At the rate we’re going in this country, I tend to worry that, by the time we’ve thrown the last shovel of dirt on the events of the 2016 election, we’ll be in 2020, ready to elect a new president. I mean, I hope. Right now, it seems like the challenger to Donald Trump is an amorphous blob of old white people, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris. In essence, it’s one blob against another, and for whatever reason, a good deal of Republican voters support the blob with the bad hair, oversized ties, and predilection for golfing on the taxpayer’s dime. Not helping this trend is the more recent public reemergence of one of the election’s most prominent figures, fresh off a period of mourning filled with sorrowful hikes near her home in Chappaqua: none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton herself. Clinton, at a conference sponsored by Recode, the tech news website founded by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, spoke in an interview about why she lost the election.
As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus tells it, though, she did so by “not merely relitigating the 2016 election but relitigating it like the relentless trial lawyer she once was.” This is to say that Hillary accepted responsibility for her part in her electoral loss—except that she didn’t really accept responsibility for her part in her loss. Instead, she blamed a myriad number of factors in her downfall, which may have contributed to her defeat, but only up to a certain point, and all told, the list seems more of a tiresome exercise in excuse-making than anything. Among the justifications thrown around by Hillary Clinton and enumerated by Marcus for her column: the failings of the Democratic National Committee; James Comey; the media, for overhyping her anticipated victory and for making a mountain out of her E-mail server molehill; the Russians; and sexism within the electorate and elsewhere, for making such a big stink about her Goldman Sachs speeches “when men got paid for the speeches they made” and for not believing a woman could be President of the United States. She also acknowledged the private E-mail server was a “mistake,” but, you know, one other people made too—cough, Colin Powell, cough—and for not being a perfect candidate—though no one’s perfect, right? Right?
In recounting these various reasons rattled off by Hillary Clinton, Ruth Marcus allows the Democratic Party nominee her “critique”—more so along the lines of Russian interference and Comey’s fateful letter than the complicated and hard-to-prove matter of misogyny—as well as her “venting,” especially after winning the popular vote. Marcus even concedes HRC her Trump-bashing, as Trump’s abnormality is of the sort about which no one should be silent, much less someone of her stature. Still, ultimately, Marcus is critical of the subject of her piece, as the very title of her column—”Hillary Clinton, smash your rearview mirror”—would signify. Citing the poor appetite other recent Democratic Party general election losers Al Gore and John Kerry had for retrospective analyses, Marcus has this commentary to offer:
But enough, already, with the seemingly never-ending, ever-expanding postmortem. Sure, Clinton was responding to questions, but if anyone knows how to duck a line of inquiry, it’s her. Meanwhile, the excuses — really, bringing up the DNC? — make her look smaller. Clinton is always at her best when she perseveres, not when she lashes out. It’s essential to understand what went wrong in 2016 and to call out the bad actors. Clinton is just the wrong messenger.
What Democrats crave most is not wallowing in theories about the defeat; it’s a template for resisting Trump now, and a vision for 2018 and 2020. Clinton’s obsessive summoning of 2016 gives Trump an excuse to change the subject from his missteps. “Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody but herself,” he tweeted after the Recode interview.
And Clinton’s behavior doesn’t help would-be glass ceiling-crackers. Publicly calling out misogyny is probably not the best strategy for combating it, or for encouraging other women to run for office.
Hillary is not the only Democrat to engage in this kind of looking back in hindsight. To a certain extent, party leadership should reflect on where it went wrong in 2016 and where it continues to lose ground heading into 2018 and 2020. That said, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it, and Clinton’s way smacks of pettiness, however legitimate her finger-pointing may be. More importantly, the relentless retrospection is, by its nature, not a path forward for Democratic hopefuls in the next two to four years. By this token, Clinton’s evidently limitless blame game only reinforces the notion that her presidential aspirations were a vanity project, and that a fair deal of her support was incidental, a means to an end to further her political legacy. And going back to the idea of blaming the Democratic National Committee, as her detractors in and around the Democratic Party would be apt to point out, she has the DNC and the machinations of Debbie Wasserman Schultz to thank for making her eventual nomination for POTUS seem like a predestined coronation. Yea, verily, that DWS and her cronies had it in for the Bernie Sanders campaign was one of the worst-kept secrets in American politics next to Ted Cruz strangling a man in the 90s just to watch him die. Come on—you just know that man has seriously contemplated murder at least once in his life. They don’t invoke the name of the Zodiac Killer for nothing with him—just saying.
