So, Hillary Clinton has coughed up the truth about her probably transient illness, and Donald Trump has copped to carrying a few extra pounds.
This is uninteresting. Have you heard that Colin Powell is casually moonlighting as a private [detective]?
Yes, we’ve just learned from the internet more than we’ve ever known about Powell, the painstakingly reticent former secretary of state. Turns out this esteemed diplomat is a common wag when we aren’t looking.
Now, Powell hasn’t actually admitted to being a private [detective]. But [detective] and its variations are clearly among his favorite words. For example: He wrote in one e-mail to an acquaintance that the work e-mails of government officials should perhaps not be public information, since the format is casual and the powers that be “are going to [detective] up the legitimate and necessary use of e-mails with [related euphemism] record rules. … I saw e-mail more like a telephone than a cable machine.” President Richard Nixon probably thought the same about the face-to-face banter captured on his tape recorder.
More titillatingly, Powell wrote that among Hillary Clinton’s liabilities is that Bill Clinton “is still [detective-ing] [attractive but not scholarly young women] at home,” according to a tabloid publication Powell peruses.
It’s rich, of course, that Trump’s big (little) health care reveal this week was done on a TV show named “Oz.” It’s richer still that Powell, to whom Hillary Clinton turned for advice about using e-mail while at the State Department — and who told her to “be very careful” — has become the embodiment of the man behind the curtain, and, moreover, that he’s kind of a [detective]. The statements above are from his private communications. They are known to us now because he was hacked, and they were leaked.
We’re off to see the wizard indeed.
Really, this is scary. Would you want your every utterance subject to exposure? I know I wouldn’t, and that’s true even though I’ve spent the last five years scrubbing many a wicked thought before it materialized on my screen. But not enough of them, it seems now. We — public officials and private citizens alike — have handed over our lives to, well, a series of tubes about which we are rubes in many ways.
I’d like to think I’m a decent person. But life stinks a lot of the time. I spend my working hours steeped in news of failure and tragedy and the anger and agony that go with them. I try to be empathetic. I am empathetic. But sometimes I turn to dark humor, shared with people who I know will understand. It’s a coping mechanism and schadenfreude at the same time. I’m human.
But what else would you like to know about me? What do I reveal in my most vulnerable moments? I’m not on social media, where many people self-expose, so the only way someone could find out is by monitoring my e-mails, texts or phone calls and other private activity. Which someone could.
Thankfully, I’m of little interest. I’m not sure that always will be sufficient protection. We’ve entered the era of intrusion, and we often don’t know who’s snuck in. Are we to become like Woodward and Bernstein, holding sensitive conversations in the dark of night on a pajama-wearing Jason Robards’ front lawn?
To be clear, I’m not arguing against proper disclosure. We do need to know, for instance, about presidential candidates’ vigor, and there should be very little public business that isn’t ultimately in the open, e-mail included. Our leaders need to adapt to that, not the other way around.
But the truth is, as entertaining and illuminating as Powell’s unwitting exhibition has been, it also has the feel of a gag that’s gone too far. I expect my public servants to be officially upstanding, but not privately perfect. As Walt Whitman wrote, we contain multitudes. We might be happier with less proof.
David Banks is at firstname.lastname@example.org.