One inevitably wonders what it is about Hillary Clinton that so many people find so admirable, or even agreeable. Despite my efforts, I’ve yet to receive a compelling answer to the simple question: What do you like about her? Granted, a lot of people pause before saying something they hope will not betray the fact that they haven’t really given it a great deal of thought; they’re simply Democrats, they occasionally watch MSNBC, and they don’t want to vote for a Republican. Fair enough; there’s plenty of that sort of thoughtlessness on the other side of the aisle as well. I wish those people weren’t so complacently apathetic—their numbers are more than enough to legitimize a third party which might actually serve their interests—but apart from that, I have no real issue with them. They can’t be faulted for their jadedness.
It’s the enthusiastic Clinton supporters, who are not corporatist or masochistic or sadistic, who leave me puzzled.
The corporatist Clinton supporters make sense: They’re looking out for themselves; they want to preserve their elite status, keep getting subsidies from the state, etc., and Hillary is on board with that. Perfectly understandable. It is also understandable, I suppose, for middle/working class people who enjoy being continuously shafted by the oligarchy to support Hillary. These people, if they exist, are the masochists. They’re demented, for sure, but their political leanings are at least in line with their general preferences.
The sadists, those fetched by the notion of dropping bombs on people in other parts of the world (because who cares about those people), are naturally inclined toward Hillary as well: She shares their bloodlust, and makes no bones about her plans to slake it.
So we’ve got four conceivable categories of Clinton supporter: The apathetically ignorant, the oligarchs, the economic masochists, and the war-lovers. However, we all know that the loudest and proudest cheerleaders for “Hil” don’t belong to any of the forgoing categories. Hence my curiosity.
Of course, we cannot forget about the lesser evilists, a variant of the Very Serious Person. No less than Noam Chomsky, whose scholarship on American foreign and domestic policy is unparalleled, has espoused the concept of lesser evil voting, specifically with regard to Clinton vs. Trump. This is the primary argument being deployed by Clinton’s representatives in the media, now that the angry, disheveled old man with delusions about equality is out of the way (and predictably endorsing his primary opponent).
There are certain people—e.g. Chomsky—who are sincere in promoting lesser evil voting. Those who supported Sanders in the primary but are now supporting Clinton in the general, because they believe Trump to be profoundly unqualified (or maybe even the incarnation of Satan himself), are probably sincere.
But then there are those who have been Clinton groupies all along, who ignored Sanders for as long as they could before denigrating him as a geriatric fool (the ageism on display from the left this year was… interesting), and are now opportunistically employing lesser evilism to push Clinton over the finish line. I suppose we’re expected to forget that they dismissed Sanders’ progressive ideas out of hand, favoring Clinton’s neoliberal ones. In any case, these people are not lesser evilists; they’re reactionaries, probably of the sadistic or masochistic type.
None of this is to say that lesser evilism is a valid principle on which to base one’s decision in November. What it essentially amounts to is moral blackmail: Should you dare vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, you are in effect voting for Donald Trump and ipso facto exhibiting a callous indifference toward the people (Mexicans, Muslims, etc.) who are likely to suffer under his rule. What the lesser evilists fail to mention, or perhaps even consider, is that their casuistic philosophy is what led to Donald Trump’s success in the first place—and it may very well lead to something worse in the future. Keep voting for status quo politics, keep allowing the plutocrats to run roughshod over the middle and working classes, and the atmosphere becomes more and more mutinous. The effect is obvious: large sectors of the population become vulnerable to demagogues who tap into legitimate grievances but do so by scapegoating minorities. Hence The Donald. Hence Nigel Farage. Hence Marine Le Pen.
It’s very easy, and very trendy, to lay into them and their supporters while totally ignoring the underlying issues. Brexit is the perfect example. The British people’s decision to leave the EU was the predictable culmination of decades of neoliberal (i.e. Reaganite, Thatcherite) policies, which hang all but the financial elite out to dry. One does not have to be an economist to figure that out; one needs merely to use one’s brain. Nevertheless, Brexit was earnestly depicted as a grudge match between xenophobes and egalitarians. It was very Manichean; light versus dark and so forth. Indeed, much of today’s political discourse is characterized by moral dualism. I suppose we find it comforting.
