Several days ago I went to our local Drinking Liberally chapter meeting, where we drank (not terribly liberally) and argued politics, Hillary people versus Bernie people. We also alternately laughed at, and were terrified by, Donald Trump, but that’s not what this post is about.
One of the liberal drinkers, an old and dear friend of mine, still actually reads this blog, and asked me why I had written in a previous post that I thought Hillary was a “deeply flawed candidate”. Truth to tell, my response at the moment was not terribly articulate. Anyway, I decided to expand on that characterization a bit. This rambling post, which I’ve worked on off and on for the last week or so, is the result.
First, let me make the standard disclaimer. When Hillary is nominated, and it seems certain that she will be, I will support her, vote for her, encourage others to vote for her, and generally look on the bright side of life so far as her nomination is concerned. But while the slim possibility exists that she will once again be denied the nomination, I will continue to hope.
Let me also say that I concede that it is entirely possible that she really is more electable than Bernie, despite some polling showing Bernie doing better against Trump in the general. It’s absolutely true that she is relatively bullet proof, the Republicans and the media having striven mightily, without success, to bring her down for years. Unless she’s indicted on those bogus email charges, she can probably withstand anything they try throwing at her. Bernie, on the other hand, is a relative unknown, and we can’t know as we look forward whether a Jewish (sort of) atheist socialist will be protected by the same Teflon that is working for a fascist, racist, misogynistic, narcissistic, con man (yes, Mitt was right-even a stopped clock after all). We don’t have the luxury of peeking into alternate universes, so we can’t know what would happen in the happier universe where Bernie pulls if off. So this is just about Hillary, but let me add that there are cogent arguments for the proposition that Bernie would be the stronger candidate, especially against Trump.
I believe we can all stipulate that it is not the year 2000 anymore, nor is it the year 2008. It has been eight years since the economy blew up, eight years during which almost every American has come to realize that there is something profoundly wrong with this country. We have had eight years of “incremental” improvements; eight additional years of a march toward oligarchy, eight years of a Democratic Party that seems intent on preserving the status quo, no matter how that affects its electoral success. Eight years during which the American people have almost forgotten the previous eight years. As I said, almost everyone realizes something is wrong. Not everyone can put their finger on the source of the problem. Donald Trump has, on behalf of the Republican Party, abandoned the dog whistle and has trotted out the usual scapegoats, while adding a few more. Bernie has, in my opinion, identified the source of the problem. I realize some people feel he is too focused on the oligarchs, but I think fundamentally he’s right. If the mass of people were prosperous, the other antagonisms in our society would be more easily ameliorated. I’m not saying you ignore them, but I think it’s much harder to sell hatred to people with full stomachs, new iPhones, and faith in their own futures.
Say what you want about Bernie, but he can emotionally connect to that underlying dissatisfaction, and even feel a sense of outrage about it. Hillary can’t. She can mouth empty platitudes, but she does it out of cold calculation, the Dick Morris inspired “triangulation” that seemed to work for Bill. She promises nothing except that she will listen, and those of us who are politically engaged know (even, I would submit, those who feel they must support her because “Bernie can’t win”), that once she is safely elected, the oligarchs will sleep easy. She may not shove as much money their way as the Republicans would, but she won’t take any away, and she certainly won’t put them in jail. I’m told by her supporters that she’ll appoint a justice that will help overrule Citizens United. Maybe so, but that’s a mere symptom of a disease, and this post is about Hillary the candidate. I firmly believe that Hillary is incapable of credibly pretending that she actually cares. It’s not that she’s identifying the wrong culprits, like the Donald, it’s that she isn’t really recognizing the problem at all. People can sense that.
The polls have shown that people don’t trust Hillary, and that’s not something that is likely to change over the next several months. It’s a given, for instance, among the politically aware, that Hillary will, if elected, change her position on the TPP Treaty. Her problem as a candidate is that no one, not even the politically unaware, believes her current claims that she opposes the treaty. Her recent statement that she waited until she knew what was in the treaty is a fairly transparent lie. We all knew enough about what was in it to realize it was a corporate Christmas tree long before she finally claimed to oppose it. What’s true of the treaty is true on a broad range of issues. When she can, she talks in generalities, promising to “look” at things, etc., but is there a soul alive that actually believes she’ll do anything, or try to do anything, that fundamentally changes the status quo?
Say what you want about the Donald, but he’s really good at pretending that he shares the sense of grievance of the people he’s exploiting. Hillary isn’t, and that will cost her a lot of votes. Not necessarily votes going to Trump, but votes that are never cast.
