Why Not Clinton?

I got an e-mail from one of my best friends the other day. She lives on the other side of the world (neither the UK nor USA), she’s a smart person, and has always been interested and involved in social and political issues. As such, I knew she’d have a view on the upcoming American Presidential Election. She does. Without my inviting any comment, she wrote the following while we were playing post-holiday catch-up:

Hilary and Obama. I know I should “feel” Obama, but somehow I just know I support Hillary. She’s been plugging away as a public servant since the 70s, child advocacy etc, and I think she’ll do a good job. This race is doing my head in … I watch it all the time on TV. OK, my summary is … let Hils take this one .. then Obama can take the next (he’s younger). No?

No. And I’m going to explain why. (I don’t like to engage in too much private e-mail discussion, it really takes up my time. Better to have this one out in public. I trust my anonymous friend won’t mind.) One thing people overseas really need to understand about Hillary Clinton is that she’s a lightning rod for the right wing. They hate her with a vengeance that is, perhaps, hard to fully justify, but they hate her all the same. So, for similarly complex reasons, do a large number of women, of all colors and all political persuasions. (Here in Woodstock, which is full of highly active, very left-wing, sixties-generation feminists, she lost to Obama 868-528.) Given the nature of the Republican machine and this groundswell of dislike for Mrs Clinton, I believe she is unelectable as President. Should she win the Democratic nomination, I will support her candidacy at the polls, but I don’t believe I’ll be among the majority. I fear instead that, faced with a choice between John McCain and Hillary Clinton, then rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse (alright, wrongly and for worse), this country will stick with a Republican President. Do we want four more years of Republican Leadership? Eight more years? No thanks. I want a Democrat who can actually WIN this time. And I want a fresh start with it.

My friend’s e-mail is understandably imprecise when she says “let Hils take this one .. then Obama can take the next.” I assume her to mean let Hils “take” the Presidency, not merely the Democratic nomination. But if Hils proves unelectable, then the scenario that allows Obama “the next” Presidency (presumably in eight years?), no longer exists. My friend’s theory only works if Hillary is elected President. And she won’t be.

That was the first part of my gut reaction to my friend’s comment. The other was to pause at the term “public servant.” It’s a tough one. Hillary Clinton has undoubtedly involved herself in “child advocacy” over the years and it shouldn’t be belittled. But she did so from the comfort of her well-paid job as a lawyer; it’s not quite the same as immersing yourself in the trenches of community activism, as per Barack Obama. I don’t want to run her down, because if it comes to her winning the Candidacy, I’ll cast my vote for her and hope for the best, yet I have to offer some caveats to the view of her as an untiring social activist. For one, during her lengthy period as a lawyer, she served on the board of Wal-Mart, a company that has probably done as much damage to the social fabric of American small-town communities, its manufacturing industry, its minimum wage standards and all-round Labor practices, as any single cost-cutting President you care to name. This is without getting into any of the scandals regarding her investments, nor her blind eye to her husband’s wandering libido, nor to regret that by chairing the Health Care Task Force early in her husband’s Presidency, without an appointed position and in utmost secrecy, she (and he) accidentally set the prospect of American National Health Care back sixteen years. It’s not to get into her term as my New York Senator, during which period she has tended to cast her vote with the prevailing wind rather than a proven political position. (Votes supporting President Bush’s war-mongering over Iraq and Iran are the most obvious examples.) I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton means ill, or that she’s a necessarily bad person. But she’s certainly not the “progressive liberal” that I suspect my overseas friends believe her to be.

A few months ago, I was part of the wider majority of Democrats who looked at the Presidential field with great excitement, believing that any one out of John Edwards, Obama and Clinton would be a worthy choice for President. Though Clinton was my last choice of the three, I respected that she had the tenacity to play dirty and figured it might prove beneficial against the Republicans. I forgot that such standards meant playing dirty against her Democratic candidate, too. So, as the campaign has stretched on, and especially since Edwards (arguably the best qualified of the three, but there you go) dropped out, my views have changed. They may be best summarized by another English expat, living in Seattle, who wrote the following in the iJamming! Pub:

My vote will be for Obama. I have wavered between him and Hillary for months. The Clinton camp antics in the South Carolina primary were the final straw. I have finally conceded what Republican friends have said for more than a decade that the Clintons will stop at nothing to win. You had a two-term President acting like a political thug on behalf of his wife.

Sad, but true. Much more positive has been the public’s backlash to the Clintons’ antics: a ground-swell of support for Obama that has swept all corners of the country. From the densely populated, multi-cultural inner cities, through the vast plains of the mid-west, from Pacific North-West to South-East, Obama has been sweeping states as diverse as Maine, Nebraska, Louisiana and Virginia with a consistent 57-68% of the vote. Along the way, he has been managing a couple of things that Hillary will never be able to do – he’s not only generating unprecedented turnout from traditionally apathetic people whose presence at the polls will be absolutely necessary in November, he’s also drawing moderate Republicans into the Democratic campaign. The importance of this can not be over-emphasized. To the extent that people see Obama as a “black” candidate, he is one who doesn’t “scare” most white Americans nearly as much as Hillary Clinton seems to scare a powerful majority of voters. I want to believe that this nation is ready to look beyond color and sex, make a fresh start, and elect somebody who exudes positivity and optimism, and who is willing to work hard to bring people of different persuasions together to make America a great country again. I’d love to believe that sentence applies to both Clinton and Obama. As things stand, it applies only to the latter. I think, perhaps, to flip my friend’s proposal on its head, it’s time for Hillary to stand aside and let Obama take this one. As a faithful public servant, I’d like to believe that she will, ultimately, do the right thing.

Previously at iJamming!: Why Obama

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October 2021