THE CLINTON campaign has refused to deny or confirm the authenticity of a WikiLeaks report including apparent purloined emailed excerpts of her paid speeches to corporate audiences in the years between her departure from the State Department in 2013 and her declaration for president in 2015. We hope the excerpts are genuine, because at least in the texts made public as of Monday, the Hillary Clinton that emerges is a knowledgeable, balanced political veteran with sound policy instincts and a mature sense of how to sustain a decent, stable democracy.
With a level of self-awareness unimaginable in her opponent, Ms. Clinton described herself in one speech as “kind of far removed” from the ordinary American’s struggles because of her newfound wealth, and suggested she was making a conscious effort to compensate for that. In other talks, she said she “really admire[s]” even ideological opponents willing to run for office amid the toxicity of modern politics; she noted, correctly, that the optimal situation for the United States is “two sensible, moderate, pragmatic parties.” She also favored the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles framework for deficit reduction, in which entitlement reform would be traded for progressive tax increases, and she offered an astute, historically informed discussion of the challenges of extending health-care coverage at an affordable cost.
Her comments are playing as an embarrassment for various reasons — some valid, others not. She deserves criticism for withholding the speeches thus far, as well as for pursuing corporate speaking fees with unseemly abandon in the first place. And the speeches offer further proof that her election-year disavowal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is an opportunistic trim, not an expression of her views.
As for the shock-horror on both the Sandersian left and the Trumpian right about her reported aspiration for a “hemispheric common market” with “open trade and open borders,” however — it’s wrongheaded and hyped. Regional free trade is well advanced already, via existing agreements with Canada, Mexico and 10 other Latin American nations. And, in context, she’s clearly not advocating unregulated immigration. Did she call on Wall Street types to “help us figure . . . out” what went wrong in the Panic of 2008? Yes. Did she promise to privilege their views or interests? No, and she even warned them it was in their own interest to face greater accountability, given public distrust of finance. Then there’s her much-maligned view that “you need both a public and a private position,” which is playing as a confession of two-facedness but is actually a clumsy formulation of obvious truth: Nothing gets done in politics unless legislators can deliberate and negotiate candidly, outside the glare of publicity.
This whole episode illustrates that point. Ms. Clinton kept the speeches under wraps out of fear that they would be distorted for political purposes by her populist foes. Alas, that fear was amply justified in this populistic, polarized environment, as the manufactured uproar over their release proves. The fact that Ms. Clinton’s eminently reasonable and open-minded words regarding the issues and her opponents are being treated as scandalous is the real scandal.