When news broke Friday that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton's email usage, because some emails that may be relevant were found on a device belonging to Anthony Weiner, estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, my always hilarious housemate had this to say about the Clintons and the prospect that she might yet find a way to lose the election: "I hate these people. I know I am reading The Wars of the Roses but, still, I think the answer is to put them to the flames. Sorry, but you too, Chelsea. We just can't risk it." His frustration was not unique.
Ethics has never been the Clintons' strong suit. They cut corners when it suits them and their ambitions. They turned Bill's post-presidency and Hillary's potential one into a cash cow known as the Clinton Foundation that certainly has done much good in the world but also conveniently allowed them to live in the style to which they had grown accustomed in the White House: The private jets, rubbing elbows with the uber-rich, fancy dinners and hotels. And it is not like there were not already plenty of charities doing good work throughout the world. The Clintons could have urged their rich friends to give to Catholic Relief Services and as much, or more, would have been accomplished for the poor.
This lack of ethical discipline is compounded by a penchant for surrounding themselves by aides more distinguished for their personal loyalty and willingness to enable the Clintons' lack of ethical concern than for their own independent stature and independence. I am sure Mack McLarty was a great guy and reasonably competent by the standards of Little Rock business and politics. But making him chief of staff at the White House? Patti Solis Doyle was a loyal aide to Hillary but she wrecked the 2008 campaign by drinking the "It will be over on Super Tuesday" Kool-aid: The following day, on a conference call surveying what was ahead, Doyle reportedly admitted to Clinton she did not know if the next primary, in Wisconsin, was open or closed. She was fired that day, but it was too late. The Clinton campaign never recovered from their lack of preparation for the February contests.
Now we have Huma Abedin, whom everyone feels sorry for because she was married to that wretched little man, Anthony Weiner. Huma forgot to turn over emails or a device that might be pertinent to the FBI probe. Forgot? I am a very forgetful person, except for the important stuff. I may forget to drop off the dry cleaning before 9, but I never forget my dogs' medicines. FBI subpoenas are like my dogs' medicines. The only good thing about this whole new mess is that Abedin is now unlikely to get an office in the West Wing, and Clinton might have to find someone genuinely competent and, please God, not an enabler.
The country pays a price when the Clintons put personal loyalty above competence and independent stature. They are smart people and they are not naive, so surely they know that their paths through life would be made easier if they surrounded themselves with people empowered to challenge them, with people who could quit and return to an important career, with people unafraid to say "ick" at their lousy ethical standards. The Democratic Party is now paying a price: Does anyone doubt that Joe Biden or Martin O'Malley would be trouncing Trump and bringing both the Senate and the House with them?
This latest episode is a final reminder that the Clintons will fully compensate for the lack of personal drama that has attended the last eight years of "no drama" Obama. It is not hard to imagine someone who had not yet decided for whom to vote deciding to stay home on Election Day, unable to support Trump but convinced that the Clintons present a different but also noxious problem. We will never be rid of some investigation into some cut corner. There will always be whispers about Bill's sexual antics. There is a stench that attends the Clintons, and Jim Comey just reminded the country of that fact.
In 1998 during the Lewinsky scandal, I predicated early on that Bill Clinton would survive because the country already knew he had a penchant for sex with women other than his wife, and we elected and re-elected him anyway. The accusations about Lewinsky were more mud thrown at a man already covered in mud. It just blended in. I distinctly recall saying, "If they had uncovered evidence of venality, that would be new, that might cause people to reassess the man." Alas, now the Clintons are covered in that moral failure too. The memos from Doug Band detail actions that sure give the appearance of a conspiracy to accumulate vast wealth, and the only question is whether the conspiracy was criminal or not.
The Clinton campaign is trashing Jim Comey, but he was between a rock and a hard place. If he had not notified Congress that he was reopening the investigation, and it leaked, he would be accused of covering up. This clearly was in his mind. But the alternate scenario is real as well: If these new emails prove nothing but the fact that the investigation has been reopened ushers in a Trump presidency, how will Comey feel then? I don't know if he flipped a coin, but he might as well have done so. I do have a suggestion for his next investigation: Why does the FBI leak like a sieve?
Will this affect the race? Yes, of course. Whenever the spotlight is on Trump, Clinton goes up in the polls and vice versa. Now the spotlight is on her. But I think people have formed their views about the emails, not so much whether there is any "scandal" or not, but whether they are significant and, if so, how much. Most voters seem to think the way she handled the whole mess is reflective of her character, and they are right. But standing in line at the grocery store this weekend, I saw that People magazine had a four-page spread on a woman who accused Trump of sexually assaulting her. Sexy story. People magazine. I don't think the email saga can compete with that.
Make no mistake: I shall go into the voting booth next week and cast my ballot for Mrs. Clinton. The alternative is yet more objectionable, morally and politically. I figured I would just hold my nose when I made the little check mark next to Clinton's name. Now thanks to Jim Comey, the whole country is reminded we need to hold our noses when voting for the Clintons. But vote for them we must. Bring on the drama. Bring on the endless investigations. Bring on all the dysfunction. It is still better than Trump.
[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]