The Problem With Hillary Clinton

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One of the most politically damning charges against Hillary Clinton is the accusation that she has no guiding ideology or core beliefs, that she picks up and discards her positions based purely on political expediency. But don’t expect defensiveness or contrition – behind closed doors, Hillary Clinton is defiantly and unrepentantly proud of her constant triangulation

Outside the home, politicians are generally at their most candid when addressing wealthy donors at private events, safely sequestered from the general public and the media.

We know of Barack Obama’s high-handed “bitter clingers” put-down of people who cling to guns and religion having supposedly failed at life thanks to unguarded comments made to donors. Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remark, in which he was deemed to have effectively written off nearly half of the country from voting for him because they do not pay federal income tax, and which did more than anything to sink his presidential dreams, came from remarks at a fundraiser. So too did Hillary Clinton’s recent “deplorables” debacle, in which she suggested that half of all Donald Trump supporters are essentially abhorrent and unacceptable human beings with whom there can be no meaningful dialogue or compromise.

The only real exception to this roll call of dishonour is Donald Trump himself, a man utterly without shame who is happy airing his most vulgar and ignorant thoughts direct into a live television camera, even during a presidential debate, and who consequently has no need to use donor meetings as a pressure release valve to vent his real feelings.

But for those of us who like our politics with a bit of conviction, principle or even (dare I say it) ideology, then the latest leaked recording of Hillary Clinton candidly addressing a group of starry-eyed donors really takes the biscuit.

From Politico:

Hacked audio of a conversation between Hillary Clinton and donors during a February fundraising event shows the Democrat nominee describing Bernie Sanders supporters as “children of the Great Recession” who are “living in their parents’ basement.”

Speaking at a Virginia fundraiser hosted by former U.S. ambassador Beatrice Welters, Clinton says in a clip released by the Free Beacon that many of her former primary opponent’s supporters sought things like “free college, free health care,” saying that she preferred to occupy the space “from the center-left to the center-right” on the political spectrum.

During the conversation, also reported in the Intercept, Clinton confesses to feeling “bewildered” by those to her far-left and far-right in the election.

“There is a strain of, on the one hand, the kind of populist, nationalist, xenophobic, discriminatory kind of approach that we hear too much of from the Republican candidates,” she said. “And on the other side, there’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel.”

I don’t doubt Clinton for a moment – I am sure that she does indeed feel bewildered by people who actually have political convictions and principles which they are reluctant to bargain away in the pursuit of power. And doesn’t that speak volumes about the type of president she would be?

Here is the precise transcript of her comments.

CLINTON: It is important to recognize what’s going on in this election. Everybody who’s ever been in an election that I’m aware of is quite bewildered because there is a strain of, on the one hand, the kind of populist, nationalist, xenophobic, discriminatory kind of approach that we hear too much of from the Republican candidates. And on the other side, there’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know,  go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel. So as a friend of mine said the other day, I am occupying from the center-left to the center-right. And I don’t have much company there. Because it is difficult when you’re running to be president, and you understand how hard the job is —  I don’t want to overpromise. I don’t want to tell people things that I know we cannot do.

Some are new to politics completely. They’re children of the Great Recession. And they are living in their parents’ basement. They feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don’t see much of a future. I met with a group of young black millennials today and you know one of the young women said, “You know, none of us feel that we have the job that we should have gotten out of college. And we don’t believe the job market is going to give us much of a chance.” So that is a mindset that is really affecting their politics. And so if you’re feeling like you’re consigned to, you know, being a barista, or you know, some other job that doesn’t pay a lot, and doesn’t have some other ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing. So I think we should all be really understanding of that and should try to do the best we can not to be, you know, a wet blanket on idealism. We want people to be idealistic. We want them to set big goals. But to take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals.

My emphasis in bold.

The centre-left to the centre-right. That is, Hillary Clinton seeks to be the Alpha and the Omega of American politics, oscillating between two non extremes of bland opportunism guided by nothing other than her finely-honed ear for what is politically feasible without upsetting donors or special interests. And this is supposed to be inspiring? This is 21st century leadership?

Let us not be naive: all of politics is a game of compromise – or an unseemly sausage making process, as it is often described. But is Hillary Clinton really surprised that people are having trouble motivating themselves to vote for her when she openly brands herself as an out-and-proud offal grinder? Uninspiring, incremental progress laced with self-interest is what we expect at the end of the political love affair, not the seductive note inspiring us to take a leap of faith in the first place.

