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What’s wrong with Hillary Clinton?


2:48 pm - January 16th 2008

by Alan Thomas    


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Since writing my recent article supporting John Edwards in the Democratic primary race, a number of people have asked me why my arguments (which centre around the election of a Democratic president galvanising more radical change by opening up a space to that party’s left) would not simply hold true for any Democratic candidate. Those on the left who don’t think I’m wrong even to advocate a Democratic vote point out that whilst Edwards would be the preferable nominee, his name not being on the ballot paper doesn’t completely change the underlying process. Even Hillary Clinton’s election would surely be politically preferable to that of, say, Mike Huckabee. Further it would be supported by a majority of the US working class, and would mark a decisive break with the Bush era.

Yet I think there is a difference, and one which goes beyond the obvious fact that Edwards’ political stances are well to the left of Clinton’s. Unfashionable though it is on today’s left to mention such things, I think there is an issue of character that would prevent me from advocating a Clinton vote.

It’s not only me who suffers with a deep unease when it comes to Hillary Clinton. Christopher Hitchens (who admittedly has a rather odd political relationship to the Clintons) has an excellent article in the latest Slate magazine which explains the point in eloquent fashion. He begins with a small but telling anecdote from 1995 when, after meeting him, Clinton announced that her mother had named her after Sir Edmund Hillary. Of course, the only problem here is that Clinton was born in 1947 and Hillary’s name-making ascent of Mount Everest was in 1953. When challenged on this rather obvious fact, Clinton spokespeople palmed off the inconsistency on to Hillary’s mother, claiming she had made it up to inspire “greatness” in her daughter. In fact, as Hitchens points out:

For Sen. Clinton, something is true if it validates the myth of her striving and her “greatness” (her overweening ambition in other words) and only ceases to be true when it no longer serves that limitless purpose. And we are all supposed to applaud the skill and the bare-faced bravado with which this is done.

For me this certainly rings true of Clinton’s “emotional” moment in the New Hampshire primary. This is one of the most establishment-driven Democratic candidates in that party’s history, with a campaign so vicious that aides keep drawing attention to Barack Obama’s youthful drug use whilst the campaign publicly denies responsibilty. If you think for a second that that the Clinton campaign would be unaware of such tactics, read James Carville and Mary Matalin’s book “All’s Fair: love, war and running for President”. It’s straight out of the spinner’s playbook. To go from this to “sincere striver tears” stretches my credulity beyond endurance, albeit not it would seem the credulity of New Hampshire’s electorate.

Hitchens goes on to detail Hillary’s role in helping Bill Clinton to recover from scandals by, he asserts, covering up her husband’s extra-marital sex life and thus placing him in her political debt. Hitchens believes that Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky et al were telling the truth, and that the Clintons used their political machine, private detectives and federal employees to besmirch these womens’ charaters and to shut them up. If this is the case, and particularly if Juanita Brodderick (the woman who alleges that Bill Clinton raped her) is telling the truth, then the facade of feminism around Hillary Clinton’s candidacy melts away like so much ice.

This is all not to mention the many issues with Clinton’s vote on the Iraq war. On the question of the war itself Hitchens agrees with Clinton’s vote, whereas I would disagree. Where he and I would both criticise her however, is in her inconsistency since. When questioned on the issue, Clinton uses the tortured phrase “If I knew then what I know now” to suggest that she would not vote to authorise the war if she could take that decision again. Note the difference between this and John Edwards’ straight-out recantation of his own vote, which states quite clearly that it was the wrong thing to do and that he made a mistake. From Clinton’s phrase, one is drawn to wonder what it is that she “knows now” that would change her vote – is she referring to the devastation that the war has brought about, or to the war’s unpopularity in the USA?

In sum, there is something about Clinton that simply leaves me uncomfortable, which goes beyond the insincerity one expects of all those who are involved in electoral politics. I’ll leave the final word to Hitchens:

Indifferent to truth, willing to use police-state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security: The case against Hillary Clinton for president is open-and-shut.

