“We’re Not Allowed To Have Nice Things”
I read that Clinton Election Book and I wrote down a short #take
The mantra for the Clinton campaign was “we’re not allowed to have nice things.” Many staff joked that the campaign seemed to be cursed, whenever anything good happened, some brand new disaster flew in from offscreen, preventing Clinton from gaining any sense of momentum and ultimately leading to her defeat in November. This refrain is brought up repeatedly in Shattered, drenched in anger at Clinton’s chronic refusal to be self-reflexive and admit any wrongdoing on her own behalf. The book avoids drawing too strong a conclusion from the narrative, but what is there points the finger at the inability to read the writing on the wall: this was all so avoidable, it did not have to be this way.
However, what’s most interesting about Shattered to me is how the narrative it paints actually suggests the opposite. Wrong decisions are made by every key player at every single turn, but they are not made in a vacuum. Campaign Director Robby Mook idiotically sticks with analytics over polling because they led Obama to decisive victories in 2008 and 2012. Clinton picks complete non-entity Tim Kaine for VP over Elizabeth Warren because Warren can’t be trusted to remain loyal in office on economic issues. The entire campaign treats Sanders like a personality-driven icon because their worldview doesn’t allow for the possibility that his supporters earnestly care about socialism more than rallying behind a leader. Shattered’s biggest strength is how it clearly displays the logic of every poor decision and unforced error, and it ultimately builds to a feeling of crushing inevitability: the entire modern liberal political apparatus, as it has existed until now, is fundamentally and irrevocably broken.
Because what I found most bleak reading Shattered was that the campaign, though almost comically incompetent from time to time, was never insincere. Clinton really believes that a $15 minimum wage is pie-in-the-sky. Mook really believes that traditional polling is obsolete. Every wrong decision made was made in good faith that it was the best decision available, and every new disaster, no matter how technically avoidable, blindsides them because they are literally unable to see it coming. Shattered, more than the story of a single campaign, is a portrait of a political class so trapped within its worldview and mode of operation that it is physically incapable of seeing the iceberg ahead, let alone steering the ship.
Ultimately, I walked away from Shattered incredibly sad about the future, and not just mad about the past. Clinton herself, and her closest supporters, end the book doubling down on their lack of self-reflection, settling on the “Russia stole the election!” narrative that dominates so much of the punditry to this day. How do we move forward, how do we change things, when those invested in the doomed status quo not just won’t listen but genuinely can’t?
If there is an answer, it lies outside electoral politics. The greatest victories for the left have never been won at the ballot box, but through collective action, through protests, strikes, and making it unsafe for Nazis to show their face without getting decked. These methods are decried constantly by supposedly progressive moderates, and yet I only need to look back to my own country to see the alternative in action. Jeremy Corbyn, despite being a traditional Labour socialist, and winning the greatest party leader mandate twice in a row, sits atop a Labour Party wrecked by a Blairite faction that would rather take everyone down with them then accept their own irrelevance. Combined with Corbyn’s own failure to capitalize on his mandate or properly oppose Brexit has all but guaranteed that Theresa May’s terrifying platform of nationalist fascism will win in 6 weeks in a heartbreaking landslide.
When that happens, I will think of the story of the Clinton campaign, and I will say to myself: this is why we can’t have nice things.