As a product of a string of losses up and down ballots over the past decade or so, Democrats have gotten into the habit of making excuses for coming up short in race after race, as well as trying to claim moral victories for candidates doing reasonably well in individual contests held in red states—even though the criticism may be well-founded that party leadership is not doing enough to support these candidates, especially when they adopt more progressive platforms (see also James Thompson, Rob Quist). Besides merely failing to truly own up to one’s shortcomings, though, the specter of Hillary Clinton is one that is arguably not only counterproductive for a party in disarray, but detrimental to American politics at large. We already know the kinds of diatribes that those on Donald Trump’s corner of the political right are wont to throw Hillary’s way. Crooked Hillary. Lock her up. Of course, the irony is not lost on the rest of us in consideration of Trump’s manifold ethical, legal, and moral conflicts. This notwithstanding, Clinton’s critics on the left (“Shillary,” anyone?), regardless if—and I’m primarily talking about the average voter here, but hey, who knows—they truly comprehend what they are talking about, commonly refer to HRC as a “neoliberal.” This is not a term of endearment.
Someone who does know what he is talking about, meanwhile, is Noam Chomsky, who continues to be highly regarded in intellectual circles for his views, political and otherwise. In a fairly wide-ranging interview with Christopher Lydon for The Nation, Chomsky makes a central point about the pitfalls of neoliberalism and what we as a nation need to do to truly reclaim our ideal of “democracy,” and in the context of historical threats to our bodily well-being in nuclear war and catastrophic climate change, he outlines the neoliberal tradition as its own threat, in that its persistent influence may only hasten the onset of the other two. Chomsky explains:
So there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some.
A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism. There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on[…]. That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.
It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.” She was actually, unconsciously no doubt, paraphrasing Marx, who in his condemnation of the repression in France said, “The repression is turning society into a sack of potatoes, just individuals, an amorphous mass can’t act together.” That was a condemnation. For Thatcher, it’s an ideal—and that’s neoliberalism. We destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society’s democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association, leave a sack of potatoes and meanwhile transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.
Hmm, make it so average people can’t participate in political decision-making, weaken unions or otherwise fail to safeguard attempts to undermine them, and transfer power to unaccountable, private entities. Yep, this sounds like today’s standard operating procedure in Washington—and before we go pointing our fingers at the “they” across the aisle, understand this is not merely a Republican problem, though the GOP does tend to be the biggest offender herein. Indeed, Democrats have worshiped at the temple of neoliberalism themselves—cordoning off the press and public alike at big-ticket private fundraisers, failing to stand with the working class when Republicans actively work to diminish forms of organized labor, serving special interests and other moneyed influences—and Hillary Clinton was and perhaps still is the example par excellence of the out-of-touch elitist Democrat who tries unconvincingly to appeal to the masses as one of their own. Come to think of it, by the time she had the nomination sewn up, Clinton wasn’t really trying that hard to appear down-to-earth. Or likable. Or trustworthy. She was making speeches about economic inequality while wearing a Giorgio Armani jacket. She was never going to let you know what she said in those Goldman Sachs speeches—#DealWithIt. She knew you probably didn’t believe a damn word about what she said about her E-mail server or Benghazi or the Clinton Foundation, but shit, she had come this far denying any involvement in anything underhanded, so she might as well stick to the script and try to ride out the storm, throwing darts at Donald Trump and calling his supporters “deplorables” and such. Hey, give the devil in Prada her due—it almost worked.
Almost. Instead, an American electorate, much of it deeply resentful about being looked down upon by liberal elites and ready to blame those unlike them, those who they can’t—or won’t—understand, voted Donald Trump into the White House largely based on anger, distrust, and fear. Noam Chomsky recognizes this state of politics today characterized by the rise of nationalism in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere, seeing the prevailing trend not only as predictable, but justified. After all, these voters are raging “against socioeconomic policies which have harmed the majority of the population for a generation and have consciously and in principle undermined democratic participation.” As Chomsky concludes, “Why shouldn’t there be anger?” In Europe, as Chomsky outlines, democracy is undermined in a very “direct” way. with the likes of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the EU’s executive wing, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) calling the shots, handing down decisions with minimal input from the bourgeoisie. The implication herein is that, in the United States, stifling democracy is done more indirectly, but no less insidiously. Among the factors cited in the rise of neoliberalism since its beginnings at the end of the 70s is the massive growth of financial institutions to encompass a larger and larger percentage of the world of corporate profits, all the while becoming disconnected from the “real economy.” Not to mention the likes of Goldman Sachs is well represented in the Trump administration, despite the boast #45 would “drain the swamp” from the jump.
