The reaction to Clinton’s new book ‘What Happened’ has been, predictably, wildly divided. Where does the truth lie?
I t seems like another century ago when we were all eagerly awaiting Election Night 2016 — for no reason other than the fact that it seemed to promise an end to the whirling merry-go-round of misery that had been unleashed by the bruising Democratic primary. Whatever challenges we’d face the morning after, at least the Hillary/Bernie bickering, with its self-important posturing and out of control hero-worship, would be consigned to the crematorium of history where it belonged.
How so very naive we were to think so.
The launch of Hillary Clinton’s election memoir What Happened has seen the usual invective directed at Clinton reach a crescendo. According to The Hill, one former Clinton fundraiser said “The best thing she could do is disappear…She’s doing harm to all of us because of her own selfishness. Honestly, I wish she’d just shut the f — — up and go away.” One Obama aide laments, “It’s the Hillary Show, 100 percent. A lot of us are scratching our heads and wondering what she’s trying to do. It’s certainly not helpful.” Vanity Fair’s T.A. Frank asks, “Can Hillary Clinton please go quietly into the night?” California Democratic Congressman Jared Huffman said that, “There is a collective groan whenever there’s another news cycle about [Clinton].” All that in an op-ed by former Clinton pollster Douglas E. Schoen, who argued “Sticking to an unpopular candidate with an unpopular message will only leave the [Democratic] party continuously unpopular,” adding she needs to “exit the stage.” “Go back to the woods” is a popular enough phrase on Twitter that merely searching for it brings up a bipartisan chorus singing the phrase, all day every day.
In response to a Clinton quote about the challenges faced by powerful women, one characteristic Trump supporter said, “Bullcrap @HillaryClinton people just don’t like you because you are an evil woman who leaves people for dead! Go back to the woods.”
The launch of ‘What Happened’ has seen the usual invective directed at Clinton reach a crescendo.
Meanwhile, Martin Shkreli, already awaiting sentencing for fraud, was thrown in jail early for putting out a $5,000 bounty on a lock of Clinton’s hair.
And, as if this sort of weirdness weren’t enough, Slate’s Christina Cauterucci shows us there’s a subgenre of thinkpiece that casts Clinton as a blame-obsessed loser who says everyone’s responsible for her loss but her.
But as Clinton herself writes in the book, “I go back over my own shortcomings and the mistakes we made. I take responsibility for all of them. You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want — but I was the candidate. It was my campaign. Those were my decisions.”
Such words could never be enough for wounded liberals, Democrats, and leftists who seem to reserve more bona fide scorn for Clinton, for losing to Trump, than they do for Trump and his entire fascist agenda. The Woman Who Failed You is a difficult figure to forgive, especially when she’s already been cast as an unfeeling, power-mad harpy rather than the warm maternal figure we’re all taught to seek in women. There cannot and must not be any doubt that so much of the animus to Clinton is motivated by the audacity of her seeking power while female; it magnifies her real failings into demonic proportions, fit only to be screamed at.
As Sarah Kendzior put it quite well in The Globe and Mail, “The wrath Ms. Clinton’s book inspired feels like an almost nostalgic aggression, a misdirected anxiety harkening to a time when Ms. Clinton could be judged as a threat and Mr. Trump dismissed as a joke.”
Even the most doctrinaire leftists, for whom Democrat is a four letter word, see Clinton as uniquely execrable. Similarly situated liberal men simply aren’t scapegoated the way she has been. It’s impossible to imagine this level of scorn being levelled at some other milquetoast liberal who ran against Trump and lost (certainly Tim Kaine commands only a small fraction of the hatred doled out to his erstwhile boss, despite being more conservative than her). And it’s impossible to imagine this milquetoast liberal man being told by such a towering chorus to “go away.”
