Make no mistake...the Clintons have been the victims of a great many smears over the decades. Like no other politicians (until Republicans began focussing on the President’s “foreignness”), Bill and Hillary acted as a red flag to right-wing paranoia. Of course, some of the time the charges—delivered by left and right—were true. Bill Clinton did lie to the public about his affair. He was a serial triangulator, without any recognisable moral core. The Republicans’ Benghazi obsession might be comical, but Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State does deserve close scrutiny.
One undeniable feature of the Clinton machine—and make no mistake, there seems to be a community of staffers, donors, former and wannabe-future administration officials, flunkeys, and hangers-on which is dedicated to advancing the Clintons’ ambitions—is its own paranoia. As Hillary Clinton prepares for a 2016 presidential bid, the cogs in the machine crank into action in an effort to protect the candidate from scrutiny, shut down public inquiry, and control the narrative around Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
Bill Clinton said it best in a recent ABC interview: “You have to have a strategy for presenting your true self to the voters, in an environment where there are unprecedented opportunities for those who don’t want you to win to paint a different picture of your true self”. Paranoid after her surprise loss to President Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton is obsessed with controlling how she is perceived by the public, and I suspect that the “true self” she might present to prospective voters will include some important omissions.
I doubt, for example, that Hillary Clinton will present herself as the dangerous neoconservative who by supporting the disastrous, illegal, and immoral war of aggression on Iraq, and egging the President to escalate the war in Afghanistan and expand that war to Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula, has not only contributing to the growth of a military-industrial complex, exported U.S. terrorism, and presided over colonial-style wars, but has also aided and abetted the unconscionable expansion of unchecked executive power.
I doubt, in this economic climate, that Hillary Clinton will present herself as the irresponsible neoliberal who by backing the banks and financial industry to the hilt, failing to ask tough questions or see the dangers of deregulation, helped to create the climate of irresponsibility and greed which plunged our country into a recession and kept it there by handing golden parachutes to financial criminals and layoff notices to struggling citizens.
I doubt that Hillary Clinton will present herself as a self-interested opportunist, a progressive of convenience rather than conviction, and a stalwart defender of the status quo when, if she can manipulate the narrative, she could instead present herself as the champion of the middle class and a defender of U.S. interests abroad.
Hillary Clinton and her team will have their work cut out for them if they decide that distorting her record is critical to her electoral success.
But they won a substantial and depressing victory when film director Charles Ferguson decided not to pursue the documentary on Clinton he was making for CNN. Ferguson, who has an Oscar to his credit, is best known for his documentary The Inside Job (about the financial crisis), but he also made a film about the war against Iraq (No End in Sight). I’ve seen him speak at UC Berkeley’s International House (he’s an alum) on several occasions, and he’s no radical. His film would have been neither the hagiography Republicans feared (and which would undoubtedly have been the price of Clinton’s cooperation) nor the hit-job Democrats worried about.
However, it might have asked some tough questions and taken a critical stance where Clinton’s past and character warranted. This, apparently, made the film unacceptable to Clinton and her entourage. The RNC, juvenile, idiotic, and deaf-to-reality as ever, had threatened a CNN boycott, but it was the non-cooperation of Democrats and the Clinton cabal which sunk the film in the end.
Ferguson outlined his rationale for abandoning the film in a Huffington Post article. He recounts how the powers that be in the Clinton’s cabal and in the Democratic Party stonewalled his efforts to meet with sources. “When I approached people for interviews, I discovered that nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film. Not Democrats, not Republicans—and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration. Not even journalists who wanted access, which can be easily taken away”. This behaviour is not just an affront to one documentary-producer: it is indicative of how the Clintons view the public, the democratic process, and journalism. The key attributes of our democracy have become impediments to their ambition, impediments that they are going to try to manage, sideline, and bypass by relying on intimidation, party-discipline, and massive sums of money.
Ferguson’s story of a conversation with Bill Clinton is particularly telling: “I asked him about the financial crisis. He paused and then became even more soulful, thoughtful, passionate, and articulate. And then he proceeded to tell me the most amazing lies I’ve heard in quite a while”. For more on those lies, see the HuffPost article. Ferguson, who alludes to some of what he sees as Hillary Clinton’s virtues, also outlined some of the topics he would have investigated, topics which should undoubtedly be on the agenda of serious and independent journalists in the coming years: the Clintons’ serial triangulations and constant efforts to re-write their rather sorry records; Hillary Clinton’s work on corporate boards (hardly the credentials of a populist or progressive); the family foundation’s links to Saudi Arabia; the well-oiled Clinton donor networks who are clearly not stepping up to back Hillary’s presidential bid from the goodness of their hearts; etc.
But he concluded that he “couldn’t make a film of which I would be proud...It’s a victory for the Clintons, and for the money machines that both political parties have now become. But I don’t think that it’s a victory for the media or for the American people”.
On the one hand, the success of the Clinton machine in shutting down journalistic inquiry seems like it could mark the beginning of Hillary’s inevitable ascendancy. However, I remain convinced that there are serious progressive candidates out there who are not content with keeping their heads down and their eyes fixed on some invisible centre-line demarcated by pollsters as they muddle through public life. While Clinton has been cashing in on her celebrity and gearing up for her onslaught on our democratic process, the likes of Elizabeth Warren have actually been pushing legislation and making arguments which would be of moral and material benefit to the public.
While Clinton’s cabal meet to plot her path to a nomination they undoubtedly hope will go uncontested, people like Warren are square in the public eye, making some noise about how to change our country’s course for the better. In my mind, Warren would be a far superior candidate to Clinton in 2016 and could offer better prospects for realising progressive ideals than Obama represented in 2008 or Clinton represents in 2016.
But for Warren or any other progressive candidate to have any prospect of breaking through the wall that the Democrats’ political witch-doctors are building up around Clinton’s record, or the adulation of the media, people will have to step in to do the work that Ferguson thinks is impossible, and to circumvent the hammerlock that money has on our politics by making it clear at the grassroots that no kind of corporate-funded Astroturf organisation run out of Clinton headquarters is going to be able to carry a neoconservative, neoliberal opportunist like Hillary Clinton to the nomination without a strong backlash.
Here’s to hoping that the Clinton Cabal will have weakened itself by showing its true colours so arrogantly when it sunk the documentary that sought to perform a public information service to the citizens who will be asked to vote based on her sorry record.