I get that Hillary Clinton did not have an especially easy quarter-century in national politics. At her rise to prominence as Bill Clinton’s wife and then First Lady, she drew heaps of undeserved scorn. The early round of sexist marks would linger; I strongly suspect that she faced more difficulty than would any male politician with an equivalent history. Some of my right-winger Facebook friends would, I became convinced, unhesitatingly believe and breathlessly share any negative claim about Clinton, to a degree I’ve never seen or even imagined happening to a male politician. (Perhaps I barely missed noticing the corners of right-wing fantasy wherein she’s an active cannibal. I don’t want to go look.) I honestly believe that, at heart, Clinton has never really ceased to be the do-gooder Methodist girl she was in her youth.
More, Clinton was not oblivious or wholly unsympathetic to the downscale voters who put Donald Trump over her in crucial states. Clinton’s comment about some people within Trump’s “basket of deplorables” being “irredeemable” really was vicious, and Trump wasn’t wrong to say that it indicated “tremendous hate in her heart.” Yet in that same speech she spoke sympathetically of another “basket”:
… that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.
I wouldn’t be surprised if President Hillary would’ve in fact proven better for these voters’ material interests than President Trump will. She and Tim Kaine promoted a set of policies supposedly aimed at addressing their material welfare, and certainly she has at least a much better history of keeping her word than Trump has. (Which, I know, is not a huge achievement.)
I also get that Hillary was, in a certain sense, one of the most highly-qualified nominees to ever run for president. Between eight years as first lady, eight years as a U.S. senator, and four years as U.S. Secretary of State, she assembled a truly impressive résumé.
I believe every word of the sympathetic portrait I’ve just drawn of Clinton. But I’ve been frustrated, especially in the last week or so, by the insistence of many friends that this is an essentially complete portrait of Clinton, and that anyone not persuaded by such facts to choose her over Donald Trump is obviously a total bigot.
I mentioned at this piece’s beginning that in the 1990s Clinton drew a huge amount of scorn that she didn’t deserve. Yet look at her through this question: what hasn’t she done to earn a huge deal of distrust and even disdain in the last 16 years?
We might as well start with those damn emails. I’m not particularly interested in the endless litigation and re-litigation of exactly what happened with all of the emails and what was in them and what it all meant. I am interested in just how long it took Clinton to admit that she’d made a mistake in keeping a private server. And I am interested in things like how, after the FBI declined to indict her, Clinton tried in an interview with Chris Wallace to put over a hilariously disingenuous characterization of her actions. The overwhelming impression left by Clinton’s conduct is that she admits fault only when she feels forced to by political expedience, that she’s eager to gloss over her misdeeds as much as possible, and that she’s annoyed by the idea of regulation placing any check on her convenience and ambition.
And what else has Clinton done when left to her own devices? She, more than nearly anyone else, is responsible for the flaming mess that the Middle East has become: she not only voted for the invasion of Iraq but, further, almost a decade later, authored and executed a similarly disastrous regime-change operation in Libya. Even after losing the 2008 Democratic primary to Barack Obama in part because of her vote for the invasion of Iraq, she has remained a totally unreflective member of what Ben Rhodes has called “the Blob”: the Washington foreign-policy establishment, which always hungers to meddle somewhere new and presses to flat-handedly remake the world through U.S. military operations. Though Clinton’s strategy in Libya cost far fewer American lives than George W. Bush’s wars, the ensuing rise of ISIS and the unending drain of American imperialism have only made life more anxious and wearying for Americans.
Left to her own devices, Clinton drew extravagant fees for making speeches to some of the most odious businesses in American life. Then, in the face of Bernie Sanders’ criticism, Clinton and her campaign cooked up a fantastically bad rationale – that for some reason the Republican candidates should release all of their speech-transcripts before she ought to release any of hers – so as to keep Americans in the dark. And along these same lines consider the Clinton Foundation, doubtless a target of many excessive attacks, but still reeking of scandal and grift in totally unnecessary ways.
Even as Hillary Clinton became almost singularly qualified in terms of governmental résumé, she almost singularly unqualified herself to the mass of ordinary Americans, and in ways that were plenty clear and perfectly comprehensible. I understand why many supported her even in the Democratic primary: perhaps they were so inspired by the prospect of her symbolic nomination that they assumed that an adequate majority of Americans would share their view and vote Clinton into the White House. I’m sure that many were genuinely duped into thinking that Clinton’s lukewarm pragmatism would somehow win over the American electorate better than Bernie Sanders’ fiery idealism could.
But in light of Clinton’s loss to Trump and the U.S. government going overwhelmingly into Republican hands, everyone the political left must ask, and then answer honestly: was it worth it? Was it worth nominating a first major-party female candidate only to watch her sink beneath the weight of her needless scandals and lose to an overgrown toddler? Was writing off the working class worth the returns in high-gloss celebrity tripe like Lena Dunham’s pantsuit rap?
Of course not. In this season of Democratic autopsy, may we feel the full sting of that, and may we happily take after Matt Christman in merrily slinging “retire bitch” at every party-hack who could perfectly well have foreseen Trump’s victory and instead spent their time on idiot propaganda. But not everyone who preferred Clinton to Sanders is such a hack, and in order to offer meaningful political resistance to the new right-wing regime, we need the glad help of everyone, from Clinton's innocent dupes to self-righteous Sanders-ites like myself. As we reflect on how un-worthwhile Clinton’s candidacy was, may we band together toward worthwhile politics.