The Clinton Conundrum

Thoughts on the Day Before Super Tuesday

February 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton is a conundrum.

To begin with, one must acknowledge that she has strengths, and that those strengths are formidable. Her political instincts are finely-honed and not unimpressive. She has used those instincts to acquire a great deal of experience on the national and international stage in a variety of roles, and in this respect she is without question the most qualified presidential candidate from either party in memory. The fact that she is a woman will be important to many; but this I regard in the vein of icing, rather than of cake. It has cultural value, but it is far less important than many other far more important factors which are, you know, far more important. She is widely — if not highly — regarded as an intelligent woman, a policy wonk, and knowledgeable about the inner machinations of the Presidency and the State Department and Capitol Hill. This is all to the good. She compares favorably to every other Presidential candidate in these respects, and they distinguish her from most of the other self-serving elites in Washington.

Attentive readers will take note of the word “other” in the previous sentence, which is not accidental, and not unimportant. It is, in fact, the essence of the Hillary Conundrum. Her experience and intelligence betrays a spectacular capacity to further her own career, but demonstrates evidence of little else. As a civic matter, I know of nothing positive that has arisen from her public service. I would love to be wrong about this, and the inevitable Facebook blowback on a post like this is sure to cite details about item A, and factor 2, and consequence III, and that thing that happened that one time over at the place with that guy, and about which nothing further need be mentioned. But whatever those items may be, and there are surely some, they are small ball with respect to the damage that she has done — both directly and indirectly — and, perhaps more importantly, with respect to the good that might have otherwise been accomplished by a more honorable public servant.

There is no need to cite chapter and verse here; her record is public, and controversy has stalked her for her entire career. The short list of policy failures includes the healthcare debacle during her husband’s Presidency, her unqualified support for the war in Iraq, and the abject failure of military intervention in Libya, which she championed, has taken credit for, and as a policy matter, owns. This particular list may be short, but the consequences have been absolutely devastating to international stability and, indirectly, to the U.S. economy. Items of less immediate consequence, such as her unwavering support of Netanyahu, her support for the fascist coup in Honduras, and her total misreading of Putin and Assad and the Arab Spring bear mentioning. Her tenure as the junior Senator from New York is charitably described as entirely unremarkable, but for two facts. 1.) It served to burnish her resume in service to presidential aspirations, as intended. 2.) The choice to move to and represent New York, as opposed to, say, Arkansas, betrays a cynical carpetbagger mentality that trumps any genuine public service instincts that might otherwise be in evidence. One inevitably concludes that her judgement is predictably poor in all matters that do not benefit her personally. This is a conclusion that I take no pleasure in stating, but it is quite clearly true.

For the sake of argument, let’s set all this aside under the rubric of “nobody’s perfect,” or “mistakes are inevitable on the international stage,” or “methinks he doth protest to much” or some such. Let’s turn instead to the matter of temperament. For the record, I’ll state unequivocally that her intelligence is not in doubt, even if her judgement is, and in this respect she compares favorably to every other Presidential candidate on offer. It must also be mentioned, however, that she compares somewhat less favorably to President Obama, who has demonstrated both superior intelligence and humility about the matter. Humility is not a word in Mrs. Clinton’s vocabulary, and there is a distasteful sense of arrogance and condescension and entitlement that undergirds her every public appearance. She has nothing like her husband’s rhetorical gifts in this regard, nor Obama’s, nor even George W. Bush’s. As a matter of temperament and style, Hillary is unable to hide her status as an inside-the-beltway card-carrying captain of the elite establishment, and her efforts to pretend otherwise are painful to witness.

