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Transparent Motives

One candidate's an open book; the other is shrouded in secrecy. Guess which one isn't transparent enough

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So Donald Trump has finally decreed that Barack Obama actually was born in the United States, not Kenya, and he isn't a Muslim. Boy, am I relieved.

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The Trump smear beat has gone on for five years now. Recall that when President Obama produced his birth certificate in 2011, Trump claimed that a "very reliable source has called my office and told me that his birth certificate was a fake." And remember those "investigators" he sent to Hawaii, who when there discovered "unbelievable" stuff on Obama? Well, of course, it was all just so much demagoguery, his personal trademark. What else is new?

"Lack of transparency" seems to now have replaced birtherism as the right's du jour fixation, with most of the concern over openness directed at Hillary Clinton. How does that make sense? Consider that she has been under the national spotlight for three decades; she has a long, easy-to-trace public record. She has served in the United States Senate. She has served honorably as Secretary of State, having been confirmed by a whopping 94-2 vote of her Senate colleagues. Her entire life, including her private life, is an open book.

But Donald Trump? Aside from what the fact-checkers can produce, he has no public record; he has always worked in the dark with the exception of his bankruptcies, divorces and the times that the Justice Department has dragged him into court. Trump is, to quote former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a "con man."

So you want to talk about transparency? OK, Donald, when will we see your income taxes? Hillary's have been available since August. Then there's your net-worth claims? You say $10 billion; not likely, but who knows? And all those bankruptcies — just how much did you get away with while laying off workers? Oh, and let's not forget your claims to have given millions to charities — claims contrary to the in-depth study by the Washington Post that found only one donation for $10,000.

Capturing the essence of our self-described neo-Mussolini, here are two of my favorite literary comparables — one from Through the Looking-Glass, the other from George Orwell's 1984.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that's all."

Then, from Orwell, we learned about "doublethink" — a Trump staple: "Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." Examples: "War is peace." "Freedom is slavery." "Ignorance is strength."

Trump to a T. Laced with doublespeak, words mean what he says they mean — neither more nor less.

The good news is that Trump remains behind in the polls, although apparently he is gaining. Poll watcher Nate Silver still gives Hillary Clinton a 60 percent chance of winning (down from 80 percent a little more than a month ago). But fair warning: As the polls were closing in Great Britain, a sizable percentage of the public and of all the media thought that the Brexit proposal would fail.

This election has no business being close. Here you have a rogue candidate who has only begrudging support from his own party's leadership. So you have to wonder whether closing the gap is all Trump's doing, or is it partially the result of Hillary devoting all her time and effort to debunking Trump, and not enough time on her vision for the future?

To cut her some slack, debunking Trump is a nonstop job. Jonathan Freedland, in the most recent New York Review of Books, writes: "Trump's defeated primary rivals can testify that it's horrendously difficult to oppose a candidate unconstrained by truth or facts... claiming credit for things he never said and making accusations for which there is no evidence. The army of fact checkers rides into battle, but by the time they have pronounced, Trump has moved on, spinning a new fantasy or insulting some new victim."

Some would say that Hillary Clinton has never been a natural campaigner, and campaigning and governing are very different animals. And why go out of your way to give ammunition to political opponents who have spent 30 years smearing you? She might want to think about the old adage, "The more things change the more they stay the same," and conduct herself accordingly. The e-mail flap is an example of ignoring the obvious traps that have been set for her.

Honestly, Hillary sometimes recalls my favorite old Far Side cartoon. We see a drawing of two deer sitting back on their haunches, chests exposed. The one deer's chest is entirely white. The other deer's chest is also white, but with dark concentric circles which form the image of a target. The first deer says to the second deer, "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal."

Yes, and it's especially a problem during hunting season. ♦

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