I’m sorry Hillary, but I just can’t do this anymore.
If the 2016 presidential campaign were a football game, the Democrats would be heading into it as two-touchdown favorites. Facing a Republican Party that seems to have collectively lost its mind, America’s purportedly liberal party only needs to put forth a minimally competent candidate to win an election in which that candidate will face either a reality TV star who combines ranting racist rhetoric with a bottomless ignorance of every policy question under the sun, or an extreme right-wing religious fanatic.
With the presidential election all but being handed to them, the Democratic Party’s powers that be have almost unanimously decided that Hillary Clinton is liberal America’s best hope to keep the nation from being taken over by right-wing maniacs. (In terms of endorsements, FiveThirtyEight.com’s formula currently has Clinton ahead of Bernie Sanders by a total of 478 to six. Even the much-reviled Donald Trump has more support among Republican power brokers than Sanders has from Democratic pooh-bahs).
The problem with this decision is that it’s becoming clear that Hillary Clinton is a really bad candidate. I say that not as a Bernie Sanders supporter: my attitude toward the Democratic primary has been that just about the only relevant consideration is the question of whether Clinton or Sanders would be more likely to win the general election, given how catastrophic a GOP win would be.
Until recently, I was assuming that Clinton would be a stronger challenger to either Trump or Cruz, so I was hoping she would win out against Sanders. But I’ve changed my mind about that.
Clinton keeps making serious mistakes – and these mistakes follow a pattern that reveal why she’s making it increasingly difficult for even mildly progressive voters to support her.
Clinton’s latest blunder was her bizarre claim that Nancy and Ronald Reagan played an important role in getting Americans to talk about AIDS in the 1980s: “It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about H.I.V./AIDS back in the 1980s,” Clinton told MSNBC. “And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan – in particular, Mrs. Reagan – we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it. Nobody wanted anything to do with it.”
This is not merely false, but the precise inverse of the truth. Ronald Reagan managed to avoid ever mentioning the AIDS epidemic for the first several years of his presidency. The famous activist slogan “Silence = Death” was coined in response to the Reagan administration’s studied refusal to even acknowledge the epidemic. Indeed, the Reagans “started a national conversation” about AIDS in the same sense that Donald Trump has started a national conversation about the extent to which racism characterizes much of the Republican Party’s base.
Clinton’s surreal historical revisionism – which she walked back after a firestorm of criticism – is typical of the eagerness with which she embraces even the most dubious figures, as long as they are members of what my colleague Scott Lemieux calls America’s “overcompensated and underperforming elites.”
For example, Clinton continues to cozy up to Henry Kissinger, and to the same bankers who came close to wrecking the world economy just a few years ago, shortly before they started paying her millions of dollars to give speeches to them.
A few weeks ago she repeated the racist myth that “radical” Northerners imposed corrupt governments on the defeated South after the Civil War, and thus paved the way for Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. This week she engaged in some good old-fashioned red-baiting, criticizing Sanders for opposing America’s sordid history of dirty wars in Latin America, which she mischaracterized as his support for Communist dictatorships.
All of this is both wrong as a matter of principle, and stupid politics to boot. How many votes does she think she’s going to get from (increasingly imaginary) “moderate Republicans” as a consequence of this 1990s-style triangulation? Not nearly as many as she’ll lose among disgusted liberals, who remember that the Contras were terrorists, that Kissinger is a war criminal of the first order, that Reconstruction didn’t cause the virulent racism that undermined it, and that the Reagans’ silence regarding AIDS contributed to countless unnecessary deaths.
I will, of course, vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee – she is after all vastly preferable to either Trump or Cruz – but by now this is starting to feel like pointing out that a sprained ankle is preferable to a heart attack.