As a criminologist I see one common thread among the numerous items in the Clintons’ baggage—the unfair exploitation of opportunity for relatively quick pleasures. I also see that they have very little regard for the long-term negative consequences of those decisions. They have low self-control, in other words, just like all “ordinary criminals.” Ordinary criminals are the vast majority of arrestees almost everywhere. You don’t have to be a criminologist to figure it out.
Not voting for the Clintons because they have lousy character is very different than not voting for them because one disagrees with their public policies. Severe character flaws are non-negotiable with the voters. Therefore, especially in regard to the crucial independent vote and narrow margins in swing states, Bill and Hillary know that they must somehow project enough high humanity to deflect attention away from their well-documented history of exploiting unfair advantage. Nobody really knows the minimum amount of extra humanity that is needed to put Hillary into the White House, but every bit helps. It’s simple identity management.
The smarter wrongdoers, including executives of large corporations, proactively create highly visible positive moral behaviors to counteract negative perceptions about their integrity. Unfortunately for Hillary and Bill, they require a very high number of really good behaviors to override strong negative public perceptions about their motives.
This strategy of trying to cancel out bad behaviors by focusing on good ones is known as “metaphor of the ledger.” Defense attorneys at felony sentencing hearings use it all the time, for instance. The term “metaphor of the ledger” originates from Karl Klockars’s 1975 ethnography about a professional dealer in stolen goods. Klockars identified the metaphor when the offender bragged about the positive community image he had actively created for himself despite his well-known participation in illegal behavior. The Clintons are world-class players of this kind of identity management, as evidenced by Bill’s treatment as a demigod by the Democratic National Convention. The crowd roared for him, despite his impeachment and despite the fact he was disbarred from practicing law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court for the rest of his life, for perjury.
The Clinton Foundation is obviously the center stone of the Bill and Hillary “metaphor of the ledger.” It’s global. It addresses the worst social and economic problems faced by the most non-fortunate persons on the planet. And the perpetuity of the Foundation recursively messages and reinforces Clintonian good morality. But even with all this, will the Foundation be seen as “selfless” enough to blot the Clinton baggage out of enough people’s minds? Before we can answer that question, we have to determine what the Foundation is up against.
Only one Clinton is running for president, but they are to an almost indescribable extent inseparable. Although Hillary is projecting her own personage and politics in her campaign rhetoric, the two are nevertheless so utterly conjoined in people’s eyes that it is virtually impossible for the good and bad actions of one not to reflect well or not well on the other. We know they are in cahoots. Their moral identity management operations must, therefore, concentrate on the Clinton brand as a whole.
Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi define the pursuit of immediate gratification in a nutshell—the seeking of “money without work,” “sex without courtship,” and “revenge without court delays.” All of them—easy money, easy sex, and easy revenge—involve finding and then seizing opportunities to exploit unfair advantage over others for direct or indirect personal gain, virtually always without concern for ensuing penalties. It is important to analyze the ways in which the Clintons’ lower self-control has materialized across all three of these dimensions to give us some idea about an overall public negative perception of Bill and Hillary on these character problems. A few of the better known examples are used here, but there are many others from which to choose that also reflect immediate gratification and the failure to consider long term consequences.
For “money without work,” we blatantly have the exorbitant perquisites from the Clinton Foundation. And yes, Bill “worked” for his $500,000 speeches. But he did far less work than if he would have had to create the same amount of money elsewise. Let’s not forget the questionable billing by Hillary at the Rose Law Firm related to Whitewater, or Whitewater for that matter. Or things like the Lincoln Bedroom racket. Opportunities for “money without work” have manifested in many forms for the Clintons while they have been in public life, from the common embezzlement of White House property to sophisticated influence peddling in uranium deals.
Embezzlement, which involves the misappropriation of something that you already legally possess but do not own, is criminologically significant because it represents one of the easiest ways to get money without working for it—all someone has to do is not give something back. The easy opportunity associated with embezzlement is an especially strong lure for persons with lower self-control. Such individuals would be predicted to commit embezzlement at a high rate if they have the chance because of the minimal effort involved. In other words, it may have been much more noteworthy criminologically if the Clintons did not embezzle White House property. That they did should be no surprise.
For the “sex without courtship” dimension of lower self-control, Bill has repeatedly been accused of unwanted sexual advances, including forcible rape (e.g., Juanita Broaddrick). Forcible sexual assault epitomizes exploitation. Note that the forcible rape of a person with normal intelligence equates on the unfair advantage scale to consensual sex with someone who is mentally retarded—both are seen as equal in the eyes of the law. The Monica Lewinsky affair is of course another prime example of a shortcut to sexual relations. You can fill in the details with however many instances you need to illustrate the point here on sex without courtship for either one of them (and there are many such allegations in the numerous books about Bill and Hillary), but remember that you are looking for their pursuit of relatively immediate pleasures without thought to the consequences, not sex.
