By Alyssa Sanford
Even though the anticipated 2016 presidential election is still well over a year away, it already has a buzzword vividly circling — transparency.
“Transparency matters,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tweeted on Monday, March 2, in response to a crop of scandals connected to Hillary Clinton. Bush was adamant that Clinton, a frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential campaign, release her private emails that she sent and received during her tenure as Secretary of State to the public for the sake of all-important political transparency.
While Clinton did ultimately cooperate and announce that she had asked the State Department to go ahead and release her emails, it didn’t exactly quell the public outcry for total honesty.
Beyond her truly controversial decision to use a private email account for government affairs, Clinton faced scrutiny for her family foundation’s acceptance of donations from Middle Eastern countries that suppress women’s rights. Both of these recent scandals require Clinton to be perfectly transparent about the ethics of her actions.
But is that ever enough?
It’s not just the blatant issues themselves that will naturally plague Clinton’s campaign — that is if she does ultimately announce her candidacy. Her response to the issues will define her campaign, and could make or break it.
Take a look at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose dreams of a lofty presidential nomination are fading fast. Some might say that Christie is too transparent, too brash and direct in his response to questions from opponents. An article from the New York Times on Thursday, Feb. 26, quoted Christie as saying, “Sometimes people need to be told to sit down and shut up.” Does Christie own up to his mistakes, such as his involvement in the Bridgegate scandal of 2014? Perhaps, but his blunt honesty isn’t appealing to many voters.
Political consultants, such as Patrick Davis from Colorado, believe that “Christie’s brashness may work for New Jersey voters, but he did not think it would play well in Iowa, site of the first presidential nominating contest,” according to the Times.
Similarly, claims of any type of transparency may turn out to be hypocritical. Jeb Bush’s call for Clinton to release her emails preceded the revelation that he took seven years to release his own private emails to the press, according to the Times.
It seems suspicious that Bush waited until long after leaving office to release his emails but has taken the last few weeks to publicly pride himself on his own political transparency. How he deals with this new revelation could seal his fate in terms of a nomination.
While Clinton held a press conference to discuss the email controversy, among other pressing issues as well, journalists did not note her willingness to address the problem up front. They did not laud her for her honesty, or for her decision to make her private emails public information. Instead, the Times noted that she held a “defensive” stance when taking questions from reporters, and that “It had taken eight days for Mrs. Clinton to make herself available for questions. And long before the questions ran out, she began packing up her binder.”
Transparency is, with no doubt, a bipartisan issue. No politician is immune to the occasional slip-up, as the 24-hour news cycle makes abundantly clear. But the universal cry for transparency makes worthy presidential candidates ultimately seem incompetent or evasive.
Isn’t it time that we accept that our politicians aren’t always forthcoming about their mistakes, like any human being? And isn’t it time that we focus on issues that are more important than email records and bridge lane closings?
The upcoming 2016 presidential campaign will likely hinge on the candidates’ transparency, but what it should focus on is their stances on the hot-button issues.
After all, their own competency in addressing those issues isn’t contingent on how they handled minor mistakes in the past.