Hillary Clinton e-mails: flattery, frozen fish, and 'The Good Wife'

All politicians try hard to control their public image. The Hillary Clinton e-mails that have been released crack the facade and reveal the odd, banal, and private thought beneath.

David Richard/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Cleveland, Aug. 27, 2015.

The State Department released another big batch of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails on Monday night. They don’t appear to contain any shocking policy revelations. Of the 4,368 documents released, 125 included sensitive and possibly classified information, according to State. That information was redacted to keep it from public view.

Whether the former secretary of State broke laws or regulations by discussing classified information on her private e-mail server remains (unsurprisingly) a matter of debate. But if Mrs. Clinton established that server initially to control her communications, the move was a failure. These periodic e-mail revelations will continue for months to come as State works its way through the pile, keeping the private-server story alive in political news coverage.

“I wake up to drip, drip, drip ... not water droplets but Clinton emails. And only 25% of undeleted emails have been released," tweeted University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato on Tuesday morning.

What can we learn from the latest e-mail batch? We can learn about Hillary Clinton and her life as it really is. All politicians try hard to control their public image. The Clinton e-mails crack the facade and reveal the odd, banal, and private thought beneath.

Here’s what struck us from this fresh batch:

Clinton was surrounded by suck-ups. Flattery is common at high levels in Washington, but Clinton dealt with a number of people for whom it was an art. She often received e-mails from staff and State appointees praising the brilliance of her latest speech or policy move. Some went so far as to praise her appearance in photos or at public events.

But lawyer and former Clinton aide Lanny Davis surpassed them all. In a three-page memo asking Clinton to provide a quote for a magazine profile, Davis said, “I consider you to be the best friend and best person I have met in my long life.”

Anyone else remember “Leave It to Beaver” flatterer Eddie Haskell?

Frozen fish can cause international incidents. The secretary of State does not deal exclusively with nuclear proliferation policy or methods of trying to calm the roiling Middle East. Sometimes the job involves gefilte fish.

It’s perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious of the Clinton e-mails to date: a missive from Clinton to several State Department officials, subject line “Gefilte fish.”

“Where are we on this?” Clinton asks.

Long story short, this is not the secretary of State inquiring about general national policy regarding the Jewish minced fish dish. It’s Clinton inquiring about a particular shipment of frozen Illinois-bred carp held up in its travels from the United States to Israel.

Israeli officials wanted to slap a hefty tariff on the shipment. Clinton helped negotiate a lower one. Foreign Affairs magazine probably won’t do a subject retrospective.

Clinton wondered what David Brooks was up to. News flash: Clinton is very suspicious of reporters and the media in general, and sees them as adversaries to be manipulated and controlled if possible.

Her newly released e-mails are replete with discussions of this piece or that and what agenda the writer or broadcaster was secretly pursuing. She got an early look at the Rolling Stone article that ended Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s military career, for example, and mulled its potential impact with pals.

Here’s a typical instance: On Feb. 9, 2010, Clinton sent adviser Philippe Reines an e-mail with the subject line “David Brooks,” referring to the somewhat right-leaning New York Times columnist.

“Took a shot at me in his column today. Any idea what prompted it?” Clinton wrote.

We’re just guessing, but probably Mr. Brooks had a deadline. It’s unlikely he was acting out the intentions of the fast rightish-wing cabal.

Mr. Reines replied that he didn’t know, but in any case this was a good excuse to reach out to Brooks and bring him in for a little chat, on background. Also maybe Thomas Friedman, who shares space with Brooks on the NYT editorial page.

“Agreed, full speed ahead,” wrote back Clinton. “But, I also think we may need a more aggressive strategy of pushing our message.”

She watches TV. News flash 2: Clinton watches television to relax. It’s possible she reads Gibbon in her spare time to try to glean insights from the diplomacy of the ancient Roman world, but that’s not in the latest release.

To be fair, she does have to ask somebody when various shows are on. On Jan. 3, 2010, she sent an e-mail to aide Monica Hanley requesting the viewing times for “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Wife.”

Didn't that latter show star the spouse of a politician who had gotten in trouble because of a sex scandal?

Anyway, Ms. Hanley replies with the appropriate networks and times and adds, “It is a huge honor to work for you. I learn so much every day.”

See Category 1, above.

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