Micek: Two controversies to examine closely
If you ever wonder why some people think the game is rigged, why they believe the rich get access to government and power and influence the way the average working stiff doesn't, then two headlines are instructive.
Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that Paul Manafort, the campaign manager for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, had popped up in a "secret ledger" showing $12.7 million in cash payments were earmarked for him from a political party headed by Ukraine's former president, a pro-Russian strongman named Viktor F. Yanukovych.
That came on top of revelations last week of what appears to have been an entirely too cozy relationship between Democrat Hillary Clinton's State Department and major donors to the controversy-prone Clinton Foundation.
Both incidents are each, for their own reasons, profoundly troubling. And they would be, on their own, in a normal campaign year, a serious argument for disqualification for the respective candidates.
But this isn't any other year. The voting public has proven strikingly immune (or perhaps is now simply indifferent) to shocking, shameful or embarrassing things the Democratic and Republican nominees have said or done.
However, there is something particularly unsavory and unseemly about Manafort's Ukrainian payday and the reports that Clinton's State Department skated right up to the edge of "pay-to-play."
Let's stipulate up front that the skills of a political consultant like Manafort are entirely portable. Getting a candidate elected in Pretoria isn't that much different from getting one elected in Pittsburgh.
The difference here, of course, is the candidate. Yanukovych was a strongman whose stormy tenure was beset by allegations of police abuse and corruption, according to published reports.
There's no evidence Manafort, based on the ledgers, received any cash. And he has denied taking any. Even still, it's more than a little troubling that Trump would pick a guy who was apparently okay with shilling for someone as repellent as the pro-Russian Yanukovych.
Meanwhile, at issue for Clinton are two email conversations, dating from 2009 and made public by the right-leaning Judicial Watch.
They showed that Douglas J. Band, then the head of the Clinton Global Initiative, pressed senior Clinton aides Huma Abedin and Cheryl D. Mills to arrange a meeting between a foundation donor and a senior State Department official.
That donor, Gilbert Chagoury, has denied that a meeting with anyone at the State Department ever took place. And he says that he was just trying to relay information about his home country of Lebanon, The Post reported.
As The Post also notes, Clinton herself was not involved. But Abedin, who simultaneously (and improperly) worked at both the State Department and Clinton Foundation, was involved and apparently encouraged the interaction.
And, no, there's no direct evidence of illegality here. Even so, it doesn't pass the basic smell test. In the end, a deep-pocketed donor received favorable consideration in a way that is unimaginable (and unavailable) to the average citizen.
And that's just unacceptable.
If Trump is serious about his bumper-sticker pledge to make America great (whether it needs to be made great "again" is open to debate), then he can't employ a guy who takes money from governments whose values are not consonant with our own.
And if Clinton is going to credibly champion the little guy on the stump, then she needs to thoroughly explain (and perhaps be held to account by voters) why the Clinton Foundation was not a favor bank for the rich and powerful.
And then she needs to reassure voters that it will never happen in the White House.
And if neither thing happens, then ask yourself (again) why people think the game is rigged. It shouldn't be hard to answer.
John Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.