Noam Chomsky goes into even more depth concerning which specific doctrines are to be considered forerunners of the modern neoliberal tradition and, for that matter, the neoconservative movement. I’ll let you seek that out and fill in the gaps as you see fit. The main idea is yet quite apparent, though. From both sides of the political equation, the bargaining and decision-making power of the American public has been nullified—and this is by design. On the conservative side, the rhetoric has been one of vilifying the “godless” left and taking back the country from these “rampaging” sorts. Apparently, it takes a cadre of crusaders to nullify the dangerous advances of a national liberal agenda. We must protect our bathrooms and our businesses from all this LGBT nonsense! On the liberal side, meanwhile, there is an active suppression of the more authentic grassroots forces on this end of the spectrum, and this clash of ideals would appear to be exemplified in the current battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between its more traditionalist wing and its upstart progressive faction.
This, broadly speaking, is why we have the Democratic National Committee essentially admitting it intentionally thwarted Bernie Sanders’ presidential aspirations, or Democratic leadership inserting Tom Perez into the mix for chair of the DNC, a largely ceremonial position, pointedly to proscribe Keith Ellison’s chances. As for Hillary Clinton, her dismissive comments of the recent past and the not-so-recent past are of the ilk that even the staunchest Democratic loyalists would be wont to cringe. Baskets of deplorables. Super predators to be “brought to heel.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership as the “gold standard” in trade deals. The now-infamous “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” comment. The knock on Hillary over the years is that her opinions on policy issues have changed markedly from moment to moment, and while she and her supporters would characterize this as an “evolution” of her viewpoints, others less inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt see it as a chameleonic tendency to pivot her position to suit her political needs. Criminal justice reform, gay marriage, Iraq, the Keystone XL pipeline, trade—on these issues and more, Clinton has not only changed her stated position, but for certain topics, has shifted appreciably in a short time. Perhaps at no time was this more glaring than during the 2016 primaries, when her critics saw her ideas “evolve” seemingly in response to concern about Bernie’s prolonged and fervent support from his base, thus marking a stark contrast between the two candidates. For better or worse, Bernie stuck to his guns. Contrasted with the shiftiness of Clinton and the babbling incoherence of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders easily emerged as the most authentic of the candidates running last year. Of course, authenticity goes only so far when you’re fighting an establishment candidate aided by superdelegates, not to mention your own relative obscurity and stances the naysayers deride as “unrealistic” and “socialist.” Universal health care? What, you want everyone to have access to quality health care? What an asshole!
Based on my admiration for Bernie and my 2,500-or-so words up to this point, it might appear that I think Hillary Clinton is a bad person. The truth is, I don’t, if for no other reason than I don’t really know what she believes. The HRC we know today strikes me as someone who is a product of this political system that has justifiably caused so much resentment and unrest among the constituencies of countries all over the world, one that values campaign donations and votes over ideas and real progress. Perhaps I am naïve to think in this way, and should consider Hillary a more-than-willing participant in the political games that pass for discourse and negotiation today. Then again, Clinton is not the only bad actor in this regard. Wait a minute—I sound like Hillary trying to defend herself about her use of a private E-mail server. Have I started thinking like Hillary Clinton? Get it off! GET IT OFF!
Regardless of what I may believe of her, though, the prevailing opinion of the Pantsuit Valkyrie still seems fairly negative, although it is probably helped by the shit-show that is President Trump’s tenure thus far. Hell, Trump’s first 100+ days have been so bad it almost has made liberals like myself pine for the days of George W. Bush. Almost. The creation of vaguely sympathetic figures in Hillary and Dubya and James Comey post-firing notwithstanding, and whether or not she has any political aspirations for 2020 or beyond, the retrospective blame game is not one that benefits the Democratic Party, nor does it reflect kindly on the person throwing stones in a proverbial glass house. Besides, speaking of glass and ceilings and all, while it certainly is neither mine nor any man’s place to tell Hillary Clinton what to do with her political career, if she feels she has anything left to prove, she might be advised to think better of it and consider all that she has achieved. She’s been a First Lady, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, was the first female nominee of a major U.S. political party, and won the 2016 popular vote. That’s, ahem, not too shabby. Plus, if endeavors like the Clinton Foundation really are as meritorious as members of her party and the media would make it seem, then she just as well could devote the bulk of her efforts to this cause. And then there’s the occasional six-figure speaking fee. Not that she needs the money, mind you, but I suppose she feels valued because of it.
So yes, in summary, Hillary Clinton was not the worst presidential candidate or perhaps even a bad candidate, but given the Democratic Party’s profound recent struggles, her personal baggage, and an electorate more angry about being marginalized by the nation’s “elites” than someone like me can profess to remember, she is not the kind of dynamic, grassroots-oriented leader the Dems should want. Accordingly, I have but one further piece of advice: please, Hillary, go back into hiding. It might be better for all of us if you do.