Al Gore has built a post-electoral career that’s kept him in spotlights so bright, he’s even on the silver screen. He too won the popular vote, and lost a winnable election to a sentient mayonnaise jar who went on to ruin the country. But he doesn’t summon the scorn Clinton does, and there isn’t a horde of Democrats, liberals, centrists, and leftists alike telling him to naff off. The double standard is real and undeniable; it must be the starting point in any debate about Clinton, and seen as a bias to constantly acknowledge and correct for in one’s criticism.
But criticism is merited, and the publication of What Happened is an ideal time to share it. So long as Trump and his cronies are yammering on camera and online, Clinton should have every right to the public square; but she is not our future. There is a polar opposite sentiment to Clinton hate — and it’s Clinton-worship: seeing her as a fallen goddess-queen, a martyr of whom we are all unworthy. She’s a president in exile and the queen of our hearts, a tragic heroine who Did Nothing Wrong. All discourse must bend toward redeeming her, and even, hope against hope, making her President as she so richly deserves.
This sort of nonsense simply sends us face first into a different moral, discursive cowpat. Though many attacks against her are irrational and viciously founded in sexism, the ineluctable fact remains that she is a flawed human being at the end of the day, and a politician at that. While I would argue that politicians can be heroic, lionizing them into demideities is always a fraught affair, as 2016 should’ve taught us with painful clarity. A different species of sexism, the kind that seeks Madonnahood in women in direct contrast to its opposite, drives some of us to see Clinton as a perfect heroine, paying only lip service to the errors in judgement and terrible beliefs that she is unequivocally responsible for.
She is neither a saint nor a demoness. Just a politician.
Politicians can be heroic, but lionizing them into demideities is always a fraught affair.
A politician is someone you nominate to office so that you might struggle with them; they are not your friend, they are not your mother, not your queen, and certainly not an alabaster angel. The cult of personality around Bernie Sanders has led to the obnoxious myopia surrounding his neverending campaign, and it does much the same with Clinton and her die-hard supporters as well.
This reached an embarrassing nadir when former Clinton surrogate Peter Daou actually built a tech start-up around redeeming Clinton’s legacy, the bizzare Verrit. Verrit is a link aggregation site with cards at the top of each page (the eponymous verrits) containing a quote or some factoid, whose veracity is confirmed by the seven-digit authentication code in its corner. Yes, I know. At any rate, it quickly turned into a sorry spectacle where pro-Sanders memes clashed with the wounded pride of Daou and other diehards. In this it was a microcosm of so much liberal-left discourse since the election: leftists with sick owns on twitter dot com matched up against sanctimonious liberals who fiddle with “facts” while Rome burns, each wasting the other’s time with insipid and occasionally hilarious nonsense that feels more and more like a surrender with each passing day.
This cycle is fed by each side digging in its heels and seeking to relitigate the 2016 Democratic Primary (hence the “Bernie Would’ve Won” meme). But there remains a fundamental fact buried in all this. While Bernie Sanders isn’t the future, neither is Clinton. It seems to me that if there is hope left in the Democratic Party, then 2020’s deliverance will most likely come from someone whose name we don’t yet know — and, frankly, from all of us working for that change.
Clinton should continue being a public figure — her stature is undeniable and she’s earned that right as surely as Gore, Kerry, and McCain. Her book, love it or hate it, was as necessary as it was inevitable and it needed to be written. Her insights on our moment should be welcome; she learned from the best, after all.
For when Clinton diehards asseverate “she was right!” they leave a key truth unspoken: Women of color were right about the fascism on the horizon. Clinton’s wisdom lay in heeding us, at least in part. She, like Sanders, was pushed into getting our agenda on the national stage. But Clinton is not a martyr to rally around for that fact. We should organize around and with the people fighting on the frontlines now, at airports, in the Great Plains, in city streets, at the border — people who live and are fighting for those who yet live. Not devote our energies to redeem the reputation of a politician who has enough well-paid PR people to do that for her full-time.
What Clinton got right during her campaign came, in large measure, from young activists who had forced critical issues onto the agenda — criminal justice reform, intersectional feminism, trans justice — and they’re still out there leading the real battles that are bearing fruit. Who among these many women of color might make a good president?
I’m game to find out.