With the looming general election face-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there has been a relentless push to dull any criticism of Clinton, for the sake of sparing the country a Trump presidency. The notion that any reproval—thorough or otherwise—of Democratic candidates leads to a Republican outcome has long been a typically unarticulated condition, one that leads to less accountability, more capitulation, and the unequivocal silencing of left detractors who are arguably necessary elements in the pursuit of much needed political reformation.
The coddling of Clinton by admirers, who often treat her as they would an incorruptible friend instead of a fallible politician, has led to even an atom’s worth of dissent being cast as a sign of Trump favoritism. Take for example what happened when Rania Khalek, associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, published an article in The Intercept calling Clinton an implementor of hawkish foreign policy. Khalek argued that Trump’s “isolationist posturing” provoked what she calls “a neoconservative flight from the presumptive Republican ticket while repositioning the Democrats, if led by Clinton, as the war party.”
Not only was her nuanced piece characterized as being supportive of Trump’s campaign—The Intercept was swiftly accused of having ‘come out for Trump’. In May, Vox author Matthew Yglesias tweeted that “[i]t’s going to be weird when National Review ends up supporting Hillary while The Intercept backs Trump”, to which former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum responded with “yep”, and a link to Rania Khalek’s aforementioned article, as though to say ‘it’s already happening’.
Joining other right wing pundits, journalist and Daily Beast columnist Jamie Kirchick has lauded Clinton as being this year’s ”“real conservative. Having thrown his weight behind Clinton, who he has called “the clear conservative choice”, Kirchick regularly maligns her critics as being part of a cabal of ”“progressive Trump supporters. From Glenn Greenwald to The New Republic’s Jeet Heer, left critics of Clinton have their words emptied of any subtle distinction so that Kirchick and other veteran gasbags of the commentary class can accuse them of being “useful idiots”. Right wing reactionaries like Kirchick join more liberal Clinton supporters—working tirelessly to cut off criticism of Clinton, and of the Democratic Party, at the head—and Trump-mongering has become this election cycle’s preferred maneuver.
Rania Khalek, who has been a notable victim of this method, spoke to Paste, stating that “Clinton supporters are portraying her critics as Trump lovers because they can’t engage with the merits of our arguments.”
“Clinton is a war hawk with blood on her hands,” Kalek says. “That’s a fact, and it’s indefensible. The only way for her supporters to counter our legitimate criticism is to call us names and paint us as Trump-loving Putin apologists. It’s also an incredibly effective way to suppress anti-establishment populism.”
Khalek also argues that “criticizing Clinton from the left is essential for defeating the right-wing populism that Trump tapped into. The neoliberalism Clinton represents helped lay the groundwork for the rise of demagogues like Trump. People are right to be angry, but that anger is being diverted into a politics of hate by the right. Only a left counter-narrative can counter that. Clinton’s centrism will make things worse.”
Arguing in favor of holding political representatives accountable for present and past actions is now all but classified as a puritanical leftist conviction. Clinton’s history is mired by abhorrent policies that she’s manufactured and championed on behalf of previous administrations, yet despite this, her supporters and tireless media stenographers continue to frame her campaign as being one of ‘evolution.’ Clinton hasn’t simply furthered catastrophic programmes, she’s “evolved”, much like you and I. It is a terrifying assertion that allows voters to view lawmakers not as public servants that must answer for their actions, but as friends, and as beer-buddies deserving of absolution.
Clinton is ‘like your abuelita’, and after all, who would demand their benign grandmother be held accountable for rejecting universal healthcare, supporting coups, overseeing military interventions, and bolstering right wing death squads? Joanne Bamberger, author of Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, wrote nearly one year ago that Clinton isn’t perfect, and that’s just what’s needed—a candidate that is flawed, and therefore authentically human. “Maybe it’s time to admit that likability and perceived perfection aren’t the best checklist items on which to judge a presidential candidate,” Bamberger argues. There is no so-called “perfection myth” that haunts the left in regards to Clinton, but instead the guidance of principles, something a number of her most vocal supporters can use.
