Who is Hillary Clinton? It is little surprise that this anthology offers not much in terms of a definitive answer. Its purpose is clearly to muddy the water, to maintain and nurture the political ambiguity of a public figure who’s been on the national stage for over twenty five years now, and to distract readers from an obvious but nonetheless important truth: that when there’s smoke there may not be fire, but when there isn’t fire, there’s almost certainly something that does not wish to be seen.
This need not implicate any of the contributors to this collection of foul-play or miscreance of course. In their defense, there are almost no exaggerations, propaganda, or obscurantist claims in any of the pieces (although there is quite a bit of phony pathos). And as Katha Pollitt admits in the book’s introduction, ‘The critics of Hillary will probably be happier with this book than the fans.’ This is an old rhetorical trick though, in which a writer sadly announces that due to her strong commitment to fairness and balance her beloved subject perhaps comes across as less sympathetic than intended. What Pollitt ought to have said was, ‘In the end, the critics hear what they want to hear and we still get their vote.’ Some feats really do take a village to accomplish.
On the dominate problems of the twenty-first century—war, economy, healthcare, gay rights, abortion, cybersecurity, environmental catastrophe, and racism—Clinton’s record is clear even if her rhetoric isn’t.
Take the case of her liberal hawkism. She voted for the original Iraq War Resolution and against an amendment to it (proposed by Michigan Senator Carl Levin no less) that would’ve required George Bush to return to congress for war authorization if unilateral diplomacy failed. And while other Democratic candidates involved in presidential politics eventually disavowed their original support for the barbarism and misery brought on Iraq by the invasion (in the 2012 vice presidential debate on foreign policy, Joe Biden presented himself as if he had never even cast a vote for war to denounce in the first place), Clinton would repeatedly double-down on her decision. For instance, during the 2008 primaries she told New Hampshire voters, ‘If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast a vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from.’ More recently, during her reign as secretary of state, she advocated for the increased use of drones in ‘targeted-killing’ operations, an uptick in the number of U.S. troops operating in Afghanistan, and the military intervention in Libya that dissolved not only the Muammar Gaddafi government but essentially the country itself—rival tribes and militias now terrorize and ethnically cleanse local populations, as those who even have the opportunity to bury their dead are viewed as relatively fortunate.
Clinton was prepping for a television interview with CBS when she was informed that Gaddafi had been killed. Her reaction just goes to show that power can do much worse to a person’s soul than mere corruption. ‘We came, we saw, he died,’ the secretary said, failing to fight back a compromising grin and one of the few unimprovised chuckles she’s ever made in public.
As for matters of economy, Clinton has demonstrated time and time again that she sees no potential conflict between her doing good for the working class and making off well with the big banks and insurance companies. Since 2001, she and her husband have combined to earn over $150 million from their speaking fees, with $7.7 million of those dollars coming from big banks (as well as big campaign donors) like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. To be fair, most of these accepted-bribes-cum-overpriced-speeches were given by Bill; after all, Hillary is ‘not the consummately smooth performer her husband is,’ Erica Jong informs us. That’s uncontroversial. However, calling Bill ‘a fearless man’ and the Clintons a ‘revolutionary presidential couple,’ as Jong does, is cutting-edge even for Clinton flunkies.
Clinton has always portrayed herself as a foe of unassailable corporate interests, and not always unjustly. She was an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have allowed workers to form a union if a majority signed cards indicating a desire to do so, without any additional ballot requirements imposed on them by their employer. A fairly lax proposal, although you wouldn’t know it from the way business owners responded. Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, called it ‘the demise of civilization,’ and real-estate reprobate Sheldon Adelson said Islamic terrorism and the proposed bill were the ‘two fundamental threats to society.’
On top of this, Clinton has also ‘championed’ raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, and infrastructure projects that would, at least in the short-term, provide thousands of blue-collar jobs.
So why does Kathleen Geier, in a forum discussing the inevitability of a Clinton candidacy, refer to her as ‘Wall Street’s favorite Democrat?’ Or Rich Yeselson, in that same forum, call her a ‘quintessential boardroom liberal?’
Partly it’s because of the recognizable interests and privileges that come along with the corporate patronage Clinton has received over most of her political career, elected or otherwise. Partly it’s because of her own work at Rose Law back in the days of being a governor’s wife in Arkansas, where with her as junior associate the firm represented unseemly clientele such as anti-union stalwart Walmart and prison-labor beneficiary Tyson Foods. (Michelle Goldberg explains away this early legal work by saying Clinton had to do it, not only for the material well-being of her family, but for the greater good of her country, ‘When Clinton did enter corporate law, it was in order to provide her family with some economic stability amid the vicissitudes of her husband’s political career, which she saw as a vehicle for the sort of progressive change she longed for.’) And partly it’s the company she’s kept since, buddying up with executives and strategists from some of Washington DC’s top-shelf lobbying groups and PR firms—not to mention these same groups’ strategy of in the past continuously using a phony concern for the disadvantaged to push their own corporate interests. Ari Berman, author of one of last year’s most important books Give Us the Ballot, has a brilliant piece in the collection entitled ‘Hillary, Inc.’ that does a phenomenal job cataloguing a few cases of this.
One of the more noteworthy or exemplary being the propaganda campaign, Don’t Count Us Out, launched by the PR firm Glover Park Group (known as ‘the White House in Exile’ since it housed so many former Clinton staffers) at the behest of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which ‘played on fears of voter disenfranchisement, arguing that minorities would be undercounted in the new [television rating] system’ that Nielson Media Research was preparing to release. Under Nielson’s new system, the Fox branch of News Corp would have most likely lost millions of dollars from advertisements. Clinton, who was at the time Senator of New York and who had warmed up to Murdoch quite a bit since her electoral victory, wrote in an open letter that Nielson ‘would be remiss in pushing forward with its rollout plan.’ Accordingly, the campaign ‘fizzled out when influential supporters, including Jesse Jackson, realized that Glover Park’s claims were bogus and viewers were simply moving from broadcast channels like Fox to cable.’
As one reads through these articles, which span over two decades, beginning with the coverage of Clinton’s pliant demeanor towards the healthcare industry in 1993 and ending with how she can win over the Left after her ‘inevitable’ presidential party nomination in 2016, a pattern ought to have emerged: a hardline on foreign policy, especially on Israel; a soft spot for identity issues, especially when they can be used to foment sectarianism and squash collective action; and a ‘pragmatic’ approach to economic problems, especially when involves it lecturing the poor and the working on proper behavior and child-rearing habits. The pattern that ought not to have emerged is one of a politician who has many endearing personal qualities; or who takes a methodical consideration of motives into account on matters of race or sexuality; or who has been fiercely brilliant or courageous when it comes to the economy.
On page one of the book Pollitt writes, ‘Hillary Clinton is a Rorschach test of our attitudes—including our unconscious ones—about women, feminism, sex and marriage, to say nothing of the Democratic Party, progressive politics, the United States and capitalism.’ An otherwise apt metaphor, except for that underneath the black ink of a Rorschach blot there is no presence except for the mind’s phantoms. Portrayed as a flourish of images—‘the latest incarnation of Miss Liberty,’ ‘Joan of Arc,’ ‘a kinder, gentler Giuliani’—the real Hillary Clinton is permitted to remain hidden from sight.