Throughout her experienced political career—the one to which she constantly refers but never actually defines—Hillary Clinton has failed as a liberal. As a student at Wellesley, she actively campaigned for Republican Barry Goldwater, a man who more than once spoke of pre-emptively nuking the USSR and who also opposed civil rights.
On the major issue of our time, the Iraq War, she voted for the resolution authorizing war, arguing that Saddam Hussein must “disarm or be disarmed”. Subsequently, when public support of the war started diminishing, Clinton’s perspective changed accordingly—a change politicized further by her refusal to honestly accept her vote as a mistake. In its place, she shirked blame, arguing that President Bush implemented Operation Iraqi Freedom poorly. She has also criticized the May 2007 troop surge, offensively proclaiming that if Iraqis are “not going to stand up and take responsibility, we should not lose another American life.”
Even Hillary’s viewpoint on healthcare has transformed significantly from the liberal and more well-known one she espoused in the early ’90s that enlisted the government, rather than private health insurance companies, to provide universal health coverage. To many former supporters, this was a proposal that didn’t make sense, given that it was the profit-maximizing function of corporations that induces much of the current system’s quality and accessibility issues. But it started to come together once I realized that Clinton receives more funding from insurance and pharmaceutical companies than anybody other politician—Republican or Democrat. Indeed, as the reality became clearer to me, a very different Hillary emerged than the one Americans saw crying in New Hampshire recently because she cared so much about us.
And yet Hillary has ranked as the Democratic frontrunner for almost the entirety of the past year. For a quite while, I could not understand this. Were America’s progressives really not going to stand up for their beliefs? Didn’t any Clinton supporter remember the disastrous results that this style of political meandering had wrought in the previous two elections? Was I just a nutcase, a sexist, or even worse—Mike Gravel?
Luckily, before that irreversible leap into insanity, my answer arrived – in the form of a vividly older and angrier Bill Clinton taking on the stage. It was after his wife’s unexpected defeat in Iowa, and at first, I was taken aback. But then it came to me. At her weakest political moment, Hillary did not stand up for the positions or the campaigning style that had led to her downfall.
Instead, she hid behind her consultants and had Bubba—a man popular among many progressives—make the case. As much as she had tried to say otherwise, I recognized precisely then that this campaign really wasn’t about her or her political “experience.” It was about Bill Clinton and evoking the popularity of his presidency as justification for the reentry of both Clintons into the White House. The issue was Bill, not Hillary.
Even further, this is a man, who despite his current popularity among progressives, underwent a good amount of liberal scrutiny as well—from free trade to “workfare” to the wars in Kosovo and Bosnia. Indeed, there was a significant element of the Left that was so fed up with the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the Clinton administration that it was willing to vote for Ralph Nader in 2000, knowing full well such the political implications of such an act.
The problem with Hillary’s political waffling intensified, in my mind, when considering the current political milieu. Terrorism, not sex scandals, now run across the pages of American newspapers. Many Republicans, members of a party dominated by right wing militants, now consider John McCain too liberal. In such an environment the conservative movement is so pronouncedly influential and visible that what democracy needs is a countermovement to balance politics—not compromising cowards who accommodate the extreme.
This isn’t just a matter of principle. It is also one of electability. In 2004, Democrats reluctantly selected John Kerry as their nominee, reasoning that his centrism would make him a safe bet come the general election. The result was defeat despite the many blunders of the Bush administration that, during the 2003 primary season, made a Democratic victory seem inevitable. His loss reflected voters’ rejection of such meandering centrism, and desire for a Democratic countermovement.
Conceding the Democratic Party’s true liberal principles has simply proven itself a losing strategy—and with someone like Mrs. Clinton, who possesses neither charm nor popular appeal, losing very quickly becomes likely. If Democrats recognize this, they may be one step closer to victory.
Sahand Moarefy ’10, a Crimson business editor, is an economics concentrator in Mather House.
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