More than a few obstacles lie in Hillary Clinton's path to the White House, but the threat of an indictment, or even conviction and a term in a federal pokey, doesn't have to be one of them.
If elected, she could take the presidency with her, becoming our first prisoner-in-chief.
There's very little stigma now for celebrities serving time. Even a Clinton is not guilty until a judge and jury says she isn't, but there may be a judge and jury lurking in Hillary's future.
Cities and states routinely send aldermen, judges, mayors and governors to prison. Illinois, from whence Hillary sprang, needs an entire gubernatorial wing at state prison. Prison could strengthen the character of any president as he (or she) reflects on life from the inside of a cell block.
Hillary invites harsh judgments. Many voters think she would be comfortable with her own kind in the prison yard, laundry or kitchen. (She could finally learn to bake cookies.) Pollsters in New Hampshire, where voters will get their first opportunity to sift the candidates from their judgment seat, say the words most often heard to describe Hillary are "liar," "untrustworthy" and "dishonest."
Ordinarily, those are not words a candidate wants to come to the minds of voters when they hear the candidate's name. Richard Nixon famously said "I am not a crook," and Hillary could offer similar reassurance. America is a forgiving land and it's rewriting expectations at a speed unfathomable only yesterday, when men were men, and women didn't have to speculate.
But (with apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald) the Clintons are like the rich, very different from you and me. They have forged a permanent pass to do as they please, and nobody is expected to think the worse for it, since they were worse before they left Little Rock. Ol' Bubba is a rascal, and we've always liked rascals, some more than others. Hillary, who is the garden-variety shrew who reminds men of their first wives, could make like-minded friends in prison, sipping weak coffee and having a good gossip with the girls.
Hillary may beat the rap. But the FBI inquiry into playing fast and loose with the country's most sensitive secrets is by definition a criminal investigation. If she is found guilty she could be subject to 20 years in prison and required to pay a big fine. The cloud hanging over her prospects terrifies Democrats, even those who won't admit it in public.
There's a precedent that makes Hillary tremble, too. Gen. David Petraeus was found guilty of using smaller government secrets as thrilling pillow talk and he got 20 years, suspended for good behavior, and fined $100,000.
Judge Andrew Napolitano, who writes about the law for this site, observes that Hillary's excuse that the word "secret" was not stamped on the documents she put on her email server wouldn't necessarily exonerate her in a court of law.
"Before she became secretary of State she was required to go through a one-hour tutorial given by FBI agents, and she had to sign a record under oath [afterward], realizing she had to [protect] the secrets." Instead she subjected the secrets to the tender mercies of hackers, probably including the Chinese and maybe the North Koreans.
By now any other pretender to the White House and its secrets would have been dispatched to dark and permanent oblivion. Nevertheless, the voters, in their own notions of wisdom, can overlook judgment, evidence, estimation, appraisal and common sense and in a fit of sentiment and misplaced sensibility elect whomever they please. There's precedent close at hand for that folly.
Intoxicated with such feelings, the voters might award the presidency to the Clintons again. There's nothing in the Constitution that says a jailbird can't be president. It might not be convenient, but some folks would applaud a president in a striped shirt with a number. Feminists could learn to bake a cake to take it to her, with a file inside, on visiting day.
She might draw a prison close to Washington. There's a nice ladies' reformatory at Alderson in West Virginia, with attractive brick buildings surrounded by grass and trees, and a nice view of the Allegheny Mountains. It's known as "Camp Cupcake." Martha Stewart served her time there.
It's a brief helicopter ride from Washington, and presidents and prime ministers, arriving to pay an official call, would have to schedule their summitry on a visiting day. State dinners would be difficult in the prison mess hall, but Martha Stewart could offer advice.
It wouldn't be ideal. Nothing is. But little American boys and girls could learn that they, too, could grow up to be both prisoner and president. Isn't that what makes America great?