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Clinton’s painfully slow reversal on email controversy breathes new life into an old issue

Hillary Clinton’s tortured trail through the early stages of her troubled presidential campaign has been in some sense predictable to anyone who has followed her political career. The only one who evidently couldn’t chart it was Clinton, herself.

That’s not reassuring, but it’s important because Clinton remains the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and with a strong chance of becoming the nation’s next chief executive. A president should be quicker on the uptake.

The former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state finally got around last week to sounding contrite about her terrible idea of using a private email server for both personal and government use when she led the State Department. What took her so long?

It was a long path that included defensiveness, dismissiveness and even something approaching ridicule. It’s as though she never understood that the problem wasn’t just the decision to privatize her government emails, but that it fed a sense that she believes the rules don’t apply to her. It hurt her candidacy and the public debate.

What is more, that reaction was predictable. The overt suspicion of her had died down somewhat – at least until the Benghazi conspiracy theories started flourishing – but unless she lacks any self-awareness at all, she had to know that circumventing government email systems would cause those smoldering suspicions to reignite once she became a candidate for president. It was self-sabotage, and in that, once again, not very reassuring about her temperament for office.

Still, at least she came around, acknowledging that even if using the private email server was legal, it was a terrible idea. And the legalities are under review since some of the emails contained – unknowingly and inadvertently, Clinton says – classified information.

This is not an unimportant topic, since it tells us something about Clinton and how she might conduct herself as president, but it is also drowning out other critical issues. For example, Clinton has already said she would have made tougher foreign policy decisions than Obama did, arming Syrian rebels, for example. That’s an important point and one worthy of exploration, since there is a reasonable chance that those weapons would have wound up in the hands of ISIS.

What would she do to shore up Social Security and Medicare? Does she want to make changes in the Affordable Care Act? How would she deal with Russian expansionism in Ukraine? What about China’s currency manipulation, the national minimum wage and global warming?

These are all being overlooked as political machines and the media focus relentlessly and almost exclusively on the question of emails. Clinton, herself, is frustrated at her inability to talk about those other issues, and this possibly explains her late-coming contrition.

The good news is that almost 14 months remain until the election next year, plenty of time to focus on those other substantive issues even as the email mess gets sorted out.

But to the extent that it’s difficult for Clinton to get her message out or for voters to focus on other important issues, the candidate can largely blame herself.