Cotton, Clinton, Ferguson: You've got mail!

It is more than a little shocking to see Sen. Tom Cotton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and many of the people charged with the administration of justice in the city of Ferguson, Mo., all fail to realize the power and significance of communication (by email or snail mail is beside the point), and the relationship of their communications to fundamental questions of governance.

Sen. Cotton from Arkansas is touted as a rising star in the Republican Party. (I admit up front I have a grudge against him because he ousted Sen. Mark Pryor, who was one of the most decent members of Congress.) Sen. Cotton had the idea that he and his colleagues should write directly to the leaders of Iran, explaining that the U.S. Constitution gives the senators a say in the conduct of foreign policy. Cotton admitted the letter was designed to scuttle any prospective deal with Iran. He did not admit that the letter was juvenile and insulting to people we are trying to persuade to behave in a manner we would like.

"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system," the tome began, as if other countries did not have foreign policy experts perfectly capable of understanding our constitutional system.

This is not the first time a member of Congress has gone rogue on foreign policy in ways that were designed less to advance peace or U.S. interests than to throw some mud into the face of the incumbent president. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi trekked to Damascus, Syria, to meet with Bashar al-Assad, much to the consternation of the administration of George W. Bush. Republicans tried to box in Bill Clinton in the 1990s, although there is a difference between refusing to ratify a treaty, which is clearly a constitutional prerogative, and interfering with sensitive negotiations currently in progress. Democrats met with Sandinista leaders in the 1980s. Each time, the offended party wondered out loud about invoking the Logan Act, which makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to negotiate with a foreign nation without authorization, but no indictments or prosecutions followed, and they won't this time, either.

Cotton's letter does not have to be unprecedented to be really stupid. He has not been a party to the negotiations with Iran. He has only been in the Senate for a little more than two months. What Cotton knows is the GOP talking points, and he probably got a thrill down his leg listening to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week. But negotiating with Iran is not like being interviewed on Fox News. It is for real. These negotiations need to succeed. To say "no deal is better than a bad deal" is to utter a slogan, not to exercise governance, and even the slogan is not always true.

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is similarly confused about the relationship of communications and governance. Yesterday, she finally spoke to the press about the fact that she used a private email account and server for official business. She assured the world that she had turned over all of her work emails, but her assurance misunderstands the problem. The emails in question were not hers to begin with; they belonged to the government. And Mrs. Clinton and her aides do not get to decide which emails to delete and which not to delete, especially in the midst of congressional investigations.

Mrs. Clinton's defensiveness has not diminished over the years, and it is most obvious when she is trying to defend her right to privacy. Aides and longtime friends say she fiercely guards her privacy. She is entitled to be so concerned, but perhaps, if privacy is such a concern, she should find a different line of work. She is planning to ask the American people to entrust her with an enormous amount of power -- the power to order a nuclear strike, the power to send the men and women in the armed forces into harm's way, the power to appoint a secretary of the treasury and an attorney general, the power to make treaties and veto legislation and propose a federal budget. They don't call the president the most powerful person in the world for nothing. And before giving that much power to someone, we the American people get to ask any questions we find appropriate. A person's right to privacy diminishes in direct correlation to the amount of power they seek. This is apparently lost on Mrs. Clinton. Her arguments were bad enough. Her demeanor was worse. As John Harris aptly dubbed her performance, it amounted to telling the press corps, "Go to hell."

Finally, there are several top administrators in the town of Ferguson who have allegedly been sending truly horrifying racist emails to each other over the years without any fear of reprimand, still less of being fired. Now that someone has turned on the light, several senior staff members are heading for the exits. They can't leave too soon, and you can bet they wished they had trafficked in their racist jokes on their private emails instead of on the government's. The discovery of this racist atmosphere -- and the fact that it was tolerated and accepted -- makes the protests and problems in that city last year appear not really different, but more emphatic and explicit, and certainly more necessary.

Still of the three infractions, the racists in Ferguson are the least worrisome. Racism is an ugly thing, to be sure, an intrinsic evil, after all. But the racist yokels were not afflicted with what Kathleen Parker today termed "Washington's indigenous narcissistic disorder." She was writing about Cotton -- and her takedown is devastating -- but it could be applied to Mrs. Clinton, too. They should both be barred from uttering the phrase "public service" for two years. Sen. Cotton thinks he is entitled to obstruct the president. Mrs. Clinton thinks she is entitled to the presidency. I hope they have both been, and will continue to be, hoisted on their own petards.


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