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About the author
Alan Thomas is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a blogger, a political activist and a lay member of Unite-TGWU. His main interests outside of UK left politics are in Turkey, Kurdistan and the USA. And is also always delighted to write about wine and fine food when he's in less of an intellectual mood. Also at: Shiraz Socialist
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Reader comments


While I largely share your view about the Clintons’, I am largely skeptical of John Edwards as well. (Yes, I am an Obama supporter, but that’s not why I have my doubts about Edwards). Read the following article printed by Time, written by Bob Shrum, Kerry’s former chief campaign adviser (someone who also worked with Edwards before the Kerry campaign). This is a harrowing passage from the article which Kerry refused to refute when he was asked about it. Kerry would simply say I don’t want to focus on the past. Anyways, the article is about an interview Kerry had with Edwards when considering potential VP candidates.

“Edwards had told Kerry he was going to share a story with him that he’d never told anyone else—that after his son Wade had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home, laid there and hugged his body, and promised that he’d do all he could to make life better for people, to live up to Wade’s ideals of service. Kerry was stunned, not moved, because, as he told me later, Edwards had recounted the same exact story to him, almost in the exact same words, a year or two before—and with the same preface, that he’d never shared the memory with anyone else. Kerry said he found it chilling”

Damn, I’m forced to agree with Christopher Hitchens (except on the war of course).

So politicians lie about or dramatise their biographies for effect. So what? All of them are vile scumbags until proved otherwise. Give Obama a few more years in Washington and I’m sure he’ll be caught doing the same. Much more worrying is the fact that Hillary sold out to corporate lobbyists (as has Obama). Then there’s the risk she’ll bomb Iran or wherever to kingdom come just so that she can prove she can be as much of a barbarian as any man.

And as for Obama. Sorry guys, but what makes you think he’s a progressive? Of the three main candidates, he consistently has the most right-wing policies, yet people seem to think he’s a progressive because they like the look of his face and the timbre of his voice. No offence to any Obama supporters out there, but I suspect a high proportions of those that will vote for him are the same unthinking sheep who voted for the spineless moron Kerry because media pundits were telling them that a man who lets off a little yelp while rallying his troops could never win a general election 11 months down the line.

“And as for Obama. Sorry guys, but what makes you think he’s a progressive?”

Take a look at his record in Illinois and you’ll see he’s more progressive than you would think. I have written a blurb on it in my top ten reasons for supporting Obama on my site. The famous line that is said is that Dean was far more conservative than people thought he was, and Obama is far more progressive than people think he is. And I was a Dean supporter. And Obama’s policies are not to the right of the others, that’s only Krugman’s–Hillary’s mouthpiece at the NYT–view of it, and even then he says barely so on the economy. As far as health care, it is actually far more progressive not to have a mandate than it is to have one. Why would you force the poor to purchase it if they still could not afford it? Obama has said he would only institute a mandate once it were sufficiently evident that costs were low enough. But demanding one off the bat would be counter-productive (anti-progressive if you will!).

But it’s more so that the others have track records that are noticeably not progressive. Edwards, as Shrum explains in that article, was a proud DLC Democrat (centrist Democrat, same group Hillary is from). In that vein he supported all sorts of legislation from the Bankruptcy bill, to low marks on the environment from the league of conservation voters, to the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, favored trade status for China, and support of NAFTA without any labor/environmental protections. His record doesn’t match his rhetoric. So it’s very much in line with his personality to lie about something like his son’s death for political convenience. He said in 2004 that he would have gone to war with Saddam even if there were NOW Weapons of Mass Destruction. Don’t be fooled by the pretty words you hear from him today.

NO weapons of mass destruction, not NOW. That was a typo.

