In October 2002, then-Senator Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. The prior year, she’d been in favor of the USA Patriot act; in 2006, she voted to renew it. As Secretary of State, she was one of the loudest and most influential voices advocating intervention and regime change in Libya. There were always plenty of reasons to distrust Hillary Clinton’s judgment and worry about what kind of President she’d be. We did not have to drag Anthony Weiner into it, or John Podesta and his party-planning e-mails, or spirit cooking, or Comet Ping-Pong, or Seth Rich’s grieving family, or Laura Silsby and the missing children of Haiti, or Uranium One, or Baphomet, or the Illuminati, or anything else a bored agitator might dredge up on 4Chan.
Nevertheless, we persist. Hillary Clinton, citizen of Chappaqua, New York and current non-factor, holds no public office and is in the running for nothing in particular. But more than a year after her forcible divestiture of power at the hands of the American electorate, she continues to be a news item and a trending topic, a flashpoint for conspiracy theories and a boogeywoman in the President’s closet, nightmare fodder for fabulists, an online punching bag for people who, frankly, have too much time on their hands. Is she really running a child prostitution ring and sacrificing babies in the basement of a pizza parlor? Who knows?; maybe she is. Seems to me like an odd pastime for a seventy year old functionary, but I don’t know her personally, and her middling, mixed-bag voting record and bone-dry public persona don’t exactly fire my curiosity. Honestly, why anybody would care at all about Hillary Clinton in 2018 is beyond me. But thousands upon thousands of Americans — and non-Americans, too — do care, and remain driven by the desire to see her prosecuted, or at least legally humiliated. For all the reasons I discussed in Wednesday’s essay and more, we need to cut that out. Now.
There are those who argue that any woman with the temerity to run for President would have been demonized. “Lock her up”, in this view, was always a simple expression of anxiety about female autonomy: restrain the woman, put fetters on her feet, limit her choices, don’t let her get her manicured hands on the levers of power. I get it, and I sympathize, but… I don’t really agree. Hillary Clinton was saddled with some of the highest negatives any nationally-recognized politician has ever had. She’d been a site of suspicion and mass hysteria for the better part of three decades. Long before anybody had heard about her e-mail server, let alone James Alefantis or QAnon, thousands of Americans had already decided that Hillary Clinton was a human manifestation of near-supernatural evil. All the old trash was reheated during the election until it stunk to high heaven — and while it was cooking, foes old and new chucked extra piles of radioactive garbage into the fire. When she went down, she suffered a celebrity’s end, not a politician’s: she hit the dirt amidst sex scandals and wild rumors of duplicity, a whiff of brimstone, and a heightened emotional pitch straight from the red-letter, bold-type headlines of the National Enquirer. And sadly, it all fit — because Hilary Clinton is a celebrity. Just like her opponent, she was a celebrity candidate for the office of the Presidency.
That’s not to make any claim about her qualifications. There are all kinds of celebrities: hucksters, men and women with actual talent, reluctant bathers in the limelight and those who are born to it. Once she got to Capitol Hill, even her Republican opponents conceded that she was prepared, serious-minded, very intelligent, a quick study; in short, up to the job and then some. State Departments are notoriously tough to judge, but I don’t think anybody ever claimed she ever went into an international meeting without exhaustive knowledge of the items on the agenda. But her persona was always a hundred times bigger than the offices she held, and how could it not have been?, she’d been the First Lady, a Democratic one to boot, conceptual heir to Jackie O. It was that celebrity that she was parlaying, not the iffy track record as a public servant or her prior success as a vote-getter, when she launched her candidacies. And I think it has always bothered people that she wouldn’t admit it — that she consistently framed herself as a ladder-climbing achiever, an heir apparent to the corner office by virtue of her hard work and superior fitness, rather than the recipient of quite a stroke of luck.
It’s possible that celebrity status is the only means by which a woman can hope to approach the highest offices in the land. Our society is pretty far gone; we’ve given back much of the territory that feminism claimed in the ’70s and ’80s, and everything appears, at least to me, to be trending hard in the wrong direction. Hell, it’s entirely possible that a non-celebrity man can’t do it anymore, either, and we’re now going to be electing the equivalent of Larry the Cable Guy and The Situation to high office for the remainder of the life of the republic. But one thing I’m certain of: there will, always, be an election. In America, we have decided that preparation, and qualifications, and intelligence, and leadership skills are nice traits, but insufficient: first and foremost, we subject any would-be chief to a interminable popularity contest that doubles as a feat of endurance. I don’t think this has been serving us very well, but it’s what we’ve always done; we seem to enjoy the heck out of it, and we’re pretty dug in about it. And despite her lofty popular vote total, there’s now ample evidence to suggest that Hillary Clinton is spectacularly bad at this — so bad that it actually offends people that she keeps trying to do it. It reads like the same entitlement that led her to think that she could, unelected and without a mandate, ram a comprehensive healthcare bill through Congress as First Lady plus portfolio, or hold her delegates as long as she could in order to squeeze the State Department out of candidate Obama.
