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.
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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