The flaws of lesser evil voting have been exposed time and time again, though certainly not in the mainstream press, which explains its enduring popularity. Jeffrey St. Clair—no bigoted Trump supporter—calls Chomsky’s academic defense of lesser evilism “an intellectually dishonest position and a morally indefensible one.” He goes on:
According to the specious argument of their Tractatus Illogico-Politicus, Halle and Chomsky would not bear any responsibility for the deaths caused by the candidate (HRC) they support. But Greens, anarchists, socialists and anti-war libertarians who recoil from the Queen of Chaos would bear responsibility for the carnage caused by the candidate (Trump) they did not support. That’s a textbook case of moral hypocrisy.”
Perhaps the most articulate and authoritative voice on this subject is the Green Party’s Jill Stein, who would certainly be our next president if she received 1/100th of the press coverage that Donald Trump does. Pushing back against the argument that says we must vote for Clinton in order to block Trump, Stein had this to say: “It’s a fallacy that Hillary Clinton is the lesser evil here. Another Clinton in the White House is just going to fan the flames of the right-wing revolt. The lesser evil simply guarantees that the greater evil will be elected in the next election.”
Elsewhere, she summed up the contemporary political climate thus: “We live in a system that tells us to vote against what we are afraid of rather than for what we believe in.”
Who is prepared to charge Jill Stein with malign apathy toward Trump’s prospective victims? Nobody remotely serious. That’s why she and her arguments are systematically marginalized.
We can thus disregard the principle of lesser evilism, such is its incoherence. Which brings us to the other answers people tend to give to the central question: What do you like about her?
“She’s good for women, and women need a president who will represent their interests.” This is a typical response, and half of it is true (I shouldn’t have to specify which). Clinton’s PR team has managed to successfully market her as a committed feminist who actually cares about the wellbeing of women everywhere. That is no mean feat. Of course, when asked for a few concrete examples of Hillary’s world-famous feminism in practice, her supporters begin to stammer. Yeah, she supports Planned Parenthood, and yeah, she’s in favor of equal pay for women—so what? Does that make up for her endorsement of husband Bill’s notorious welfare reform, by which many thousands of impoverished single mothers were thrown under the economic bus? What about her time on the board of the infamously sexist Walmart? Or her cool non-reaction to claims by several women that her husband sexually assaulted them? Her unflinching support for the misogynistic hellscape known as Saudi Arabia?
All of this is plainly antithetical to the basic premises of feminism, and these are only Clinton’s more minor infractions against women. The consequences of her major infractions (or crimes, more accurately) can be observed all over the world, particularly in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where scores of innocent women and girls are fleeing their homes to escape men who want to imprison them as sex slaves, mutilate their genitals, and kill them for showing their skin in public. Clinton, as we all know by now, is a shameless war hawk, and it is this characteristic that makes her image as a feminist so utterly grotesque.
The invasion of Iraq—which our media still refuse to call a crime (instead it’s a “blunder,” or “strategic error”)—opened the door for ISIS: Hillary voted for it. The military intervention in Libya destroyed a once-stable country and reduced it to Islamist anarchy, of which ISIS has taken advantage: Hillary spearheaded it, and still defends her decision to do so. Syria is an absolute catastrophe in every sense of the word: Hillary wants to make it worse still by attacking Assad’s security forces on behalf of al-Qaeda and other Islamist fighters. Yemen is becoming another Syria: Hillary supports selling weapons to the medieval thugs governing Saudi Arabia, who use those weapons to bomb Yemeni hospitals and schools and mosques.
In 1946, the Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg trials ultimately concluded the following: “To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” (Emphasis added.)
