If there is one thing I have learned for sure about Hillary Clinton, it’s that she is both better and worse than everyone seems to think.
Worse because of her ongoing paranoia, deceit and iron-fistedness vis-à-vis her quest for the Oval Office.
Better because of her wit, intelligence, compassion and jaw-dropping stamina as they relate to the exact same goal.
In the spring of 2008, I wrote an op-ed for my college newspaper in which I petulantly griped about how Hillary Clinton has a way of getting under your skin even as you find yourself agreeing with most of what she stands for. How her single-mindedness and love-hate relationship with rules and facts tend to overshadow her finer qualities, even for those who are otherwise prepared to accept her as the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party.
Re-reading that article seven-and-a-half years later, I am somewhat alarmed by how well it holds up. While my writing has matured (arguably), my hang-ups about a potential President Clinton Part II were pretty much exactly the same then as they are now. They include: Her penchant for making up stories when the truth is readily available for all to see; her brazen disregard for the rules whenever they are inconvenient; and her tendency, in any case, to exacerbate the little scandals that pop up whenever she is in power, invariably by blaming the whole thing on her would-be enemies, be they Republicans, foreign governments or a White House intern.
All of those quirks still apply, and must forever be held in consideration when one endorses Clinton for president or any other office. As ever, a vote for Hillary is a vote for all the baggage that comes with her. And that’s before we get into the issues that involve actual substance. As the enduring success of Bernie Sanders demonstrates, there remains a great minority of Democratic primary voters who consider Clinton the wrong candidate at the wrong time and who, should she become the party’s nominee, might even stay home on Election Day rather than pull the lever for her.
Against all of that, however, I come bearing news: Politics has changed a lot over the last two election cycles and we no longer have the luxury to vote only for candidates we like. When and if we make it to November 8, 2016, most of us will be faced with two people whom we don’t particularly want to be president, but we’ll need to choose one of them all the same, because that’s how elections work.
I know: This sounds like a “lesser of two evils” lecture. It’s not, because presidential campaigns are not a choice between two evils. Deciding to ally with Stalin against Hitler—that was a choice between two evils. When we vote for a commander-in-chief, the decision is between not just individuals, but two opposing philosophies of how to run the government of the most important republic in the world. There’s nothing evil about it, but the choice is stark nonetheless—now more than ever before.
If you think there is no meaningful difference between Republicans and Democrats, you’re not paying close enough attention. If you’re unwilling to vote for either because their candidates just aren’t perfect enough, you’re a child and a fool.
Last Saturday’s Democratic debate drew only a fraction of the audience of any GOP contest this year. That’s a real shame, because, if nothing else, it affirmed Bill Maher’s observation in 2008 that to see both parties talk, it’s as if they’re running for president of two completely different countries.
Case in point: At the most recent Republican forum, you would be forgiven for thinking that 9/11 happened yesterday and that terrorism is the only thing worth caring about when it comes to the welfare of the United States and its citizens. It was practically the only subject that came up, while such things as the economy, health care, infrastructure and even immigration received little more than a passing shout-out from any of the nine candidates.
The Dems spent plenty of time on terrorism, too—the San Bernardino massacre made it unavoidable—but they allocated equal, if not greater, emphasis on subjects that are—let’s be honest—considerably more urgent and germane to all of us at this moment in time. Along with the issues I just mentioned, these included gun control, race relations, income inequality, college affordability and the fact that America’s prisons are overstuffed with people whose only “crime” was getting high and having a good time.
This isn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill disagreement over national priorities. This is a dramatic, monumental clash over whether the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. The whole GOP platform has been reduced to, “Be afraid all the time, because you could die at any moment,” while the Democrats act as if tomorrow might actually come and we might as well live and govern accordingly.
Is this the lowest bar we’ve ever set in the history of presidential elections? Possibly. Indeed, it’s downright depressing that the very act of governing is no longer seen as a given for anyone in public office.
What is far more depressing, however, is that so many citizens seem to think it doesn’t matter which party is in charge, or that both parties are equally at fault for all of the preventable problems that have occurred throughout the Obama era. Neither of those assumptions is true, and there are tangible consequences to thinking otherwise.
Care for some examples? Listen to the GOP’s own rhetoric: If a Republican is elected president next year, it means the Affordable Care Act is in danger of actual repeal, as is the nuclear agreement with Iran. It means reversing climate change is no longer a priority, along with the rights of black people, gay people, poor people, women, immigrants, Muslims and refugees. It means the Supreme Court will net at least one conservative justice, which could easily lead to decisions adversely affecting all of the above and more. It means our “war” against ISIS will almost certainly escalate to include actual boots in the sand, and God knows what impact that’ll have on our national debt (to the degree that anyone cares).
I realize, of course, that America’s conservatives would be thrilled by such results, but that’s not really who I’m talking to right now.
No, I would mostly just like to remind my fellow leftists that there is a limit to what your disgust with “establishment” Democrats like Hillary Clinton can accomplish. Clinton is most certainly a flawed candidate, and a flawed messenger for the liberal view of good governance. She is plainly compromised by her close relationship with the financial industry and remains insufficiently skeptical of large-scale military interventions in the Middle East. She hasn’t yet mastered the art of damage control and offers little assurance that she won’t create more damage in the future. A second Clinton presidency would guarantee a fair share of political nonsense from the day she arrives to the day she leaves.
Know what else it would guarantee? Health insurance for tens of millions of people. Funding for Planned Parenthood. Increased protections for the LGBT contingent. A more liberal Supreme Court.
And it would guarantee our first female commander-in-chief. Sure, I know we’re supposed to be a meritocratic society that doesn’t care about race, sex, etc., but let’s not pretend that following our First Black President with our First Woman President wouldn’t be unimpeachably gratifying. We already know beyond doubt that a woman can manage a country at least as well as a man—perhaps you noticed that, for the last 10 years, one such woman has been more or less running all of Europe—but wouldn’t it be great to have it actually happen here?
Of course, none of this matters during the primary phase of the campaign, where we are now. So long as Democratic voters still have a legitimate choice between Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and, I suppose, Martin O’Malley), they have every obligation to argue about which option makes the most sense for where the party ought to be, and that choice is always a balance between ideological purity and perceived electability. If you want Sanders as your nominee, you’d best make your case now, before it’s too late. (I’ve already made mine.)
But should time run out and your preferred candidate lose, realize that our whole electoral system operates on the principle that the party is ultimately more important than any individual within it, which means a great number of people will be forced to compromise some of their deepest-held beliefs in the interest of party unity—because it’s better to support someone with whom you agree 60, 70 or 80 percent of the time rather than ensuring victory for someone with whom you agree not at all.
If total ideological alignment leads to total electoral defeat, then what good did those principles do you in the first place? Republicans have been learning this lesson continuously since the moment President Obama was elected. Are Democrats on the verge of making the same stupid mistake?