A Philosopher's Blog

Hillary, Secrecy & Pneumonia

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 19, 2016

While attending a 9/11 event, Hillary Clinton seemed to succumb to the heat. It was later revealed that she had been suffering from pneumonia, something her campaign had failed to disclose. As would be expected, her critics rushed to claim that this is yet another example of her problematic obsession with secrecy. As should also be expected, those who have long been advancing the narrative of her ill health were given a fresh magazine of ammunition. Her supporters mostly responded by downplaying the incident.

Assuming she really does have pneumonia, her illness is not really a big deal. After all, if getting sick disqualified a person from being president, then there would be no one to fill the office. The real concern was, of course, about the failure to announce in a timely manner that she was sick. This ties into the damaging narrative that Hillary is needlessly and problematically secretive.

It could be countered that the decision was not based in this desire for secrecy but was a calculated move in response to Trump’s strategy of claiming Hillary is unwell. While everyone gets sick at some point, there was no doubt concern that Trump would exploit such an announcement and ratchet up his attacks. Hillary and her handlers probably thought they could bluff their way through the illness; something that might have worked.

While that approach has some appeal, there is the very reasonable concern that the failure to disclose this illness was, as noted above, just another example of Hillary’s problematic obsession with secrecy. Hillary also recently faced the backlash from Bill’s tarmac meeting with Loretta Lynch. This was rightly presented as an example of an approach so often taken by the Clintons. After all, while any sensible person would expect that Bill would use his influence to help Hillary, doing this in such a blatant and clumsy manner did considerable damage. Given that Hillary is supposed to be such a savvy politician, it is interesting to consider why she engages in what seem to be so many self-damaging actions. While the discussion focuses on Hillary, it also applies to people in general. Poor decision making is a common affliction.

One possibility is that such behavior is in her nature—she is what she is, so she does what she does even when it harms her efforts to fulfill her ambition to be president. This is illustrated by the classic story of the fox (or frog) and the scorpion.

A fox was about to start his swim across a river when a scorpion called out to him, asking for a ride across. The fox, being good natured, wanted to help. But, he was worried that the scorpion would sting him. The scorpion assured him that he would be in no danger. After all, if he stung the fox, they would both drown and he certainly would not do something so foolish.

The fox agreed and the scorpion climbed up on his back. When the pair was half way across the river, the scorpion stung the fox. When the fox asked the scorpion why, he replied “it’s my nature” and they both died. Each thing is what it is and does what it does because of what it is. So, perhaps it is simply Hillary’s nature to engage in such behavior—she simply cannot do otherwise. This does raise many interesting questions about whether people have a nature or not and it certainly ties into the endless philosophical battle over free choice.

An alternative that avoids metaphysics is to take the view that Hillary is habituated into doing as she does. While habits can be very powerful, they are obviously weaker than having a nature. This is because, as Aristotle discussed at length, habits can be made and broken. But, habits can be rather hard to break, especially bad ones and it is quite obvious that people will stick with detrimental habits even in the face of continuous negative results. For example, most people have the habits of eating poorly and exercising too little or not at all. As such, they suffer needless and easily avoidable health problems. As another example, many people form habits involving damaging substances ranging from sugar to opioids. These do considerable harm, yet people persist in their habits. Hillary seems have learned the habit of secrecy and, like many habits, she seems unwilling or unable to break it.

A third alternative is that Hillary has consciously adopted secrecy as a strategy. People do often stick with failing strategies for various reasons. It is also worth considering that she actually has a winning strategy. While the revelations about her email and her pneumonia have cost her politically, it could well be that she has other secrets that have been effectively kept and that doing so has proven very advantageous for her. To use a sports analogy, a team that has a good strategy does not win every time. However, they win enough to make it rational to stick to that strategy. One interesting thing about the strategy of secrecy is that the public only knows about cases in which the strategy failed, not the situations in which it worked very well. So, what seems to be a bad strategy because of a few very visible failures might actually be very effective—who knows what secrets remain hidden and what damage they would do if they were revealed?

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8 Responses

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  1. TJB said, on September 19, 2016 at 8:05 am

    I think this sums it up:

    • TJB said, on September 19, 2016 at 8:15 am

      Vast right wing conspiracy = “the strawberries” 🙂

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 19, 2016 at 8:21 am

  3. ronster12012 said, on September 19, 2016 at 10:27 am

    “So, what seems to be a bad strategy because of a few very visible failures might actually be very effective—who knows what secrets remain hidden and what damage they would do if they were revealed?”

    Perhaps we will find out if Julian Assange is as good as his word and has another email dump next month?

    BTW, is there really no interest in the Clinton Foundation pay to play scheme?

    • wtp said, on September 19, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      “So, what seems to be a bad strategy because of a few very visible failures might actually be very effective—who knows what secrets remain hidden and what damage they would do if they were revealed?”

      So how does this fit in the “most qualified” analysis? The possibility that her secrecy is a sign of a good strategic thinker if she just might still be hiding skeletons that are even worse than the ones that have been exposed? My God. How messed up, willfully blind, and pathetic must one be to even make such an argument? And this man teaches ethics.

      TJ, ronster, DH, AJ…care to weigh in on this thought?

      • ronster12012 said, on September 21, 2016 at 9:21 am


        Would the same generous appraisal be given to Trump if he were the subject of discussion? I think not…

  4. TJB said, on September 19, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Hillary is a good strategist the way Bernie Madoff was a good investment banker.

    Hillary may be “credentialed,” but she is not really “qualified.”

  5. david halbstein said, on September 20, 2016 at 8:13 am

    I don’t regard this particular issue as being too relevant. I imagine the conversation about it going something like, “Let’s not make a big deal out of this. No need for a big announcement – the press (or Trump) will have a field day with it”. And that has proven to be true. Like so many events in politics, “The coverup is worse than the crime”. They will never learn.

    I think that Mike is largely correct, per his earlier post. Those who support Hillary will defend this no matter what, those who oppose her will find this ample fodder for attack. As one who staunchly opposes Clinton, I think I’m an outlier in my opinion of this matter but when it comes to political campaigning, I try very hard to isolate little pockets of relevant information from a sea of immaterial bashing.

    Whether it is truly a symptom of Hillary’s inappropriate disdain for transparency or not, that disdain is definitely a problem. There are times when secrecy is a valid strategy – by saying for example that the use of nuclear weapons is absolutely not off the table when dealing with enemies, keeping secret the fact that you would never consider using them. Keeping a private, unsecure email server to hide the blurred lines between a private foundation and government influence does not fall within those moral boundaries.

    As to the “most qualified” comment, I’ve said before that I don’t think that’s Hillary by a longshot. Her experience is in politics and government, not leadership. Her expertise is in wrangling votes, diverting money, peddling influence and presenting a public persona. The experience she has actually had in leadership or international affairs has largely led to disaster – her dealings with Putin, Iran, international trade, Syria – she has proven to be consistently on the wrong side every time. Her campaign proposals – raising taxes, punishing companies for going overseas instead of enticing them to come back, the gun control “big lie” (wasn’t the most recent attack in Minnesota carried out by a man wielding a knife?) all point to a reaction to widespread but untrue populist propaganda – the rich are our problem, murder is caused by assault rifles, “Big Corp” is stealing money from Americans … etc.

    I think that all politicians lie. I think all politicians keep secrets because they think keeping them is a better political strategy than revealing them. Illness, donations (or lack of them) to charity, personal income or investments, all of these things are nonstarters in my book.

    The Clintons, however, have taken secrecy and lying to a whole new level.

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