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Clinton needs a Dutch uncle (or aunt)

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John Podesta, chair of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in Philadelphia on July 25.Drew Angerer

Um, Hillary, Whiskey Tango Hotel?

Or to put this in family-newspaper terms, what the heck was the Democratic presidential nominee thinking, trying to keep secret that she had pneumonia?

And to build on that query, is there anyone in Clinton's campaign circle who has the stature, standing, and confidence to say: Hillary, you're making a big mistake. Or: You just can't do that. Or: You'll be leaning into a right jab there, reinforcing the GOP narrative that you're a liar and a sneak.

Just think if someone had been able to play Dutch uncle (or aunt) in this case. After her Friday morning diagnosis, she could have skipped her Friday evening fund-raiser where she made her "basket of deplorables" comment. (A general campaign rule: Don't run down your opponent's supporters, even if some do seem a little Brueghelian.) And she could have begged off attending the Sept. 11 ceremony, where she staggered and nearly collapsed, avoiding both the dramatic video clip and the campaign's dissembling about the candidate feeling overheated.

In short, honesty and disclosure really would have been the best political policy.


Now, none of this should prove fatal to her candidacy. But as one nervous Democrat puts it: "There are just too many mistakes. She has got to do better."

But is there anyone in her campaign circle who can intercede when Clinton's instincts are bad? When I put my query to the Clinton communications folks, spokesman Brian Fallon offered this creative spin: The last couple of days showed there are such people. Even after her health incident, Clinton had wanted to forge ahead with a trip to California, but "the campaign staff urged her to heed her doctor's advice and . . . take a couple days to rest."

Now back to the real world. As we've learned from her State Department e-mails, Clinton attracts staffers more likely to offer fluffy compliments than tough critiques. That's true here, too. Gatekeeper Huma Abedin is more surrogate daughter than tough-love sister. Campaign manager Robby Mook is a skilled operative, but hardly the guy to deliver a blunt message. Long-time confidant Cheryl Mills appears much more an enabler than a check on Clinton's worst instincts.


As longtime Clinton observers run through the names, they usually arrive at the same formulation: maybe John Podesta. Podesta, 67, is the gnomic veteran of Bill Clinton's administration, founder of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, and an adviser to Barack Obama who now serves as Clinton's campaign chairman.

"He is head and shoulders above anybody else on that team in terms of his toughness and willingness to tell hard truths," says former Democratic National Committee chairman Steve Grossman.

Clinton needs to hear those. This campaign has highlighted the lopsided nature of her skills. She is bright, works hard, has an encyclopedic knowledge of policy, and has put together a series of mostly realistic, reasonably affordable plans.

But she is also prone to committing unforced errors. Her private e-mail server is, of course, Exhibit A. Now, anyone with reasonable knowledge of (1) the law and (2) prosecutorial pattern should have known her carelessness didn't constitute a criminal offense. Still, by indulging her penchant for control and convenience, Clinton handed her foes a cudgel to use against her. And by long resisting calls for an apology and a fuller accounting, she made things worse. That's one big reason why she's currently wearing the "untrustworthy" albatross around her neck. She's lucky indeed to be running against a candidate as unpalatable as Donald Trump.


Even as she deals with the fallout from that lingering controversy, her secrecy around her illness and her Sunday stumble from pneumonia have made her health a huge story.

In short, she badly needs to hear a second opinion on some of her clueless, counterproductive zone-of-privacy decisions.

Paging Dr. Podesta.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.