Clinton, who has bragged endlessly of receiving the approval of the one and only Henry Kissinger, is now courting Republicans. The Democratic National Convention saw not only cringe-worthy theatrics, including erupting-glass-ceiling special effects, but even the appearance of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Recently, the Clinton campaign has actually bragged about receiving an endorsement from John Negroponte. What Negroponte and Clinton share—one of a number of things—is Honduras. While Negroponte served the Reagan administration he made a career out of reinforcing death squads while serving as ambassador to Honduras. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton’s role in the 2009 coup directly lead to the deaths of a number of indigenous environmental activists, including Berta Cáceres. Clinton’s own record of actions taken in Honduras during her time as Secretary of State were later scrubbed from the paperback edition of her autobiography Hard Choices.
Yet this history matters, and leftists who demand accountability aren’t lending support to Trump, nor are they demanding perfection. Then again, what are we to say about those who view American politicians through such a narrow lense that they see an iota of criticism as a threat and view critics who are demanding the bare minimum as being puritans?
Doug Henwood, journalist and author of My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets The Presidency, tells Paste he’s been subjected to what he calls “Democratic blackmail” for a long time. For example, when writing critically about Bill Clinton, he would always get the question, “Well, who do you want, Bush?”. “But it does feel like this line of attack has intensified during the Hillary era,” Henwood says:
“When I first announced to a secret liberal email list I was on for a couple of years that I was working on a critical piece for Harper’s, I was immediately badgered with the question: “Well, who do you want, Cruz?” (They hate being talked about, so I say with pleasure that it’s called the Cabalist.) When I asked them to make a positive argument for Hillary’s candidacy, all they could summon was invective. These were sophisticated people, pundits and operatives, but it was beyond their imagining that there could be a third or fourth option in American politics. In part, this was because of their intense fear of the right – they deeply believed that all “progressives” can do these days is defend what we’ve got, and fighting for anything more ambitious, like single-payer, would only make things worse. But as time went on, it became clear that they really like Hillary’s centrism: they want someone like her (or Obama) running the machinery of empire, and they don’t want any kind of seriously redistributionist politics. It just makes some of them uncomfortable to admit this.
Since that Harper’s piece came out, and since I expanded it into My Turn, I’ve never been able to get any liberal Democrat to engage with my criticisms of Hillary. About their only responses have been to call me a right-wing stooge, a misogynist, and an enabler of Trump. But you have to have some sympathy for them: Since everything I’ve written or said about Hillary is true, slurs are all they’ve got.”
Alex Press, an independent journalist, and socialist, who’s been featured in The Nation, tells Paste that when it comes to criticizing Clinton from the left, she has “a common experience”:
“I think what’s happening here, particularly among more cynical commentators, is an attempt to conflate left-wing critics with Trump supporters in order to delegitimize us by association. If you tar the messenger by associating us with Trump, you can dismiss the message without engaging it or defending your candidate’s policies. Clinton liberals can’t actually argue against left criticism of Clinton because our criticism takes seriously the aims Clintonism claims to care about: Commitment to feminism, to fighting racism, to overturning inequality. We takes these aims seriously and seek their root causes, whereas Clinton’s policies actually reproduce these injustices.
If you can’t defend your own policies without revealing their conservatism, which Clinton supporters have shown they can’t, the best strategy is to delegitimize anyone who raises criticisms. That’s what we see Clinton supporters doing: policing the boundaries of acceptable discourse and hoping that by doing so, they can cast those of us who hold real criticisms of Clinton—and by extension, of the Democratic Party as a whole—beyond the pale, silencing us in the process.”
These tactics are not new, but it’s still important that we examine them, as they’re not only meant to silence leftist voices, but aim to dismiss critics as being unthinking, useful idiots who will send the country spiraling head-first into an apocalyptic America run by a maniacal Trump regime. This works to lay the foundation for blame, should Clinton fail to break the glass ceiling—it’s the leftists who are at fault, they asked too much of a woman that is so human, that has “evolved” so much. It’s always the leftists that should bite their tongues and pull the lever behind the cloaked voting booth, or else be damned into a revised history that still condemns Ralph Nader supporters to be reviled for ‘making Al Gore lose’. Despite this narrative, which weighs so heavy on the shoulders of those struggling to make a decision come Election Day, the demands for accountability remain.