In July 2016, I watched Hillary Clinton accept the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. As she gave her speech, I believe I identified with her more than I’ve ever identified with a politician in my lifetime. Not since Little League had I watched a person quite so ill-suited for the role she desperately wanted. She had none of the BMOC swagger or populist charm or Woman of Destiny gravitas we associate with Presidents; no, here was a career bureaucrat, a smart, capable behind-the-scenes policy wonk, reaching for a crown that simply would not fit on her head. I saw a woman who’d been tripped up by a junior senator from Illinois after she’d been anointed her party’s standard-bearer, one who’d blown primaries to Bernie Sanders and proven herself unable to shut down his gadfly run, a woman with the short and dirty end of the stick in too many personality tests. This, I realized, was key to understanding why she engenders such vitriol: Americans simply cannot deal with people out of position. It’s our great imaginative failure, and it’s nationwide. Never mind how hard you’re going to work at it or how long you’ve trained for it — we demand that people look the part and act the part before we’ll accept them in the part. Me, I don’t fit either. But I keep right on fighting for things I want, no matter how decisively I’ve been disqualified by my peers. Hillary Clinton was doing the same thing on a historic level: going against her nature and her identity to take a prize she was determined to have. I had to admire that, and cheer for it, even if as suspected that she’d be punished by the American people for her audacity.
Mind you, I didn’t think that punishment would be quite so immediate. I figured she’d win; I didn’t believe that we’d gotten completely unmoored. But it did occur to me that in order for her to come out on top, she’d had to scrounge up the single most offensive person in the country to stand against. Well, this will surely work, right Robbie Mook?, can’t possibly lose to that guy. And I recall thinking, well, this is quite a risk you’re taking with the nation here, gambling it all on a throw of the dice, the courts, people’s health care and welfare, all of it. So I’ll admit I was pretty miffed when she went right back to taking the outcome for granted: campaigning badly, and listlessly, and in the wrong places, secure in her believe that she’d already earned it, and all that was left to do was fill out her cabinet. Barack Obama said as much in his post-mortem, if you read between the lines, after the election, reminding Democrats that it hadn’t been his Shepard Fairey marketing that won it for him in 2008 as much as it was his determination to grind it out at every county fair in Iowa. That personal connection is crucial for any would-be progressive seeking office; he has to convince the voters, who don’t like change, that he’s not a monster bent on turning the Capitol upside down. It’s a conservative country for a reason. We’ve got a lot here worth conserving.
In November 2016, I voted for Hillary Clinton. I’d never done that before. I did it because my alternatives were either unelectable, unemployable, or unconscionable. Perhaps I will have occasion to do it again. But before that happens — and I truly believe this — every other Democrat in the country, including those presently in jail, will have to drop dead. That is the only condition under which I can see her getting on a ballot after the debacle of 2016, so those of you conspiracy theorists fearfully predicting a Clinton resurgence can call off the dogs right now. Hillary Clinton is out of your hair, for good, so you can stop behaving like she’s still a threat to whatever version of national security you believe in. She dropped a winnable election to a man who acts, every day and right in public, like the rich kid in class who didn’t crack the books but is trying to bluster and bullshit his way through his oral exams. She must have seen this as a repudiation of everything she represented, and yeah, that’s exactly what it was. After everything that happened — all the public humiliation and castigation — if you believe Hillary Clinton needs further punishment, you might have a serious sadism issue. It’s a downright shame that the election loss will lead her obituary, but as the philosophers say, it is what it is. Maybe every Icarus gets the sun she deserves.
Hillary Clinton was a woman of her moment: a strange one, one in which celebrity and popularity are the only currencies left. She chased her dream, she got knocked down, she got up and chased it again. She pissed off a whole lot of people who deserved a little irritation, and angered a bunch more who didn’t. There were laughs, though not too many of them, there were cries, there were balloon drops, there were paper shredders. She made history; she made mistakes. Now that story is over. Friends, it’s time to close the book, and put it on the shelf for good.
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P.S.: I supported Senator Sanders and did what I could for his campaign, and I’m sympathetic to his complaints about institutional Democratic politics. You probably are, too. But a few of my Sanders-supporting friends continue to insist that the Senator was robbed — and that the party prescripted the outcome of the primary elections. That’s not true. Millions of individual voters decided those elections. In my state, Clinton beat Sanders by 26 percentage points and more than 200,000 votes. She won my county by 33%. This was not a rigged result. It was an evaluative decision made by my neighbors, and it was echoed by most communities that share our demographic profile. Although I disagreed with it, I accept that judgment. I also know that re-fighting battles that have already been settled will get us all nothing but black eyes.
The world will never know if Bernie would have beaten Trump in the general election. I’d like to think he stood a chance, but I also suspect that darker forces were working in the American psyche than any of us were ever willing to acknowledge. I also recognize that as a career legislator from a small, polite, and culturally homogenous state, he’d never had to face down a real Republican opposition research squad. Sanders fans thought that Clinton and the DNC had been rough on him in the primaries?, well, that was only a tiny fraction of what would have been thrown at him in a general.
When we imply that Senator Sanders lost those primary elections because they were rigged against him, we insult millions of people who decided that Clinton was the better candidate. Those people didn’t come to that conclusion because they were mind-controlled, or because the Clinton campaign spent more money, or because the DNC perverted their values. They weighed the two candidates and opted for the one we didn’t. It was an autonomous choice made by non-stupid voters — actual Democrats — and we ought to respect that decision.
If Hillary Clinton was any good at rigging elections, she’d be in the White House right now.
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Okay, that’s all. Thank you for reading. We’ll do this again, for real, next year.
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