Inside Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened”.
As the title suggests, Hillary Clinton’s new memoir/post-election autopsy purports to tell, What Happened, i.e. how she lost the 2016 presidential election to a sexist, racist, xenophobic, thoroughly unqualified ignoramus, despite having outspent him two-to-one.
But, as Counterpunch’s Jeffrey St. Clair observes, one need not read any more than the book cover to “answer the question posed by the title: What Happened: Hillary Clinton.”
“Glutton for punishment,” St. Clair writes, “I took a masochistic dive into its dark pages, anyway.”
Indeed, throughout Clinton’s recent spate of interviews and promotional appearances, a frustrating contradiction has emerged. On the one hand, Clinton accepts “full responsibility” for her stunning, highly improbable loss last November. Yet, at the same time, Clinton continues to point to other figures—Bernie Sanders, James Comey, and the Russians, among them—that truly tipped the election to the Cheetos-skinned groper.
In other words, anybody looking for a genuine mea culpa or any sort of serious critical reflection from What Happened will be sorely disappointed. Clinton’s book is basically a 500 page version of the narrative the Democratic Party has been peddling since November. This narrative basically blames anyone and everyone for their loss–everyone, that is, except for, you know … the party itself.
The Democrats’ ever expanding rogue’s gallery of electoral “spoilers” includes the aforementioned Sanders and Comey, along with Jill Stein, Susan Sarandon, Vladimir Putin, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Sanders’ recalcitrant supporters (a.k.a. “Bernie Bros”), Facebook, “fake news,” Russian hackers, the media, and something called the “white working-class.”
(Suspiciously absent from this list is, arguably, the real culprit: The slave-owning Founding Fathers’ Electoral College. Only in the self-appointed, “world’s greatest democracy,” can a presidential candidate win the popular vote–in Clinton’s case, by some 3 million votes–and still lose the election.)
As I have previously pointed out in this blog, there is to date zero concrete evidence that Russian meddling influenced the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor.
Additionally, Clinton’s bogus smears of Sanders for “staying in the race too long,” are equally hypocritical. During the 2008 Democratic primary—the first time Clinton sought the presidency—she remained in the race long after Barack Obama had all but sewn-up the nomination.
Sanders, on the other hand, proved a far more dutiful soldier for the Democratic Party—a party which he is, ostensibly, not even a member of. Not only did he promptly endorse Clinton prior to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and went on to participate in 37 campaign events for her–Sanders even dismissively shut down his more committed supporters, who booed him during his DNC endorsement of Clinton.
Of course, Sanders’ supporters should not have been surprised by his apparent about-face. He made clear, from the beginning of his campaign, his commitment to supporting his “friend” Clinton, should she emerge as the nominee. Some “political revolution.” Indeed, Sanders’ should serve as Exhibit A for why the left cannot “take over” the Democratic Party.
Yet, it seems the joke may be on Clinton, given that Sen. Sanders is currently the most popular politician in the country. Clinton, on the other hand, is viewed less favorably than Trump. Indeed, to garner lower approval ratings than arguably the least qualified, least professional, most outwardly misogynistic, racist, xenophobic president in modern history is really an accomplishment!
Throughout the book, Clinton proves herself to be utterly clueless as to why, precisely, she lost what should have been an imminently winnable election. She remains completely out-of-touch not just with working-class Americans and their daily lived struggles, but with the general political zeitgeist in the country.
It would probably be naïve to hope Clinton might—just might—engage in any sort of critical reflection on the policies Bill Clinton pursued while in the White House—policies which she has continued to champion in her own political career.
Hillary Clinton offers no accounting for the much discussed North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which became a key rallying point for Trump on the campaign trail.
Nor does she offer any regrets over her husband’s 1996 welfare reform bill which fulfilled his promise to “end welfare as we know it.” There was also the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act—the largest crime bill in history. During the bill’s promotion, Hillary Clinton infamously referred to black youth as “super predators.” And she has little to say about the repeal of Glass-Steagall which directly paved the way for the 2008 economic crash.
All of these corporatist concessions undoubtedly played a role in the working-class backlash that contributed (at least in part; the true significance of the so-called “Rust Belt Revolution” has been largely overstated) to Clinton’s loss.
As Thomas Frank observes in his 2016 book, Listen, Liberal, Bill Clinton’s true presidential legacy may be that he—a Democrat—was more successful in passing some of the most egregious conservative legislation in decades, and rolling back the working-class gains of the New Deal, than any Republican president since Ronald Reagan.