“Revenge without court delays” is caused by a low frustration tolerance—one wants to eliminate both momentary and longer-term annoyances far more quickly than it would take to do it in a more proper (and sometimes more legal) way. For instance, Hillary was fired early in her career from the Nixon investigation because of false legal work. Rather than nail Mr. Nixon fairly and according to the rule of law, Hillary chose to exploit an opportunity to find quick revenge, and people are still talking about it. “Travelgate” is surely relevant here where Hillary is seen as inflicting unfair revenge against innocent federal employees who refused to enrich her friends, raising real anger control questions about her. And if it wasn’t for the famous blue dress, Monica Lewinsky would have continued to have been vengefully bullied by the Clintons as a promiscuous temptress.
“Revenge without court delays” often plays out into a crime of violence when it involves one or more people of lower self-control, such as in domestic disputes. But revenge can take on many different forms when sought by those with official government powers. Of greatest concern is the misuse of legal power to suppress opposing political speech (such as in the IRS-Tea Party scandal). “Do we want to give presidential executive powers to someone who has a demonstrated history of shortcutting angry revenge?” is the kind of question that the Clinton identity management strategy has to currently deal with on this issue for Hillary.
Lying is another personality trait that goes along with exploitative behavior patterns as a normal response to low frustration tolerance. Falsehoods are thought to extricate the person from an immediately uncomfortable accusatory situation, and the fact that the lies are usually easily falsified makes the immediacy of the gratification more obvious. Lying to official authorities (such as an independent counsel or a civil court judge while under oath) is a particularly acute indication of lower self-control.
A big part of the Clintons’ identity management program involves trying to keep the bad stuff off the record in the first place. The destruction of evidence and the silencing of witnesses in attempts to eradicate events altogether represent behaviors that are among the severest forms of lying and low frustration tolerance. For a known event that is problematic for them, the Clintons will try to focus on rejecting the event’s wrongfulness to keep it off the “bad” side of the ledger. Several methods are deployed here (in addition to parsing words), all of which have been identified by criminologists for almost sixty years as excuses used by rule-breakers to de-legitimate accusations of immoral behavior. They were originally put forth by Gresham Sykes and David Matza in 1957 in relation to adolescent criminals.
We will start with the method that is absolutely used automatically by the Clintons—condemnation of the accuser. This is accomplished either by pointing to the critic’s previous immoral behavior or by claiming that he, she, or “they” are part of “a right wing conspiracy.” Absent the accuser’s moral standing to accuse, the accusation becomes hypocritical or meaningless. Blaming others first and oneself last sometimes works for good identity management. It is also a classic behavior of a lower self-control personality.
Another reduction strategy used by the Clintons is to admit the deed but deny responsibility for doing it, especially the idea that the act was “not my fault” (refiling five years’ worth of Clinton Foundation tax returns because of a “mistake” in reporting millions of dollars in donations—they are only human). A third method in downplaying the bad side is to deny that there was any injury associated with the action—no harm, no foul (e.g., “What does it matter?”). Fourth, a selfless appeal to a higher loyalty is used to counteract any alleged immoral motives, such as “We took in that money to help the people reached by our Foundation.” (Apparently unbeknownst to the Clintons, this strategy only works when they themselves derive no benefit.)
In sum, the Clintons have a great many lower self-control incidents in a variety of contexts to reconcile. It is the lack of self-control that people remember most. Many may not be able to quite put their finger on it exactly. But they somehow know there is a significant level of unfair and exploitative personal gain associated with virtually all of the couple’s controversies. As I said earlier, you don’t have to be a criminologist to figure it out.
Against all this Bill and Hillary are putting up the Clinton Foundation. Naturally, they will also actively promote odds and ends related to the building of a moral identity, including their selfless public service, the humanity of their public policy views, and lots of good deeds. The Clintons surely have amassed by now one of the world’s greatest collections of photo-ops with people like the Pope, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela—these and similar “good character by association” items always put forth positive implications of selflessness.
But their big enchilada is the Clinton Foundation. Will its global good deeds be enough, especially considering the salient questions being asked about how much of its “donations and grants” actually go to charity? Assuming that the Foundation entity doesn’t backfire as a fraudulent morality front for bribe-taking, the Foundation may actually help the Clintons’ identity management game. All that is really needed is just enough independent voters to forgive the Clintons’ exploitative behaviors just enough for Hillary to win the general election.
However, a documented behavior against either one of them may be so egregious that no identity management strategy will be able to overcome it. Bill Whittle has asserted that Hillary’s destruction of emails is a felony under 18 U.S.C. Section 2071. Others have discussed 18 U.S.C. Section 201 (the federal bribery statute) in relation to the Foundation and Hillary as Secretary of State. Such crushing blows may be impossible to combat, even for the Clintons. After all, Hillary can’t condemn the enforcement of the U.S. Code without also condemning the rule of law. “It’s not my fault” and “What does it matter?” are also highly unlikely to work against both of these serious charges. From now on for the Clintons, then, the most important factor affecting their bottom line moral image may well be Loretta Lynch, our new Attorney General.
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