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Events Roil the 2016 Campaign

A Commentary by Michael Barone

Friday, July 15, 2016

"Events, dear boy, events," the late British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan supposedly replied when asked what he most feared. And events can certainly make a difference, as was apparent this week: Prime Minister David Cameron moved out of No. 10 Downing Street and Theresa May moved in. This came after British voters, against Cameron's advice and contrary to widespread expectations, voted to leave the European Union June 23.

But the extraordinary machinations in London are not capturing American voters' attentions as much as things happening over here. At the midpoint of a tumultuous and often surprising presidential campaign, with the nominees seemingly chosen (though some Republicans still hope to stop Donald Trump in Cleveland), two major events have roiled the American political landscape over the last week.

One was the extraordinary statement delivered by FBI Director James Comey July 5. In excruciating detail he described how Hillary Clinton defied the laws and regulations requiring a secretary of state to use government email and turn it over to the government after leaving office. She was "extremely careless," he concluded.

He also showed beyond any possibility of contradiction how she has repeatedly lied about the subject. And then he announced that she will not be prosecuted for her obvious violations of section 793(f) of the federal criminal code.

Of course, Comey is not a prosecutor but he was put in the position of one after it was revealed that Attorney General Loretta Lynch had met with Bill Clinton for 30 minutes on her official plane on the tarmac of the Phoenix airport on June 28. How was the meeting arranged? Did they expect it to go unreported, as it almost did?

One might be pardoned for thinking that, for once, Donald Trump got it right in a tweet: "The fix is in."

Comey said "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring charges, because Clinton lacked criminal intent. But the statute requires only "gross negligence," which sounds an awful lot like "extremely careless." Lynch, after her perfunctory ratification of Comey's decision not to prosecute, didn't even try to explain the difference to a congressional committee.

Democrats heaved a sigh of relief. They wouldn't have to find a new nominee. But they can hardly claim that Clinton has been cleared. Polls show a majority of voters think she should have been indicted. And Quinnipiac polls this week showed Donald Trump leading or tying her in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, three states without whose electoral votes Barack Obama would not have been re-elected.

Then came the murder in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter protest of five policemen by a man who said he hated white cops. That followed videotapes of shootings of black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana in circumstances that might well have been unjustifiable.

At a funeral service in Dallas July 12 both George W. Bush and Barack Obama delivered excellent speeches -- until Obama went on at greater length to suggest once again that black men are being gunned down by racist police and that this problem could be solved somehow by gun control legislation.

This echoes a meme to which Obama has been giving support since the shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 -- a shooting which his own Justice Department eventually ruled justifiable. The resulting "Ferguson effect" -- officers withdrawing from proactive policing -- has been described by the Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald. The phenomenon has resulted in a terrifying spike of homicides in major cities such as Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago -- and cold-blooded murders of police officers in Dallas and elsewhere.

The fact, documented by Harvard economist Roland Fryer, is that there is no epidemic of unjustified police killings of blacks. Another fact: Local law enforcement and prosecutors, as in North Charleston, South Carolina, have shown themselves capable of taking prompt action in appropriate cases.

In the meantime, those planning to attend the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively, must be aware of the possibility of violence. Things seem to be spinning out of control.

That's not a favorable setting for a presidential candidate of the party in power, particularly a candidate like Hillary Clinton, who has echoed Obama's statements on policing and whose own lawlessness has gone unpunished by those in authority.

It brings back memories of the disorder of urban riots in the 1960s and the lawlessness of Watergate in the 1970s. Clinton's one strong argument -- the unsuitability of Donald Trump -- may be enough to elect her president. But maybe not.

Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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