Btw, I really don’t think that any of these candidates are as progressive as most would like. If Kucinich were viable I’d vote for him in a heart beat. But Obama’s willingness to address progressive values as though they were American values, in other words both Red and Blue state values, offers the most promising chance that independents and Republicans can stop thinking about these issues in partisan ways and that they will join the cause. His eloquence, and the weight his courage in opposing a war that 2/3 of America supported, give him a credit that Hillary and John E. have a harder time getting.

d0m: And as for Obama. Sorry guys, but what makes you think he’s a progressive? Of the three main candidates, he consistently has the most right-wing policies

Such as?

9. douglas clark

O. @ 5 though 7

That was a very interesting analysis. As a bystander in all of this, I’ve heard both Obama and Edwards speak, and frankly, immediately after hearing them, I’d have voted for whichever one of them I’d listened to last. And, no, this was on an MSNBC feed, not live.

That is speechcraft of the highest order. To persuade someone with no dog in the ring that, hey, I’m the best candidate, is frankly, a talent . I have not heard so much of Hilary who is almost certainly as good an orator.

What I assume will happen is that the media will decide which candidate they want, and then proceed to throw any sort of mud possible at the ones they want to lose. This might be an interesting early example, a ‘no smoke without fire’, piece:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/14/AR2008011402083.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

hat tip to:

http://crookedtimber.org/

Obama has dealt with it. But the drip, drip, drip of little men with goatee beards will not end anytime soon.

Hilary is the annointed one, I think, and it will take a heave and a grunt for that to be shifted.

Best of luck. If I had a vote, Barak would get it.

One imagines s/he is talking about anti-terrorism or health care. I’m not so convinced about the latter, but on the former, Obama would do himself a lot of favours by not suggesting he’d take military action against targets in Pakistan, for instance.

9. It’s that sort of talk, however, that will really gain him favours…and it’s not like the other candidates didn’t scramble to agree with him on it when it was clear people were supportive of him.

Maybe the rhetoric would gain him favours from the neocon lobby – but not votes, I reckon. That horse has bolted.

it’s not them that anyone in the democratic party are trying to sway though is it? It’s those people that consider themselves more republican than democrat and the issue of national security and the war is still important to them in the sense they support it. Without the types of things Obama is saying there isn’t a hope for the democrats to win those more middling voters over. With Obama constantly swapping positions with McCain over who people would vote for in the main fight, yet clinton constantly losing ground, it’s clear he’s the one with the rhetoric to change minds on which party to vote for.

First up, when firing off a quick post, you sometimes write things in haste that you later regret. I don’t think Obama supporters generally are unthinking sheep, but I would apply the tag those who before Iowa supported Edwards but subsequently switched to Obama because they bought the line that this is a two-horse race. Calls for Edwards to quit because he’s splitting the “progressive vote” are especially brainless, in my view, on so so many levels.

O –

I agree with you that none of the candidates are as progressive as we’d like, and I also agree about Kucinich.

Regarding Dean, I am aware that he was actually quite conservative fiscally and on gun control. Then again, a dose of fiscal conservatism was just what was required back then; and, on purely tactical grounds, his love of guns would have been useful when selling his anti-war message in the flyover states. Either way, the difference between 2004 and 2008 is that the former was all about the war, and about kicking that vicious psychopath out of the White House. Back then it was imperative that the Democrats chose someone who had opposed the war from the start. But that’s water under the bridge now, there’s no point fighting yesterday’s battles today.

To argue that Obama has the most progressive healthcare plan is perverse. None of the candidates offers the perfect solution – to my mind, this would be a healthcare system totally free at the point of use – but if you don’t make it mandatory then it won’t be universal, which is the minimum requirement for a progressive system.

Obama says he will decrease the cost by increasing competition among insurers, with the aid of a “National Health Insurance Exchange”. But the companies themselves are bound to fight this tooth and nail, and as long as they have a seat around the table they will water down any proposals. Unless Obama acts differently as president to how he says he will act – and why should we believe this will be the case? – he is not presenting a universal healthcare plan, he is presenting a universal healthcare aspiration.