“That a Democrat might be the one to pick apart the safety net is a violation of [the Democrats’] basic brand identity,” writes Frank, “but by the very structure of the [two-party] system it is extremely difficult to hold the party accountable for such a deed.
This, in turn, is why only a Democrat was able to do that job and get away with it. Only a Democrat was capable of getting bank deregulation passed; only a Democrat could have rammed NAFTA through Congress; and only a Democrat would be capable of privatizing Social Security, as George W. Bush found out in 2005. (Emphasis his.)
… To judge by what he actually accomplished, Bill Clinton was not the lesser of two evils, as people on the left always say about Democrats at election time; he was the greater of the two. What he did as president was beyond the reach of even the most diabolical Republican. Only smiling Bill Clinton, well-known friend of working families, could commit such betrayals.
And this is to say nothing of Clinton’s hawkish approach to foreign policy, which she honed as secretary of state. This tenure included Clinton’s overseeing of the 2009 coup in Honduras, which deposed democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. Clinton also helped orchestrate the violent overthrow and assassination of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, in 2011. She later boasted of Gaddafi’s death, “We came. We saw. He died.”
Again, Clinton offers no accounting for these acts or the fact that she and Obama expanded George W. Bush’s bogus “war on terror” tenfold.
But Clinton’s faults run deeper than her and husband’s legislative track-record. Her entire approach to politics—with her emphasis on policy specifics, bipartisan compromise, technocratic expertise and “triangulation”—are thoroughly out of sync with the current political moment. This is a moment in which voters are beginning to radicalize. They are demanding bold, radical changes to the very structures of American society–the sort of radical changes Sanders campaigned on. The fact that Sanders, a self-described socialist, received 13 million votes last year, speaks volumes to the growing opening for left politics.
The fact that Clinton’s brand of cautious, “centrist” governing is precisely what brought us to this point of extreme wealth inequality and social unrest seems entirely lost on her.
Clinton has always positioned herself as the adult in the room—the one with a “real plan” to Get Stuff Done. She has always been far more interested in the minutia of process, policy and the nitty-gritty details than the big picture, everyday concerns that ultimately drive voters to the polls. And this myopia, combined with Clinton’s own bourgeois lifestyle, prevented her from understanding the economic concerns that Sanders so successfully tapped into. Clinton frequently complained to staffers during the campaign that she did not understand “why voters are so angry.”
Throughout What Happened that populist anger continues to perplex her. She makes her outright disdain for Sanders and his socialist platform clear in her claim the Vermont senator was promising supporters free college, health care, “and a pony.”
“Bernie routinely portrayed me as a corrupt corporatist who couldn’t be trusted,” writes Clinton. “His clear implication was that because I accepted campaign donations from people on Wall Street—just as President Obama had done—I was ‘bought and paid for.’”
Clinton goes on to attack Sanders’ progressive proposals as “unrealistic” and lacking “political viability.”
Bernie and I had a spirited contest of ideas, which was invigorating, but I nonetheless found campaigning against him to be profoundly frustrating. He didn’t seem to mind if his math didn’t add up or if his plans had no prayer of passing Congress and becoming law… No matter how bold and progressive my policy proposals were [sic] … Bernie would come out with something even bigger, loftier, and leftier, regardless of whether it was realistic or not. That left me to play the unenviable role of spoilsport schoolmarm, pointing out that there was no way Bernie could keep his promises or deliver real results.
“Was I doomed from the start?” Clinton wonders toward the end of her book.
Washington beltway reporters, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes seem to think so. Their behind-the-scenes expose, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign reveals a campaign team rife with constant in-fighting and staffers jockeying for positions.
The authors reveal how even in the early days of Clinton’s 2016 campaign, aides lamented that she could not articulate a compelling reason for launching a second bid for the White House. The team even toyed with openly admitting–and running on–what many Democratic Party officials accepted as obvious: It was “her turn” to be president.
But, during a real “change” election, in which voters were desperately looking for tangible improvements to their increasingly precarious living conditions, the rationale that it was simply Clinton’s “turn” hung hollow.
The real tragedy of the Democratic Party is not, as Frank contends, that it ceased being the “party of the people,” and shifted its focus to courting Wall Street donors and Silicon Valley. It is debatable whether the Democrats have ever truly been a party of the working class. No, the real tragedy is that the neoliberal policies of the Clintons and Obama paved the way for Trump and his noxious brand of pseudo-populism, in the first place.
Sadly, this lesson is nowhere to be found in Clinton’s book. She would rather blame the Russians.
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