Madam President: the case for - and against - President Hillary Rodham Clinton
A flexible relationship with the actualité has stalked Hillary
Hillary Clinton used to like telling folk that she was named for Sir Edmund Hilary, the New Zealand climbing legend who with Sherpa Tenzing Norway conquered Mount Everest in 1953.
The story became folklore and even wily old Bill believed it - it appears in his autobiography (although not in hers).
The only problem is that the tale is clearly nonsense. Hillary Rodham, as was, was born in 1947 six years before Sir Edmund struck out for the roof of the world.
When Hillary herself struck out again for the Senate in 2006 this impossibility was pointed out to her, only for her to have a campaign aide reply that it was just "a sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter."
Hang on a minute. It was a total lie which, when found out, Ms Clinton then attempted to blame on her aged mother.
A rather flexible relationship with the actualité has stalked Hillary.
Later she claimed that, on a visit to war-torn Bosnia in 1996, she and her entourage landed under sniper fire and had to run with their heads down to get into the vehicles to get to base - despite the fact that footage of her arrival shows her strolling calmly across the tarmac and waving to the peaceful crowd, none of whom chanced their arm on a pot shot.
Now politicians with a malleable attitude to the truth are hardly news, and after a lifetime with Bill she's certainly learned at the feet of a master dissembler. But these two lies are spectacularly stupid ones, disproved in seconds and, really, hardly rebounding to the credit of the honourable lady even if true.
There's the overwhelming need to link oneself to any shred of greatness, even if it's not yours to take, or even your country's, as in the case of Sir Edmund. We don't know what any US troops who'd actually been under sniper fire made of Hillary's claim to share their pain, but I think we can guess.
That's the overwhelming problem with Hillary, and what prevents her from getting her share of the glory as a real prospect for America's first woman President.
The voters admire her, but fewer like her and fewer still trust her.
Obama may have bowed out with a feisty State of the Union, but America's politics are broken and polarised. It's probably going to take an outsider to be the Messiah here, and say what you like about Clinton, she's never going to be that.
She may yet be the first woman to make it, but - no Thatcher - she might also be the last of a discredited old guard.
grinding presidential pragmatism is perhaps an ideal quality
Clearly if there were an app to design a presidential candidate, the results would look little like Hillary Rodham Clinton. After twenty-five years in public life her faults are well-known. Some are serious, others trivial and unfair. There may be no vast “right-wing conspiracy” but at times it seems pretty close.
In an age of anti-politics and new politics, Clinton is the personification of the loathed machine (Washington) politician.
Despite a pretty commanding lead nationally, she may start election year by failing to win the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary (though I doubt it) which would be unprecedented for a front-runner, let alone one Clinton’s stature - former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State.
2015 was a pretty dismal year for Clinton: not only did her “damn emails” dominate her campaign but she also faced criticism on past stances on gay rights and faced an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sander’s anti-establishment candidacy. But Emailgate - or whatever name it goes under - shows the different standards applied to Clinton. Illegality there was none. Other elected officials have done similar things. Yet in this case, it was of note because it “played into a narrative” of untrustworthiness. In other words, she is guilty because she’s Hillary Clinton.
The further charge - of a lack of principles - is also unfair. What grown, mature adult has not changed their opinion in their lifetime? That is different from a lack of principle. Would it not be more worrying if a candidate had, despite a changing world, the exact same views as twenty or thirty years before? And actually should we not consider this a good thing?
Her pragmatism is her strength. As indeed is her insider status. When Obama ran, and won, it was as the change candidate. Yet for all his successes (and failures) Washington still stands. His greatest fault has been an understandable unwillingness to ‘play the game’. Hillary Clinton is tenacious and hardworking; importantly she is someone who knows how Washington works, where the bodies are buried. She can, and will, play.
Her record backs this up: no signature legislative achievements as a senator; no great peace treaties as America's top diplomat. In each role, she knuckled down, as far as she could kept a low profile and racked up small, significant achievements. Who could deny that, after her tenure at Foggy Bottom, America’s standing in the world was higher? Much was down to Obama but Clinton’s micro-diplomacy, leaving behind embassies and hosting small local meetings, played a huge role.
Sander’s campaign - and beforehand, the movement to draft Elizabeth Warren - shows public scepticism towards the political class. Trump’s candidacy is a similar phenomenon on the other side of the political divide. Yet, all would make disappointing Commanders-in-Chief (to varying degrees) precisely because of what their supporters see as their greatest assets. In a system where power is not concentrated - and where in theory, the executive arm is the weakest branch of government - grinding presidential pragmatism is perhaps an ideal quality.
Anti-politics will only take you so far. Something that perhaps Warren understood but Sanders has yet to learn. Political systems cannot be smashed and recreated. They change. They evolve. It’s frustrating but it takes patience and professionalism. And Hillary Clinton certainly has both.
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