Only by excluding the insurance companies from the process will it be possible to reduce costs to the point where all apart from those under the most extreme financial hardship (who Edwards says will be exempt) can afford it. While on paper Edwards’s “New Health Care Markets” looks to me broadly similar to Obama’s Exchange, Edwards is more explicit about the importance of non-profit purchasing pools, where Obama places greater emphasis on competition (i.e. market based solutions).

Which brings me on to the next and most important point on which I disagree with you. Irrespective of who Krugman supports, he is right when he accuses Obama of surrounding himself with the wrong advisers. Obama gives us every reason to believe that he is fully signed up to the neo-liberal agenda, with its religious belief that markets are the best mechanism for delivering solutions to social problems.

For a different take on this, check out the following piece from CiF:

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/daniel_koffler/2008/01/substance_not_style.html

This was written by an Obama supporter, but reading it left me utterly cold. Chicago economists are serial fantasists suffering from physics envy whose rational choice models have led us to the brink of the abyss. More than anything else, it is this dogma that urgently needs to be confronted during this election, and Obama is heading in the completely the opposite direction.

Just one final point regarding Edwards’s dead son. It may very well be that he did lie about it – the man is no exception to my politicians-are-vicious-narcissists rule, and I can believe he arrived at his current position through cold calculation/opportunism rather than genuine conviction – but the source for the story has absolutely zero credibility in my view.

Sunny –

Well, the issues discussed above, mainly. That said, I’ll concede that I maybe overstated the case when one considers that Hillary is in the race.

However, for the reasons that I laid out above I still can’t decide whether he or Hillary are the least bad option. It may be pure cynicism on her part, but perhaps better the cynical politician who knows what way the winds blow, when they are blowing towards the left, than a neo-liberal true believer.

That may sound cynical on my part – I should emphasize that I swing back and forth between them – but I don’t think there is anything cynical in the reasoning. In the link I gave above, TrueLeft puts it very well, so do read his posts.

I retract that last point, and seeing it in written down makes me feel nauseous that I could even have contemplated Clinton as preferable to Obama. No way! However, the fact that I did is a measure of how unconvinced I am by him.

How are you defining progressive? Progressive as we see the situation or progressive as how America needs to take it’s next steps? To be honest this kind of talk reminds me of people that wonder why middle east conflicts still happen when clearly all they need to do is adopt other countries best practice.

Lee –

Democrat voters are faced with a choice between a candidate who says he will take on corporate interests, empower trade unions and create a universal health care system versus one that says he will work with corporations, is not promising universal healthcare and believes in the power of the market to provide solutions to social problems. Oh, and Hillary Clinton. It’s not rocket science. You’re middle east analogy is irrelevant.

It’s not irrelevant it’s just a different way of looking at progression. You can be progressive or you can be progressive…yet in one case you’ll be taken seriously by the majority of the country and on the other you’ll only be taken seriously by the few. Being radically progressive, I would wager, is not the way to win elections. Progressive in the sense of taking baby steps in the right direction in the most part with maybe one or two key policy changes will win votes from the other party however if framed correctly.

And despite what you may say about obama’s stance on health care it is still looking more towards the people than the insurance companies. it may not be what is ideal by our standards here but it is certainly talking the right talk for moving the nation away from it’s problems…and without pissing off those that actually agree with the insurance system because they’re possibly going to get cheaper prices too if a higher competition element is indeed adopted, I feel it’s about as progressive as you can afford to be in the US.

I probably just about support Edwards more than the other candidates on policy, but it’s clear why Obama is the one winning the polls.

Lee –

What you’re suggesting is not some novel new approach to reversing the decades-long rightward march of politics in America (and just about anywhere else aligned to US interests). It has been the strategy of the Democratic Party establishment for a long time now, and it has been an ugly catastrophe. In the 1990s it put a baby stepping “Democrat” in the White House and achieved precious little else. Then came the bitter defeats of 2000, 2002 and 2004.