And who could contest that judgment? Nazis, perhaps, as well as every American president in recent memory, including, of course, assassinator-in-chief Barack Obama, who naturally enough has a Nobel Peace Prize to his name. There’s no reason to believe that Clinton means to break the cycle of extreme American military aggression—the supreme international crime. In fact, there is every reason to believe that she means to escalate it, Barry O’s murderous policies being insufficiently “tough” in her estimation.
We can thus disregard the claims that Clinton is good for women, and dismiss those who plan to vote for her on that assumption.
“Hillary is a progressive pragmatist, and she knows how to get things done.” A euphemism buttressed by a platitude. “Progressive pragmatist,” or “pragmatic progressive,” is a term of propaganda created by the mainstream left to euphemize their queen’s right-leaning centrism. She’s not progressive at all, and she’s only pragmatic in the sense that her policies shift in accordance with popular opinion (e.g. gay marriage, $15/hour minimum wage, TPP, etc.), though “cynical” is certainly the more appropriate adjective. In one sense, however, she’s managed to profit from her reactionary nature: her unwillingness to challenge the status quo is conveniently packaged by her media shills as “pragmatism”—i.e. she understands how difficult it is to get those Republican nutters to compromise, and thus she opts for “incremental changes” or “marginal gains” or whatever other term they’re peddling now. The Republican Party’s drift off the political spectrum, then, has all but ensured Hillary’s success in November.
As for “getting things done,” Clintonoids are again hard pressed to cite examples. Take the New York Times’ (second) official endorsement of Hillary Clinton, whose “important successes” as secretary of state reportedly include helping to impose harsher sanctions on the Iranian people (who, lest you forget, she would not hesitate to “totally obliterate”), as well as speaking out against “the Beijing government’s record on human rights.” Moreover, we’re informed that Hillary “delivered a speech that criticized Arab leaders.”
That, according to the New York Times, is all she wrote. Curiously, or perhaps not, they omit her most notable foreign policy achievement, the total destruction of Libya. I suppose that small detail doesn’t conform to the portrait of Clinton as master diplomat, and is thus negligible.
So we can disregard yet another pro-Clinton argument—she’s not progressive in any sense of the word, and anytime she “gets something done,” it’s a veritable nightmare.
The last response to the question of why a non-sadistic, non-masochistic, middle/working-class person would like Clinton is even vaguer and more thoughtless than the previous ones, although just as common: “She’s extremely qualified.”
One naturally assumes that in order to qualify for President of the United States, a candidate has to do more than merely hold powerful positions (particularly when that candidate’s spouse has already served as president); surely, what he or she does with that power is of paramount importance. The New York Times has already demonstrated for us that Clinton did nothing of note while serving as secretary of state. Her time in the State Department, then, is useful only in that she presumably knows her way around Foggy Bottom. Her terms as Senator from New York are memorable for her votes in favor of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, the decision to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and the Wall Street bailout. There’s your “progressive pragmatism” in practice.
Furthermore, as long as Clinton and her votaries insist on citing her experience as First Lady as an integral part of her acclaimed resume, it is worth recalling the unmitigated disaster that was “Hillarycare,” as well as her support for DADT, DOMA, the 1994 crime bill, and the 1996 welfare reform—a quartet of terrible legislation. But hey, at least she knows her way around the White House.
Clinton is qualified for the presidency only if we choose to ignore her actual record, instead focusing our attention on the fact that she held three high-profile positions in government. Bearing her record in mind, however, it becomes evident that the “extremely qualified” line is yet another falsehood manufactured by the media and fed to people willing to take them at their word.
All things considered, there’s not one sustainable argument in favor of Hillary Rodham Clinton. She’s a complete dud, “a talent-free hack,” as Andrew Sullivan delicately worded it. Unless one belongs to one or more of the four categories mentioned at the start of this essay, a vote for Clinton is a vote against one’s interests and principles. That so many people are not only prepared but actually eager to do so is the best evidence yet of the corporate media’s omnipotence. C’est dommage.