Fi­nal days, and an aw­ful choice

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Charles Krautham­mer Colum­nist

Rule of thumb for a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign where the two can­di­dates have the high­est un­fa­vor­able rat­ings in the his­tory of polling: If you’re the cen­ter of at­ten­tion, you’re los­ing.

As Elec­tion Day ap­proaches, Hil­lary Clin­ton can­not shake the spot­light. She is still ahead in the polls, but you know she’s slip­ping when she shows up at a Florida cam­paign event with a week to go ac­com­pa­nied by the for­mer Miss Uni­verse, Ali­cia Machado.

The orig­i­nal plan was for Clin­ton to pivot in the fi­nal week of the cam­paign from re­lent­less crit­i­cism of Don­ald Trump to mak­ing a pos­i­tive case for her­self. In­stead, she reached back for a six-week-old charge that played well when it first emerged back then but now feels stale and re­cy­cled.

The set­back and mo­men­tum shift came cour­tesy of FBI Direc­tor James Comey. Clin­ton’s great­est hur­dle had al­ways been the Comey pri­mary, which the Democrats thought she’d won in July when he de­clined to rec­om­mend pros­e­cut­ing her over clas­si­fied emails. This en­gen­dered an out­pour­ing of Demo­cratic en­comi­ums about Comey’s unim­peach­able in­tegrity and Solomonic wis­dom.

When it was re­vealed last Fri­day that there had been a Comey re­count and Clin­ton lost, Solomon turned into Torque­mada. But, of course, Comey had no choice. How could he have sat on a trove of 650,000 newly dis­cov­ered emails and kept that knowl­edge sup­pressed un­til af­ter the elec­tion?

Comey’s an­nounce­ment brought flood­ing back -- to mem­ory and to the front pages -- ev­ery un­sa­vory el­e­ment of the Clin­ton char­ac­ter: shifti­ness, para­noia, cyn­i­cism and dis­dain for play­ing by the rules. It got worse when FBI em­ploy­ees be­gan leak­ing sto­ries about pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal pres­sure from the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and about par­al­lel in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion.

At the same time, Clin­ton was ab­sorb­ing a daily dose of Wik­iLeaks, of­fer­ing an ex­tremely un­ap­peal­ing tableau of men­dac­ity, de­cep­tion and the in­ter­min­gling of pub­lic ser­vice with pri­vate self-en­rich­ment. It was the worst week of her cam­paign, at the worst time.

And it raises two trou­bling ques­tions:

• Re­gard­ing the FBI, do we re­ally want to elect a pres­i­dent who will likely come into of­fice un­der crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by law en­force­ment? Con­gres­sional hear­ings will be im­me­di­ate and end­less. A con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis at some point is not out of the ques­tion.

• And re­gard­ing Wik­iLeaks, how do we know it will have re­leased the most damn­ing ma­te­rial by Elec­tion Day? A hard­ened KGB op­er­a­tive like Vladimir Putin might well pre­fer to hold back what­ever is most in­crim­i­nat­ing un­til a Clin­ton pres­i­dency. He is surely not above at­tempted black­mail at an op­por­tune time.

We are en­ter­ing a pe­riod of un­prece­dented threat to the in­ter­na­tional or­der that has pre­vailed un­der Amer­i­can lead­er­ship since 1945. Af­ter eight years of Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­treat, the three ma­jor re­vi­sion­ist pow­ers -- Rus­sia, China and Iran -- see their chance to achieve re­gional dom­i­nance and di­min­ish, if not ex­pel, Amer­i­can in­flu­ence.

At a time of such tec­tonic in­sta­bil­ity, even the most ex­pe­ri­enced head of state re­quires wis­dom and del­i­cacy to main­tain equi­lib­rium. Trump has nei­ther. His join­ing of supreme ig­no­rance to supreme ar­ro­gance, com­bined with a patho­log­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity to any per­ceived slight, is a stand­ing in­vi­ta­tion to calami­tous mis­cal­cu­la­tion.

Two gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans have grown up feel­ing that in­ter­na­tional sta­bil­ity is as nat­u­ral as the air we breathe. It’s not. It de­pends on con­tin­ual, cal­i­brated tend­ing. It de­pends on the del­i­cate bal­anc­ing of al­liances and the care­ful sig­nal­ing of en­e­mies. It de­pends on avoid­ing self-in­flicted trade wars and on rec­og­niz­ing the value of al­lies like Ger­many, Ja­pan and South Korea as cor­ner­stones of our own se­cu­rity rather than satrapies who are here to dis­patch trib­ute to their im­pe­rial mas­ter in Wash­ing­ton.

It took seven decades to build this open, free in­ter­na­tional or­der. It could be brought down in a sin­gle pres­i­den­tial term. That would be a high price to pay for the cathar­sis of kick­ing over a ta­ble.

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