Have you learnt nothing from all of this? And do you think the American conservative movement got to such a position of influence by taking baby steps?

Obama clearly has learnt lessons, and whatever his ideological faults, you do him a disservice if you’re suggesting the root of his appeal is a willingness to take baby steps. In fact, that picture is a gross simplification of American politics (and its electoral mechanics).

Oh, and Edwards is hardly a far out radical by any standards other than very recent American history (you know, the period when the Democrats kept losing).

You stated that one candidate has all these, what you clearly allude to being great, ideas on what I would call quite socialist policy while the other is essentially a centre-right capitalist with a penchant for free markets (and alluding that is bad, tell me if I’m wrong). My response to this was that the first candidate may be not so popular because his idea’s are too far left of what is current practice. Your comment…

“Oh, and Edwards is hardly a far out radical by any standards other than very recent American history (you know, the period when the Democrats kept losing).”

…to me just goes to show that you’re a very ideological person. Not that this is a problem, but I just don’t feel it’s realistic. The voters that voted Bush after voting Clinton aren’t going to sit there and say “well you know if you ignore *recent* history then that guys policies are pretty reasonable”, they’re going to compare to what they’ve got and define themselves what they see as comfortable change. To me, I think Edwards would be great and comfortable change, but I’m not middle America who would even consider voting Bush in for a second term, and they clearly prefer the level of difference Obama offers.

This isn’t to say I am belittling his policies, nor suggesting how he should act in office. The baby steps comment isn’t to say he is not making much movement, and so I’ll admit I perhaps used the wrong terminology, but rather that he’s walking the country with him rather than jumping over to the finish line and pleading with the electorate to believe the way is safe.

Lee –

“You stated that one candidate has all these, what you clearly allude to being great, ideas on what I would call quite socialist policy …”

This is such a relative thing, and I have no idea what you would normally define as socialist, so it’s rather tricky for me to comment here. What is your benchmark for “socialist”? Britain? France? Norway? Cuba? China?

“… while the other is essentially a centre-right capitalist with a penchant for free markets (and alluding that is bad…”

Yes.

I’ll admit that a centre-right capitalist with a penchant for free markets would make an improvement on the Nazi capitalist with a penchant for awarding contracts to his mates, but excuse me for not getting too excited.

“… to me just goes to show that you’re a very ideological person. ”

I’m not really sure what you mean here, and I’ve always considered myself a pragmatist. It is useful to be aware how ideologies of varying shapes or forms affect the world, and right now the dominant one is neoliberalism — which has the University of Chicago as its spiritual home.

Do you think neoliberalism is a good thing?

“[Middle America] clearly prefers the level of difference Obama offers.”

Who are these mythical “middle Americans”? Are you sure they’re in the middle? Why is it only them that decide who gets to be president?

“The baby steps comment isn’t to say he is not making much movement, and so I’ll admit I perhaps used the wrong terminology, but rather that he’s walking the country with him rather than jumping over to the finish line and pleading with the electorate to believe the way is safe.”

Ahh, now I get it. What you meant was “baby talk”?

Maybe baby talk is it, as long as you get my meaning the words are neither here nor there 😉

Re: Middle America, talking specifically about people that on the political spectrum aren’t staunchly in one camp or the other. It is always these people that remain sceptical about both parties that win elections for people in two horse races.

Re: Socialism, good point, I don’t really look at it in terms of countries just the general gist of the policies you cite. Perhaps “more socialist” is a better way of describing his policies compared to Obama’s?

re: Neoliberalism – no, probably not, but then I feel most political classification have their negatives and positives 😛

What kind of man is Kerry who tells the public of something so private and confidential? Has Kerry ever lost a child? Edwards is true to the love of his dead son and It shows in the way the Edwards’ include Wade’s name and memory at certain times. No one wants to have their child die, and any comment like Kerry’s (if it is true Kerry said that) is heartless.


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