The most consistent truism about Hillary Clinton’s not-so-secret campaign for the presidency is that, unlike other potential Democratic candidates, she is a “known quantity”. She’s been in the public eye, and held such high-profile offices, this argument goes, that the American people know everything there is about Hillary Clinton. This means, the logic of her supporters goes, that we can trust her.
But the truth is, we don’t know all that much about what Hillary Clinton actually believes. In fact, her policy positions and pronouncements as they’ve trickled out over the years seem to be primarily defined by what’s politically good for Hillary Clinton at any given moment.
In the Senate she adopted the same approach used by President Obama. She shied away from tough issues, “kept her head down” and worked hard (as the pundits say), and tried to kiss up to all the powerful players in the Senate and D.C. while offending as few people as possible. She has no signature legislation to her name, no transformative pronouncements or even efforts on the part of our national economy or security, and will be best remembered for enabling the illegal war of aggression waged by the Bush administration in Iraq.
The reason for this lazy, un-ambitious, and unrevealing approach, I assume, is that Hillary Clinton knew from day-one in the Senate that she was running to be President sooner or later, and didn’t want to establish a significant record that could be used against her. She didn’t want to step on the toes of any of the powerbrokers in D.C., even if we all know that those toes could use some real stomping.
Her turn in the Senate was followed by a presidential primary campaign which will be better remembered for its aggression, nastiness, and constant pandering—all of which revealed nothing about Clinton’s agenda, but demonstrated once again that she will do or say anything to win.
Then came her tenure as Secretary of State. Clinton won praise for addressing the enduring absence of equality for women across the globe. But it is telling that one article listing the “top highlights in Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State Tenure” came up with the following: people to people diplomacy; the importance of economics; restoring American credibility; diplomacy is national security; and “Texts from Hillary” (the last a series of self-promoting cutesy captions with Clinton using her phone).
None of those are “accomplishments”, and I’m not sure that a Secretary of State who advocated for an aggressive war of terror in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa really understands that “diplomacy is national security”, or that someone who advocated for militarism and the use of terrorist weapons while backing some vicious regimes and dictators abroad actually did much to restore our country’s credibility. She presided over the abject failure of the U.S. to support the early wave of the Arab Spring or to repudiate its dictatorial allies as they sought to put down those democratic risings.
And while calling for increased women’s rights abroad is commendable, it is not something which is controversial with the public or where she can point to any actual accomplishments. Most of Clinton’s tenure consisted of her avoiding the big issues—democratic risings in the Middle East, the issue of Israeli colonialism, the relationship between imperial wars and our national insecurity, global climate change, or the criminal arms trade—and pronouncing on relatively popular and uncontroversial issues without actually achieving much even on these issues.
This has been in stark contrast to John Kerry who—whether or not you agree with him or the specific policy positions for which he is advocating—has been working at a frantic pace to address at least some of these big issues and other U.S. entanglements abroad.
I think that Clinton’s caution as Secretary of State—in keeping to the debilitating status quo and in ducking the tough issues—stemmed from the same problem which made her such an ineffective Senator: she was preparing for a presidential bid. She didn’t want to be seen to “fail” on any tough issue, she didn’t want to offend any key interest groups by taking on any controversial issue, and she didn’t want to associate herself with any global democratic movement because she wasn’t sure how it would play at the polls back home.
And the same will undoubtedly be true during the primary and if she makes it that far, the general election campaigns of 2016. Hillary Clinton will flip and flop and triangulate across a range of critical issues with the result that when the public is asked to vote on her—with the reassurance that we “know” her and her policy positions—we will have no idea what she stands for.
Clinton’s basic moral cowardice, lust for power, and pathetic opportunism have meant that even in her long career, she has accomplished strikingly little of significance on behalf of her supposed constituents, while steadfastly advancing the career of her primary constituent—Hillary Clinton.
Last week in Buffalo, Clinton remarked on prospective 2016 candidates (engaging in the sham that she is not yet a candidate), saying “I’m not as interested in what the candidate looks like as what the candidate stands for and what the candidate really believes needs to be the agenda for America’s future”.
Well, members of the public share that interest, given how little we know about what, if anything, Hillary Clinton actually stands for and believes other than her own political advancement.
The other thing that we absolutely know about the Clintons is that they are ruthless when it comes to dispensing with opposition. This backfired when Bill Clinton launched dog-whistle attacks on President Obama during the last Democratic primaries. But now they are trying to create the impression that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is an unstoppable juggernaut and that anyone—journalist, potential administrative employee, legislator, activist—who wants to participate in the politics of the Democratic Party needs to shut up and get out of the way of her candidacy or risk winding up on the “outside” of the Clinton cabal.
An early victory for their politics of brute intimidation and hubris came when they shut down an investigative film by Oscar-winning director Charles Ferguson about the presidential candidate by cutting off his access to sources in the media and the Democratic Party.
In ensuring that information which would be in the public interest is not widely publicised, the Clintons are working to ensure that the public doesn’t really learn about Hillary Clinton’s tortured record and hollow legacy, lest too many people find themselves wondering what she really stands for.
It’s a real irony that the candidate who has spent the most time in the public eye is the one who has the most to explain about who she is, what she believes, and why the public should close their eyes to her destructive, self-interested, and opportunistic behaviour.