.

^Emails. Republicans appear to take whatever Hillary does and try to tie Nixon's albatross around her neck -- she's always "stonewalling" and her erased personal emails are worse than Nixon "since he only erased 18.5 minutes of tape!", according to Newt Gingrich.

Frum wonders why there was such a huge email purge and cites former CIA official Mike Morell saying that her two-server system raised security concerns. Conason stresses that former Secretary of State Colin Powell recommended exactly the system that Hillary used and the media "assume that the Clintons alone are entitled to no privacy, which was so grossly violated in aspects of the Lewinsky investigation." The Clinton's problem, he acknowledges, was probably that they never anticipated a two server system would become such a hot topic.

^Big Money Speeches and Clinton Foundation. Clinton42 unwisely set out to earn and raise millions from foreign and domestic interests, argues Frum, while his wife was Senator, probably running for President, and then Secretary of State; so he attracted rich people with political axes to grind. "He could have avoided all this if he'd tried to be the head of the Red Cross instead." The issue isn't some "Smoking Gun" quid pro quo but rather the appearance of a pattern of self-dealing because "widely accepted norms" were ignored.

Joe dismisses the Red Cross as a red herring since no such offer was made or contemplated and that Schweizer's book, Clinton Cash, was a Koch-funded hit job full of admitted errors. The Host wonders if David really believes that these two publicly spirited Democrats are largely inspired by personal greed. In that vein, Joe ask if he thinks that Clinton42 started the Clinton Global Initiative to make money.

Not explicitly, replies Frum, "but plenty of politicians rationalize to themselves that they're underpaid and deserve more money and things, like Bob McDonnell."

Politically, have the attacks worked or might they still? Joe observes that Clinton enemies "have unloaded a lot early with any real effect and it reminds me so much of Whitewater, which was supposed to be some criminal plot but turned out to be nothing."

But Frum and Conason do arrive at one consensus: in the Fall of 2016, voters will care far more about the growing economy and threat of lost health care and, based on that, both agree that the Democratic nominee will still be the favorite.

Host: My answer to this blog-post's headline, no doubt compromised by my friendship with Bill and Hillary: they're essentially idealistic boomers who, after a lifetime in public service, now earn huge fees because of their fame and talents, then spend and raise millions of dollars to save millions of people in Africa. IMHO, sounds like a better post-presidency than Ford's or Reagan's (abbreviated) one or W's.

As a debater for decades, I understand that it's a) fun posing hypothetical horribles and scandals de jour and b) a measure of GOP success getting Both Sides Now to discuss her ethics, as it was when some ranking Republicans created a debate whether Gore was a liar in 2000 and Kerry a coward in 2004.

Eventually, both nominees will be vetted ethically and it's far from clear than Jeb and Marco's money dealings will look good by comparison or count for more than Americans' "security" -- economic, physical, and international.

Is Rubio Ready for His Close-up? The Florida Senator's had a big month, with a star turn at the Council of Foreign Relations and a front page NYT article declaring that the Clintons were most "scared" of him.

Frum and Conason agree about his appeal as a young, charismatic Latino from a swing state. But. His baby-faced visage and experience will raise questions about his commander-in-chief credentials (Frum) and his appeal to Latinos is exaggerated because of his and his party's opposition to a path to citizenship (Conason).

Joe adds that while the Dems can retain the presidency without either Florida and Ohio, the GOP needs both to prevail.

Who created ISIS? With ISIS's gains in Ramadi and Palmyra , GOP critics are blaming the Obama-Clinton foreign policy for giving rise to them. David believes that this is just one count in a litany of foreign policy failures. Joe, to the contrary, pins ISIS squarely on Bush's disastrous Iraq policy. "Could Republicans successfully blame Obama for it? I doubt it."

Quick Takes:

Is the death penalty dying? Red state Nebraska this week became the 19th state to abolish the death penalty -- aberration or harbinger? Both regard this as significant: David thinks it shows how people will respond to the historic drop in crime while Joe argues that it further confirms how executions don't deter, are expensive, and in decline from 80% percentto 56% support over the past thirty years. Would Conason have voted to execute Tsarnaev in Boston? "Probably not."

Guns on Campus. Ten Republican state legislatures are considering laws to make it easer to keep guns on campus as a way, they argue, to reduce assaults on women. Frum says that "it's a better idea than guns in bars" but our panelists agree that more guns in America, especially in such an educational setting, is likely to worsen the problem of gun violence.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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