The trouble with this fixation on the political centre is that it pays large dividends, right up to the moment where it stops working at all. In Britain, the Labour Party discovered a route back to power which involved shedding nearly all association with their traditional socialism and accommodating much of the post-Thatcher orthodoxy, and it won them three successive general election victories from 1997 through 2005. But with a rudderless Conservative Party barely two degrees further right, suddenly all of the main political parties in Britain found themselves dancing on the head of a pin, ideologically speaking. There was nothing to separate them, from their love of an activist, paternalistic nanny state to their agreement that Britain should remain in the European Union at all costs.

And sure enough, the stale centrist political consensus in Britain, which saw the main political parties using wild rhetoric to describe what were effectively miniscule differences in policy, is in the process of crashing down. The Conservatives were destabilised by the rise of UKIP to the extent that they had to offer (and ended up losing) a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU, while the failure of Ed Miliband to win power in 2015 saw Labour’s centrists routed by the left-wing Corbynites and left utterly without support or influence.

By pursuing such a doggedly centrist course, Hillary Clinton is effectively betting that the political earthquake which shook America’s closest ally will not reach American shores until she is safely ensconced in the White House. But that is an awfully dangerous gamble to make, especially when the Trumpian takeover of the Republican Party shows massive popular fury with the status quo.

For decades now, career politicians have assumed that the deciding bloc of voters requiring outreach and outright pandering were those in the centre. But what if this is no longer the case? Hillary Clinton struggled to prevail in the Democratic primary against Bernie Sanders, an ornery old socialist, and some Sanders supporters see the Libertarian/Green third party tickets or even Donald Trump as a preferable fallback to supporting Clinton. And while Clinton remains the favourite, it may be the case that she succeeds in holding the political centre, but ultimately loses the presidential election because the bottom falls out of a left-wing base which believes she has abandoned them.

And who could blame them for abandoning her in turn? This is a Democratic Party nominee who looks down on people who don’t see the appeal of political triangulation and bet-hedging as immature basement-dwellers who are just too stupid to understand how the world works. A nominee who thinks so little of her own party base that she openly muses with donors about ways to dress up the most meagre accomplishments as “bigger goals” in order to trick the proles and keep them in line.

Hillary Clinton remains the only plausible candidate for US president only because her opponent is Donald J. Trump, much as the only reason for a British small-c conservative to vote for a Big Government-supporting Conservative Party which has abandoned any commitment to fiscal responsibility is the fact that the alternative would be Jeremy Corbyn’s reheated 1970s socialism.

But keep asking people who are sick of the status quo to choose between the lesser of two evils and their responses are likely to become less and less predictable. Hillary Clinton may well succeed in slowly grinding her way to the Oval Office. But if disaster strikes, she will have nobody to blame but herself and her soul-crushingly unidealistic campaign.

 

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American Conservatives, Fearing National Decline, Want A President With Swagger Again. What Could Go Wrong?

American conservatives only react so furiously when President Obama shows a little diplomatic humility and self-deprecation while abroad because it touches a raw nerve – they are consumed by worry about American decline, and project their anger onto minor, intangible issues like bowing protocol, Air Force One tarmac snubs and presidential behaviour which falls short of obnoxious boorishness on the world stage

Many American conservatives have reacted with outrage to this video of President Obama addressing an audience during a recent trip to Laos, holding it up as yet more evidence that the president they so love to hate actually hates America himself.

Addressing a townhall-style meeting while in Laos, Obama is heard to say:

I believe that the United States is and can be a great force for good in the world. But because we are such a big country, we haven’t always had to know about other parts of the world. If you are in Laos, you need to know about Thailand and China and Cambodia because you’re a small country and they’re right next door, and you need to know who they are.

If you’re the United States sometimes you can feel lazy and think, you know, we’re so big we don’t have to really know anything about other people, and that’s part of what I’m trying to change, because this is actually the region that’s going to grow faster than any place else in the world. It has the youngest population and the economy is growing faster any place, and if we aren’t here interacting and learning from you and understanding the culture of the region, then we’ll be left behind, we’ll miss an opportunity, and I don’t want that to happen.

Cue lots of conservatives running around in a tizzy as though Obama had been propping up the bar at some Laotian tavern, regaling the regulars with an endless reel of hilarious anecdotes about how backward and stupid Americans are, while TV cameras recorded every shameful moment.

Here’s Ace of Spades, getting unnecessarily worked up:

It’s almost as if this pampered, do-nothing, unqualified malcontent actively hates America or something.

Someone out there there’s a Yourself in desperate need of a f*cking.

You gotta listen to this. It’s the International Version of his famous Bitter Clingers Song.

