Below, I review, in usual rather semi-detached style, the book by friend-of-the-blog Doug Henwood on Hillary Clinton’s candidature for President. A capsule summary might be: he’s against it. I’ve posted the cover image below because it’s so fantastic.
My main impression on reading the book is that this is something that all Hillary supporters ought to be buying – it sets out all of the credible criticisms, without mixing them with a load of right wing dreck. One of the strongest points Doug makes is that a detailed look at her history and actions is much more relevant than any amount of wonky analysis of her policies, because the history tells you that you can’t expect the policy promises to turn out.
So we don’t have a single word about Benghazi or the suicide of Vince Foster, and Whitewater is dismissed in a couple of pages noting that it was exactly the sort of sketchy investment scheme you’d expect a well-connected rich power couple to get mixed up in from time to time if they weren’t paying attention. The separate email servers get dealt with as what they most likely were – a high-handed attempt to avoid accountability – rather than a sign of some other exciting conspiracy.
Hillary’s time on the board of Wal-Mart, on the other hand, gets pretty detailed scrutiny, as do various accounts of how things went so terribly wrong with healthcare reform under the Bill administration. And there is chapter and verse (backed up with a somewhat hair-raising selection of quotes at the back) on support for wars of all sizes and the elimination of welfare payments.
So these are the arguments that supporters need to know about; they’re largely credible criticisms of Hillary as being a selfish, arrogant politician with consistently poor judgement on important questions. These are the points which supporters need to deal with. But I get the strong feeling that most of them are not going to realise that they need to buy this book.
There’s a foreword on the subject, in which the author discusses the minor furore which blew up when his publisher pre-released the cover image to generate some publicity. In general, Doug has received dog’s abuse for going after Hillary, a lot of it coming from people who know perfectly well what a badly flawed candidate she is, not least because they said so themselves when she was running against Barack Obama. Why is this?
It’s not a hard question to answer. Hillary is the front runner and the (in my view incredibly obviously) presumptive nominee for the Democrats. Bernie Sanders has lasted longer and done better than anyone expected, but he’s very unlikely to get all that close. And so, the Presidential campaign has started, with Hillary Clinton as the candidate, roughly eighteen months before the election date. This is of course ludicrous and destructive in itself, as the book notes.
But whatever Hillary’s failings, she’s very unlikely to be as bad as whatever the Republican Party come up with. So it is, in a lot of genuine senses, very important to a lot of people that she wins. And because they want her to win, they’re not really keen on hearing a whole lot about her flaws and the things which make her such an exceptionally unlikely candidate for centre-Left Americans to feel enthusiastic about voting for.
We have had this discussion on Crooked Timber a number of times (basically whenever me or Henry says something mean about the Democrats in a broadly-defined election year). The main selling point of the Democratic Party establishment always seems to be “lesser of two evils”, reinforced by a strong dose of “
nice not entirely barbaric, yet, reproductive freedom you’ve got here, shame if anything happened to it”.
The ability of the Democrats to effectively use abortion rights as a hostage to ensure co-operation from the left of their party is one of those tactics that works too well – it’s rational, so it always gets the desired result, but because of that they become too reliant on it and it weakens them elsewhere. The strategy is itself very vulnerable to the demographics of a small group of men and women. A cluster of deaths or retirements could leave a Supreme Court which was unambiguously decided, either pro or anti abortion rights. And with this crucial issue – one of massive and inescapable salience to the whole population – taken away, the case would be much less easy to make, time after time. And notoriously, of course, support which has been dragged out in this manner for a Presidential election is a mile wide and an inch deep, and turns out in much weaker numbers, if at all, for all the odd-year Congressional elections which tend to ensure that the Democratic Presidents elected can’t get their campaign commitments executed.
And that’s the conclusion of the book; that there’s got to be a better way. In many ways, Hillary Clinton is a figure from a bygone age – the politics of triangulation, the Washington Consensus, and the strategy of hanging around in the centre ground waiting for people to get bored of the other side. This was an incredibly good tactic for centrist politicians in its day, but those hegemonic days are over. Hillary is going to win, but as far as I can see she represents the last of a dying breed.