She attempts to sidestep this fact by calling herself an “incrementalist.” On her best days, this characterization is probably true, and it suggests that there may be some positive developments at the periphery, but nothing of substance, or importance — nothing genuinely helpful to the middle and underclasses — can reasonably be expected on her watch. This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about both the mood and the state of the nation which, sadly, is entirely consistent with her questionable judgement on other matters. Our system of government is obviously broken — I don’t think that anyone, anywhere would disagree — and the key ingredient in it’s demise has been the growing influence of the commercial and religious sectors on the machinery of government. The latter has no business influencing government at all — this as a matter of fundamental constitutional principle — and the former is the result of the corrupting influence of money in our elections, and in the revolving doors on K-street, and the Koch Brothers, and the demise of the fourth estate as the most effective check on unbridled commercial and political power — to say nothing of AIPAC and the crazies at The Club For Growth, et al. There is no reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would lift a finger to change any of these national maladies.

Incrementalist political sensibilities would certainly be an improvement over the scorched-Earth, take-no-prisoners style of non-governance that we’ve seen from Congress during the Obama administration, but if the current state of affairs is any indicator, there is no reason to believe that half-measures are likely to produce positive results, and as a civic matter they will never succeed in righting a ship that has drifted so far off course. If Obama’s tenure at the helm has demonstrated anything, it is that incrementalism does not work when the shrubs on the other side of the aisle practice the religion of intransigent obstructionism, at all costs, under all circumstances, for any reason, world without end.

This nation needs to tack strongly to the left if it ever hopes to reach middle ground again, and Hillary Clinton will never achieve that through the political calculus of “incrementalism.” What is less clear is whether she even wants to. She is representative of, and synonymous with, and beholden to, the very establishment that needs to be reigned in. Hillary Clinton is a Goldwater Republican in Democratic clothing. She is left of her husband, and well to the left of the Tea Party morons, but only slightly left of the establishment GOP. Nobody but a Tea Partier and maybe Newt Gingrich would describe her as a liberal, and she’s positively hawkish about the the military industrial complex. Hillary resembles a liberal like Obama resembles a Southern White Boy.

If Sanders should lose the nomination, the only reason I can see to support her is that the Republican alternatives are so mind-numbingly idiotic. Trump and Cruz go without saying, but it should be noted that Marco Rubio is certifiable by any rational standard. He doesn’t believe in climate change, he opposes a woman’s right to choose in all cases including rape and incest, he wants a permanent US presence in Iraq, he wants to repeal the Iran nuclear deal, he’s all-in pro-gun, pro-NRA, pro-repeal of Obama’s executive order closing the loophole for gun show sales, and he’s just not terribly bright. Rubio is a genuinely frightening candidate by every measure but two — the other two Republican presidential candidates — and in an ordinary election year the electorate would run him out of town on an ass. Or a rail. Or a rope. Whatever.

The Republican Clown Car is not a terribly high bar to surmount, and Hillary surmounts it with ease. That’s great, but so does my dog. Hillary wins against these clowns by showing up, but then so does Sanders, and I think we can all agree that just showing up isn’t much of a standard for Presidential politics. There are any number of vastly superior alternative Democratic candidates that come to mind as preferable to Clinton. Among these I obviously include Bernie Sanders, as well as Robert Reich, and Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, and Russ Feingold. But not my dog. Like Reich and Warren and Kobuchar and Feingold, she’s not running.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, and Hillary looks to run the Red States in the south. That’s great, too, but these states will each vote Republican in the general election, so why in the name of all that is holy does it matter? It’s a conundrum. Sanders is better situated in the swing states, and it is not at all difficult to make the case that he is more electable in the general election than Clinton.

We liberals are faced with a conundrum — to vote with our hearts, or with our heads. The heart favors Sanders, hands down. In view of the foregoing — the case that I have tried to make — is that the head does, too. You can vote for politician whose finest political asset is the entire sum and substance of his career — a career which handsomely withstands the most withering political scrutiny. Or, you can vote for a politician whose finest political asset is her husband, and whose career does not withstand political scrutiny, withering or otherwise.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, folks. My advice, therefore, is to get out and vote for Sanders — loudly, proudly, early, and often.


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