Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hillary and Bill Need to Be Transparent

Hillary Clinton represents a rather unique situation in American politics. First, of course, is the fact that she is a former first lady. Now she's very capable and if she had found a way to run a campaign without referring to Bill Clinton's eight years in office, she might have been able to deflect any number of questions that obviously bring Bill Clinton into the equation. But she has run on her experience and that experience includes her eight years as first lady. She leaves the distinct impression that she was intimately involved in many of Bill Clinton's decisions during those eight years. I don't buy her commander-in-chief argument but certainly she was involved in other decisions. One has to assume the situation will be somewhat similar if Hillary becomes president; Bill Clinton will surely offer whatever advice he can. Bill Clinton is therefore an issue.

In 2002, Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq bill, thereby effectively authorizing the war (even if one can argue that was not the full intent of the legislation). In Hillary's case, I always had a question and it was a question that out of respect for the Clintons made me hesitate despite the many contradictions and falsehoods that were put out by the Bush Administration that were obvious at the time. What made me hesitate was a small article somewhere that suggested Bill Clinton had had conversations with Tony Blair and had suggested to Blair that he be patient with George W. Bush. The distinct impression I had was that Clinton was not exactly against the war. Given the ability of the Clintons to spin, I'm sure they can tell a perfectly plausible story of what that was about. But Hillary took a long time to catch up to public opinion on Iraq. Was it because of Bill? I wish we had more transparency on just this one issue alone. Clearly, for the first three years Hillary did an effective job of backing Bush on the strategic aspect of the war in Iraq even if sometimes she was critical of tactical decisions and sometimes questioned the competence of Bush's top officials.

Then there's the income tax problem. Bill and Hillary have not exactly been forthcoming on how much money they have been taking from various people. This matters. Ever since Ronald Reagan took $2 million from Sony after leaving office, the flow of money to former presidents has raised a wide range of issues. The senior Bush, after leaving office, also took huge amounts of money from various sources including the bizarre Rev. Moon. There has been a tendency to look the other way since former presidents are supposedly not directly involved in politics. It's an odd informal rule imposed by the media despite the fact that former presidents have indeed involved themselves in politics. And now we have a former president who may potentially return to the White House with his wife as president.

The issue of income taxes and transparency has been raised today as reported by various news sources, including Reuters:
Obama's tax returns from 2000 to 2006 were posted on his Web site as his campaign pushed to portray Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, as secretive and unwilling to be open with voters.


Obama, an Illinois senator, has repeatedly asked Clinton to release tax returns for the years since she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, left the White House in 2001.

Obama's request is not unreasonable. Americans, in general, should be asking just who has given money to the Clintons and for what purpose. President Clinton freely admits that he has done well since he left office. If he can speak so freely, that implies he has nothing to hide. Given the huge amounts of money given to other former presidents and the role Bill Clinton is likely to have if Hillary were to make it to the White House, Americans voters need to make sure transparency is observed.

Now I have read that the Clinton campaign is thinking of releasing the tax returns three days before the Pennsylvania primary. That's hardly time to understand what all the names and numbers mean that would appear on a tax return. Nor does it explain why tax returns from earlier years cannot be made now. And of course there is the possibility the Clinton campaign may only offer voters a brief and uninformative summary. The Republicans will clearly make an issue of the Clintons sources of income if Hillary somehow managed to be the party nominee; so the time to deal with this is now.

Transparency requires that we understand the source of the Clintons' considerable new wealth.

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