Neera Tanden, the Indian American with the best chance of landing a cabinet level position in the cabinet of Hillary Clinton if she wins, has emerged as both a fierce critic and defender of the Democratic nominee - thanks to WikiLeaks.
Her candour, captured unmitigated in hacked emails of campaign chair John Podesta, has won her praise as one of few Clinton surrogates to tell it like it is but has also made some Indian Americans worry if it could go come back to bite her, later.
In an email to Podesta, Tanden expressed consternation that the Clinton campaign did not try and deal with the controversy over her use of a private email server sooner. “Why didn’t they get this stuff out like 18 months ago? So crazy.”
“I guess I know the answer,” she added, in the next mail, also from March 2015, “they wanted to get away with it.”
In another mail to Podesta, Tanden, who heads the leading DC think tank Center for American Progress, wrote: “Do we actually know who told Hillary she could use a private email? And has that person been drawn and quartered? Like whole thing is f…… insane.”
And, in yet another mail, Tanden said, in a different context, “Hillary. God. Her instincts are suboptimal.”
But she also sprang to the defence of her former, and potentially future, boss when she was being criticised by some for using the phrase “all lives matter”, which has been seen as a counter to “black lives matter”. Tanden called Clinton’s critics “f…… a……s”.
The venerable New York magazine was impressed. It ran an article about her remarks under a headline that said, “Hacked emails actually prove Clinton adviser Neera Tanden is a truth-telling hero.”
The author of the article argued that the Clintons, who like to surround themselves with “incompetent or ethically challenged individuals”, need someone like Tanden who has an “ability to summarize any topic with pithy brutality”.
“The most reassuring thing to hear about a Clinton presidency would be that Tanden is in the room, saving her from the freaks, hacks, and herself,” the author, who knows Tanden and lives in the same neighbourhood, wrote in conclusion.
Many in the Indian American community agreed Tanden is all that and probably more — even those voting Republican and for Donald Trump said they are eager to see her in Clinton’s cabinet if she wins — but they worry, for her own sake, they insisted.
“Clintons are vicious,” an Indian American who has been a long time Democrat, requesting not to be identified, said, adding, “And they value loyalty above everything else. You think they will let this pass?
A few others interviewed agreed.
But Shekar Narasimhan, a leading fund-raiser for Clinton and a Democratic strategist, dismissed this “talk” as needless speculative. “Neera is supremely competent, extremely smart and very loyal to Clinton.”
Tanden, who studied law at Yale, worked with Clinton during her run for the senate and was her policy director during her presidential campaign in 2008. She went on to work for President Barack Obama as a senior policy adviser.
After Clinton launched her 2016 campaign, Tanden has been advising Clinton and is frequently fielded by her campaign as a surrogate on TV shows.
And, as Narasimhan said, in a nod to those worrying about her because of the WikiLeaks revelations, “If we ever want to have an Indian American in US cabinet, this may be our best shot”.
Don’t stand in her way, get behind her.