Monday, May 29, 2017

Don’t Blame Hillary - WSJ

Friday’s commencement address at Wellesley—an attack on the man who defeated her—is only the latest outburst from a failed candidate, who has now vowed to take a leading position in the anti-Trump “resistance.” On the right these things provoke new headlines about sore loserhood. Far more interesting is the irritation Mrs. Clinton’s refusal to fade away is causing among fellow Democrats who blame her for the loss against what should have been an easily defeatable Republican nominee.

This is supremely unfair to Mrs. Clinton. As flawed a candidate as she might have been, the truth is almost certainly the reverse. It is today’s Democratic Party that gave us Mrs. Clinton, as well as the thumping in November.

Yes, the Clintons have always been flexible about principles, a big reason for the appeal of the more purist Bernie Sanders. Back when her husband was running for president as a “New Democrat” in 1992, the idea was that the party had shed its McGovernite past and moved to the center, so that it could now be trusted on values, the economy and national security. At the time Mr. Clinton advertised his wife as “two for the price of one.”

Once they got in, Mrs. Clinton reverted to type by pushing, unsuccessfully, for universal health care. But after that belly-flop and the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress, they dialed it back, and by 1996 her husband was telling the American people “the era of big government is over.”

As New York’s junior senator, Mrs. Clinton was firmly ensconced within her party. “On the 1,390 votes she cast in which most senators from one party voted differently from most senators across the aisle,” notes an April 2016 piece from Roll Call, “Clinton went against the Democratic grain only 49 times.”

Even on the single issue that came to be used against her in last year’s Democratic presidential primary—her 2002 vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq—Mrs. Clinton was squarely with her party. We’ve forgotten it today, but more Democrats voted with Mrs. Clinton on that one than against, including Harry Reid, John Edwards, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden and John Kerry. Only a few years later she, again like them, opposed the surge.

So which is she, hawk or dove? The truth is that she is both—and neither. In a notable section in the memoirs of fellow Obama cabinet member Bob Gates, he relates a conversation in which she admits her opposition to the surge in Iraq “had been political because she was facing [Barack Obama] in the Iowa primary.” Again this only puts her within the mainstream of her party: Most of the other Democrats who had voted for the war in 2002 would also oppose the surge in 2007.

It has been a consistent pattern for Mrs. Clinton. On almost any issue that energizes her party—from same-sex marriage to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal—Mrs. Clinton has gone where the party has pulled her even if it meant going against where she had been. This is what Hollywood actress Rosario Dawson meant last summer when she asked a group of Sanders delegates at the convention to understand that Mrs. Clinton “is not a leader, she’s a follower.”

But on what became the single overriding theme of her campaign, Mrs. Clinton was truly in sync with her party. This is the idea that she should be elected because she’s a woman, and that a coalition of millennials, minorities and women would come together to make it happen. So where Donald Trump had “Make America Great Again,” Mrs. Clinton had the identity project par excellence: “I’m with her.”
After all, who could be more deserving to succeed the first African-American president than the first woman president?

It didn’t turn out that way. And if you take the Trump blinders off for some perspective, there’s another dynamic that had little to do with Mrs. Clinton: the hemorrhaging of Democratic seats over the Obama years—from the governorships to state legislatures to Capitol Hill—to the point where the Democratic Party is now at its lowest levels in a century.

By the time Mrs. Clinton had secured the nomination for president, she had embraced everything a far more progressive party wanted her to embrace. But she also inherited a party that was losing elections all across the country.

So maybe it wasn’t only a flawed messenger that led Democrats to defeat in 2016. Maybe there’s a problem with the message, too.

1 comment:

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