The Clintons have a reputation for being skillful politicians, but that’s subject to debate. Let’s put aside the fact that voting for the Iraq war was a terribly immoral thing to do. It was a politically stupid thing to do. The start of that war predates this blog, so you’ll have to take my word that even I could see how that war would play out. I don’t claim to be unique. Far from it. Many many ignored voices on the left (and even Al Gore) knew it would be a disaster, and many of us were saying that it was based on lies before that fact became widely acknowledged by a complicit media. Hillary voted for that war because she felt that vote would enhance her chances to become president. She was dead wrong. She would be ending her second term now had she done what she should have known was the right thing to do. I’ve seen no sign that she’s learned any lesson from that experience. In fact, she seems to have doubled down on her warmongering, such that the warmongers prefer her to Trump. For all his faults, the Donald has an almost instinctive knowledge of what his base wants and what will make them turn out for him. Hillary doesn’t, so far as I can see, nor, as the Iraq vote shows, does she have any ability to discern the probable flow of events. She has a gigantic challenge. She must motivate people to turn out to vote for her. It is an unfortunate fact that too often the Democrats ask not what they can do for America, but what they can prevent Republicans from doing to America. That’s important, but it hasn’t always been inspiring, and I very much doubt that Hillary will be very good at making that case. The vacant Supreme Court position may help, but that will only go so far.
Trump is the all but certain Republican nominee. It’s only a matter of time before the Republicans swallow hard and circle the wagons around him. They will, almost all of them, come to the conclusion that he’s not really so bad, and he’s certainly better than Hillary. But Trump is free from the chains that bind all the other Republicans. He has strayed time and again from orthodoxy. He is also the master of criticizing other candidates for things he himself has also said, done, or proposed. He gets away with it. There is nothing in what he has said in the campaign so far that would be inconsistent with his picking up on Bernie’s talking points, going after the banks, etc. He could easily concentrate on Hillary’s speeches and her refusal to release the text of those speeches. It’s an issue Bernie has raised, but he is pretty much ignored by the media. Were Trump to harp on it, the press would not stop talking about it. In that particular instance, Trump would be right, although in truth he would, as president, be as kind to the banks as Hillary. I think the issue could resonate. Hillary is applying for a job, and we are the folks that can give her that job. We know what she’s saying to us; we have every right to know what she’s saying to them behind closed doors. I’ve heard people defend her by saying that no one else is being asked to provide transcripts of their speeches. Even if that’s true, it’s irrelevant. They all should, but only Hillary is seeking the nomination of a party that allegedly represents people who actually want to put an end to crime on Wall Street. The hostility of the Republicans to the weak tea of Dodd-Frank pretty surely proves that they are enablers. We need to know if she would be an enabler too. Well, actually, we already know and we’re just looking for confirmation of that fact. Trump may, and probably will, promise to put some of those folks in jail. The fact that he won’t mean it is somewhat irrelevant. The fact is that he’ll be able to attack her from the left in ways that might appeal to credulous folks on our side of the great divide. We’re not, as a group, as stupid as those on the right, but Nader proved that there are plenty of deluded lefties out there.
It’s probably low on the list, because polls can obviously change, but it is not currently irrelevant that Hillary polls worse than Bernie in match-ups against Trump and Cruz. I know the arguments. But just as further attacks are unlikely to move Hillary down, it’s unlikely that any argument she makes to the American people can move her numbers up. Sure, there are exceptions, but people, in the main, support her as the lesser of two evils. They will vote for her, those that come out and vote, not because they want her to be president, but because they will want to avoid the alternative.
It is not irrelevant that Hillary is most unacceptable in precisely those states we will need to win in the general election. It’s very nice for her that she has won every Southern primary, but she will not win one of those states, and we don’t have proportional voting in the Electoral College.
As the campaign unfolds, I am dreading a Hillary nomination more and more, not because of any animus toward Hillary, but because I think the probability of a Trump win in such an election is ever rising. Maybe he would beat Bernie too, but at the moment, I think people are more willing to vote for a Jewish socialist atheist than Hillary Clinton.
In sum, I think Hillary is flawed because she’s running for president merely because she wants to be president. That may not cut it this year for a Democrat, though it describes each and every Republican candidate, including Herr Trumpf. We have to hope that the mass of people will, ultimately, decide to vote for the lesser of two evils. They might not do it. She will give them no other reason to vote for her. Yes, I’ve heard the argument that Bernie can’t deliver on any of his promises. If he can’t, that puts him exactly where Hillary is promising to take us. At least he will try, and simply by putting his issues out front and center he will move the national conversation to places it hasn’t been in decades.
I’m an unreconstructed 60’s liberal. I think we should nominate someone who believes what every liberal did in those long ago days. I don’t like neocons. I don’t like Wall Street. I don’t like fascists either. When all is said and done, this election comes down to this. Which of the Democratic candidates is most likely to keep us from fascism. I think that Sanders is that candidate. I concede that I may be wrong, but as time passes I am more and more convinced that Hillary would be the weaker of the two, assuming, as we probably cannot, that the Democratic Party does not do to Bernie what it did to McGovern. If it were absolutely clear that she, and she alone, could beat Trump, I’d swallow hard and support her now. I don’t think that’s clear at all.