Hillary, Jeb, and the downside of deja vu

     Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton  (Charlie Neibergall and Jim Cole/AP Photos)

    Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton (Charlie Neibergall and Jim Cole/AP Photos)

    The reason we’re less than scintillated by a Hillary-Jeb ’16 scenario is because it feels like we’ve seen it all before. And this week we got several grim reminders.

    For starters, that thing Jeb said on the stump yesterday…good grief, it was like tripping back to 2004 and hearing Jeb’s brother all over again. This was Jeb in Iowa: “I’ll tell you, though, that taking out Saddam Hussein turned out to be a pretty good idea.”

    Really? That again? Did Jeb miss the reality memo about how failed brother W wound up destabilizing the Middle East, creating a vacuum that has been filled by Iran? I thought Jeb was supposed to be the smart Bush. Apparently his foreign policy advisers – many of whom are discredited neocon retreads from the W regime – have been busy pumping their swill into an empty vessel.

    No wonder the electorate seems underwhelmed by the prospect of eight years of Bush deja vu. But enough about Jeb. Our main focus today is the daunting prospect of Clinton deja vu.

    When the news broke Wednesday that Hillary had agreed to surrender her private email server to the FBI, I had to roll my eyes. Back in March, at a rare press conference, she had vowed not to surrender: “I believe I have met all of my responsibilities, and the server will remain private.” Also that month, her lawyer told Congress that there was “no basis” for any outside scrutiny of the server.

    This is the Clintonian pattern, dating back to the ’90s: Bill or Hillary does something in secret, probes are launched, documents and records are sought, months go by, documents and records are finally coughed up after repeated foot-dragging vows never to surrender them, the probes are expanded, a new cloud hovers overhead as partisans on both sides of the Clinton divide spin with new fervor…it’s the show in reruns.

    The guilt, or lack of guilt, or degree of guilt, almost doesn’t matter. Most voters don’t have the time or interest to parse all the particulars. But what they’re perceiving right now – what’s dampening Hillary’s poll numbers – is that a new Clinton presidency could be another drip-drip roundelay of accusation-denial-investigation.

    Refusing to give up the private server, then forking it over – we’ve seen this behavior many times. During the ’08 campaign, Hillary dragged her feet on releasing her tax returns, doing so only after weeks of relentless pressure. Heck, we can go back to Bill’s tenure, when Hillary crafted health care reform in secret. A coalition of medical and ethics groups demanded that she release her team’s records. She refused. The groups sued. She lost. The courts eventually ruled that she had been wrong to work in secret, and wrong to shield the identities of her task force teammates – many of whom were private medical industry pros with potential conflicts of interest.

    I could easily go on – Hillary advised Bill to resist releasing documents about the couple’s failed Whitewater investments, thus turning a minor story into a major coverup – but you get the idea. This is the undertow to her electability. One of the big reasons why Bernie Sanders has caught fire is because he isn’t viewed as a baggage-burdened member of the tainted political establishment. He doesn’t discomfit Democrats with deja vu.

    Hillary has complained: “We’ve had questions raised for the last four years, and eventually they’re answered, and they go away, and more questions come up.” Care to guess when she said that? 1996. Yet it sounds so 2015.

    Maybe she’ll outrace the latest hovering cloud; after all, the Clintons are famously resilient. Or maybe it depends on whether the electorate is willing to stomach a lot more of their stormy weather.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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