Look, this is silly. I know it is inexplicably popular in American conservative circles to rant and rage about how the Evil Muslim Marxist in the White House secretly – or not so secretly – hates America. And to be fair, President Obama hasn’t always done himself many favours in this regard, particularly with that unbearably condescending “bitter clingers” speech which genuinely made it seem that he holds a significant proportion of the country in something between pity and contempt.

But do these pro salt-of-the-earth conservatives think that the likes of Donald Trump or the Republican Party establishment “love America” so much that they are ever going to sit down and break bread with ordinary folk on a regular basis (apart from when seeking their vote)? Do they really think the man who eats his pizza with a knife and fork has any great love for the Common Man? Or that Newt Gingrich or Paul Ryan or Ben Carson spend their time away from Washington D.C. slumming it, eating at Waffle House and watching Nascar?

Besides, what point is Ace trying to make here – that when on foreign soil, the American president must always be belligerently boastful about the United States, even (or especially) to the point where it enrages his hosts? This is like that American exceptionalism argument all over again. It’s perfectly fine to consider America a truly exceptional nation – heck, I certainly do, and I’m not even a citizen yet – but in what possible way does it make good diplomatic sense to stomp around the world lecturing other nations about how inferior they are?

What do conservatives think that Obama should have said in Laos? That the United States of America, to the very last trailer park dweller, is full of the wisest and most sagacious citizens on the face of the earth? That every American, from the richest penthouse-dweller in New York to the poorest cabin owner in Appalachia, is a natural foreign policy expert? That the people of a nation where 54 per cent of citizens do not own a valid passport are nonetheless deeply knowledgeable about the world beyond their own borders?

Is there not some truth to the perfectly benign and logical statement that as a large and powerful country, there is much less incentive for average American citizens to concern themselves with world affairs until they threaten an imminent impact on the homeland? Might it not possibly be the case that the country whose top-rated cable news channel (Fox News) has a segment entitled “Around The World in 80 Seconds” – that’s seconds, not minutes, and typically seconds filled with lightweight fluff about bull-running festivals or cheese-rolling competitions – is more domestically focused than other, smaller and more interconnected countries?

Worrying that the president of the United States is not swaggering around boorishly enough on the world stage is actually evidence of a deeper malaise, a suggestion that those who criticise Obama so hysterically actually realise that America is in some ways a troubled country, and desperately want their leader to kick ass at every diplomatic summit as a way of papering over the cracks.

And that’s what this hissy fit from the American Right is really all about: the gnawing fear of American decline. In some ways this is a legitimate fear – no, America is not going anywhere just yet, despite the best efforts of enemies without and “reformers” within to undo all that is good about the United States. But we are certainly entering an indisputable period of relative American decline, as other countries develop and become wealthier, and new regional powers assert themselves. This is understandably concerning to many people, particularly those of the baby boomer who came of age at a time of unparalleled American power and prosperity, as well as those younger Americans who came of age (as I did) between the shadow of the Cold War receding and the incredible national shock that was 9/11.

It will be harder now for America to pursue her global interests unchallenged. American influence will be questioned and undermined by assertive regional powers and two-bit mischief-makers alike. America will have to become accustomed to harmless but superficially humiliating slights from jumped-up, distasteful regimes looking to impress their domestic audience by standing up to the United States, much as Britain had to endure a reduced standing on the world stage after the Second World War and loss of empire.

But America is not Britain, and her decline will be neither as swift nor as steep. America’s fundamentals remain broadly sound. The economy remains large and dynamic, while America’s military power and reach eclipses that of all other nations several times over. Financial and social problems, though pressing, are surmountable – or at least the damage can be contained for now. America will remain the sole superpower for the foreseeable future, and all those countries who American conservatives see posing a threat in their fevered dreams face internal and external challenges of their own.

And yet the gnawing fear persists, and leads otherwise sensible conservatives to say and demand very silly things in a desperate and unnecessary attempt to prove continued American national virility. But now is the time for smarter American diplomacy, not for the unsubtle sledgehammer approach. Of course America should take pride in the exceptionalism of her founding and history, but this should not translate into a boorish tendency to lecture other countries when leading by example can be far more effective.

That doesn’t mean the United States should stop calling out human rights abuses or democratic infringements in other countries – far from it. But conservatives should stop demanding that the US president, while standing at a lectern at a joint press conference next to a foreign head of state, opens his remarks by detailing all the many ways in which the United States is a far superior country. Is that really too much to ask?

After all, it is less than eight years since we last enjoyed the service of an American president brimming with natural swagger, and the foreign policy consequences were…mixed.

Do we really want to go down that road again?

 

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