It’s crystal clear that Hillary Clinton stands a very good chance at becoming the next president of the United States. But win or lose, now is the time for her to act like the president she hopes to be.
She began, of course, Thursday night as she made her first and fullest statement yet as to why, as the Democrats’ choice for president, she deserves our votes. But that was just the first step.
Because Friday, she became the model for America to see how she’ll conduct herself as president, should she take that oath of office come January. In one critical respect, she’s been failing to even try.
She hasn’t had a formal press conference in more than 200 days. That’s bad enough. But she also avoids the press even at regular events. Her spontaneous Q&A with reporters in March was the first time in 88 days, for instance, that she even took their questions.
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This year, in total, she’s met with the press about nine times. When she has, it’s usually been for five minutes or less. The White House Correspondents Association has blasted both Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. The former avoids the press, and the latter tries to bully any reporter who is critical of his campaign.
Clinton’s refusal to regularly engage with the reporters who cover her campaign, like her failure to hold even infrequent formal press conferences, is more than a mistake. It undermines our democracy.
It’s also bad politics.
Her avoidance of the press has opened her up to lengthy invectives from Republican nominee Trump, whose readiness to endure a press conference is not to be doubted.
“I think it’s time for Hillary Clinton to do a news conference because it’s been almost a year now. And it would be interesting to see how she does,” he said Wednesday at a news conference.
He also put himself and his disassociation from the truth on full display for a full hour before the news media.
It was a bizarre performance. He wasn’t more than 90 seconds into the opening remarks before he started making no sense. He was jabbing at Clinton for the hacked emails and what they said about ousted DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s hidden biases during the primary campaign.
But that’s the beauty of press conferences. They can be, in a word, revelatory.
And for all his faults — from his failure to release his tax returns to his absurd decision to yank the Washington Post’s press credentials — he has taken questions from the press. Routinely. In doing so, he has explained his views and his priorities, and in a format where they can be questioned, probed and rebutted.
Hillary Clinton hasn’t. And she’s wrong.
There may be good reasons, or at least ones that made sense to her campaign, for why this is the case. She was ahead of Bernie Sanders and probably didn’t want to give him something to seize on. Maybe her lawyers had her convinced that questions about the email scandal could only harm her while the FBI was investigating. Maybe she just doesn’t like the press — and who, really, could blame her?
But her reasons, whatever they were, weren’t good enough. And now they have simply disappeared altogether. With her acceptance of the nomination Thursday night, the time has come, urgently come, for her to interact in a meaningful way with the press. Not because Trump has said she should. Not because writers like me say she should. But because she knows that her actions over the next 100 days will say much more than her words, and even more than her past performances, about how she will conduct herself as president if she wins in November.
The press is ugly. It’s imperfect. It can be myopic and endlessly fascinated with conflict. It can be easily intimidated and often manipulated. But in these it reflects the foibles of the same people who read and view it, and despite all this, it remains the best check, maybe the only durable check, against tyranny in this country. Courts can be packed. Precedents overturned. Congressmen cowed. The free press endures as the best way to ensure individuals have a voice in this, their own country.
In disrespecting that, Clinton disrespects the people she’d like so badly to lead. Now is the time for her to change that policy.
Michael A. Lindenberger is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.
©2016 The Dallas Morning News