Surprised by the Clinton documents? Don’t be

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On Feb. 28, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., released nearly 4,000 pages of internal communications between members of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle.

Many of these communications centered on methods of manipulating the political images of both Hillary Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, to seem more favorable. As reported by the Washington Post, these documents included memos sent to Hillary Clinton such as “You have a tendency to answer just the question asked. That’s good manners, but bad politics.”

Surprised? Shocked? Appalled that 4,000 pages worth of effort would be focused solely on manipulating the minds of the people to be more amiable towards specific public officials?

You shouldn’t be.

These documents are simply tangible proof of something we all know: that politicians can’t be trusted and that every move they make is designed to manipulate you into voting for them. For them, public interaction is simply one long, expensive, patient game of chess.

Now, this doesn’t mean that all politicians are bad people. I would submit that a majority of them are not. They just can’t be trusted, because a majority of their profession involves the swaying of public opinion by hook or by crook — and changing public opinion is incredibly difficult to do. Why do you think every major public official has a press secretary?

Think about public opinion. How many people do you know that hold a belief simply because their best friend, their parents or their spouse holds that opinion? If someone else believing something is a good enough reason to take up a cause, imagine how quickly opinions can spread. Like memes across the internet, public opinion spreads rapidly. But unlike memes, opinions stick, and once stuck, they’re difficult to change.

These opinions effect whether or not a person will vote for a candidate. I’m sure you’ve looked at the massive list of public officials and voted for several of them because you saw a sign with their name and a positive slogan on it, or not voted for them because your friend said they were a jerk. You’ve probably even voted based upon whether or not you like their name.

In many cases, we as voters know little to nothing about the people on the ballot. We know who the president and vice president are (at least most of us do), and we might even know whom our senators are. But ask me who represents my district in the Arizona House of Representatives, and I wouldn’t have the slightest clue.

That’s the kind of uphill battle all politicians — and their press corps are facing. So it’s not really surprising that every public appearance, every dinner, every smile and every handshake are considered opportunities to make an impression on the voters. Because that’s what they are.

If knowing that government officials are constantly trying to manipulate you bothers you, then I suggest you make it impossible for them to do so. Get informed. Read up on the candidates, and learn to realize when they’re answering just the question asked or they’re trying to redirect the conversation to a different subject. At the very least, remember that there are several small armies of press officials out there trying to manipulate you and remember to second guess everything you hear.

Then you, too, will know the difference between good manners and bad politics.

Reach the columnist at svshacke@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @sirshackofford