For years I have criticized, frequently harshly, Hillary Rodham Clinton. I think she is arrogant, aloof, and self-regarding. Her political convictions are thin and yielding. More often than not she has shied away from tackling humankind’s two most serious problems – economic injustice and global warming – perhaps because she seeks and accepts support from international business elites and the fossil fuel industry. I invariably expect the worst from her. Still I never could have anticipated how damaging the past week would prove to her quest to be President.
1) The Refugees – The world has been gripped by the humanitarian crisis playing out from Syria to Europe and beyond as over 4 million Syrians displaced by civil and religious strife seek safety. The defining image of this tragedy shows a police officer carrying the corpse of a drowned boy on a Turkish beach. Iconic photographs went viral worldwide Wednesday last week.
That same day the Guardian reported that Germany expected to take in between 800 thousand to 1 million refugees before the end of the year, although not all will be Syrian. By contrast, according to Time Magazine, “in August, State Department officials said that the U.S. would likely accept 5,000 to 8,000 refugees from Syria by the end of 2016” with perhaps “1,500 to 1,800” arriving by the end of 2015.
Last Friday, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Hillary Clinton whether the US should take in more than this paltry number. “We should do our part, as should the Europeans; but this is a broader, global crisis,” Clinton tonelessly responded. “We now have more refugees than we’ve had in many years — I think, since the Second World War,” she added. In contrast, Martin O’Malley forthrightly is calling for the US to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees. Like Hillary, Bernie Sanders did not answer the Guardian‘s question to him on this issue.
Clinton’s non-committal response fails on a number of levels:
A) Clinton’s refusal to declare that the United States should re-embrace our role as a haven for displaced people demonstrates a lack of empathy for victims of war and persecution.
B) In mentioning World War II, Clinton conjures up memories of German Jews desperate to escape Hitler’s clutches being turned away by officious American bureaucrats who, like Clinton apparently, were “worried about the potential flood of migrants.”
C) Clinton’s contention that countries outside the US and Europe must also step up, bespeaks either an ignorance of or a refusal to acknowledge the outsize role that Western European and American military and economic imperialism have played in the current crisis.
D) From a purely political perspective, Clinton’s nuanced and equivocal answer can’t help but remind voters of her unwillingness to answer other important questions directly like whether she’d approve the Keystone XL pipeline and where she stands on the TPP.
Presumably, Clinton didn’t call for a significant increase in the quota of Syrian refugees for fear of alienating conservative voters. Without evidence, Fox and Republican Presidential candidates are demonizing these unfortunates as potential terrorists. But Clinton isn’t likely to win the votes of right-wing Islamophobes and, in any case, very few of them vote in Democratic primaries. Triangulating on this issue makes virtually no political sense while displaying a callous disregard for human life.
2) No Enthusiasm – This past Monday, Salena Zito of the right-wing Pittsburgh Tribune tweeted that Clinton required a written commitment of support from the those who came to see her speak at Case Western Reserve University Cleveland on Thursday August 27 before they could enter the football field where she was speaking. The Clinton campaign responded that attendees were asked to sign the pledge but it was not a condition of entry.
CNN’s nearly contemporaneous report of the event mentions that voters were asked to sign the pledge as they entered the arena. But the network does not state whether people were turned away if they didn’t. The problem for Hillary isn’t that she asked voters to commit to her, it’s that so many in the sparse crowd of about 1,500, according to the Case Western Observer, were reluctant to do so both before and after the event.
Clinton’s campaign events have been plagued by poor attendance. Her June rally on Roosevelt Island in New York City drew only about 5,500 people with the overflow section empty or virtually so. Thursday, Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty tweeted a picture of a handful of people in a nearly empty meeting room in Columbus, OH, at a Clinton meet and greet.
Various pundits have questioned whether a candidate, like Bernie Sanders, who attracts large excited crowds, really has an advantage over one speaking to empty rooms and small arenas sprinkled with pockets of unenthusiastic attendees. My answer is yes. Candidates are better off addressing tens of thousands of thrilled and involved supporters than dozens of desultory ones.
3) The “Apology” – Over six months ago, I pointed out that Hillary violated federal regulations when she opted not to preserve her government emails on a State Department server but rather on one in her and Bill’s home in Chappaqua, NY. Up until Tuesday, first her surrogates and then she denied any wrongdoing whatsoever. When investigators found that she had kept classified materials on the server, she provided alternative alibis – either the documents weren’t classified when she received them or the State Department disputed the classification.
Tuesday though Clinton seemed to change gears. With her campaign floundering, she purported to abandon deflect, distract, and deny for an apology. After telling the AP Monday she had nothing to apologize for the next day she admitted to David Muir of ABC News that she made “a mistake” and “take[s] responsibility for it”. It was a funny kind of apology though since she insisted she hadn’t done anything wrong but she was still sorry.
When asked about the classified information on her server, she fell back on the old either or defense. But she never acknowledged that she should have maintained her emails at the State Department because 1) agencies may have different opinions on whether information in an email should be classified and 2) information that is not classified when originally sent may become classified later.
Beyond Clinton’s inability to identify anything wrong with the problematic email setup for which she issued her apology, the circumstances of it could not help but lead one to question her sincerity. As Muir pointed out at the beginning of her ABC interview, Clinton’s approval ratings are down and she is widely perceived as dishonest. In New Hampshire, Clinton aides concluded that voters were not receptive to her message on other issues because of concerns about her use of a private email account and server while Secretary of State.
So Clinton is sorry that questions about her now revealed email practices hurt her with voters and make it tougher for her to campaign on other topics. She’s sorry that people look skeptically at her responses to questions about her home-based server and doubt her honesty. But she’s evidently not sorry that she broke the rules nor does she evince any recognition that her actions result from a mania for secrecy and control that are not serving her well.
4) The Re-Reboot – I didn’t think much of Hillary’s video announcement back in April that she was running for President and said so. Apparently, her team wasn’t thrilled with the rollout either as they relaunched a few months later with her aforementioned Roosevelt Island speech. Tuesday, with Sanders breathing down her neck, the New York Times reported on a decision by Clinton and her advisers that she would henceforth be showing her “humor and heart” and would be “scrapping the slogan ‘everyday Americans.'”
It may have seemed like a good idea at the time especially because the slogan clearly wasn’t killing it on the campaign trail. As part of this second reboot, Clinton offered her mea culpa to David Muir. Henceforth, Clinton is going to try to act more authentic and more likable but how convincing can she be since people know that her current strategy is to be more authentic and likable? It’s impossible to avoid the Atlantic’s conclusion that “it’s a bad sign when your presidential campaign needs a reboot. It’s a worse sign when your advisers announce that reboot publicly.”
5) The Brookings Speech – The new and improved funnier more compassionate Hillary apparently wasn’t slated to kick in until after her speech at the Brookings Institute Wednesday. Within this temple to the official Washington establishment, Anne Gearan writes:
Again and again, Clinton pointed to instances overseas where she would have taken a tougher stance than Obama, from arming Syrian rebels to confronting an expansionist Russia. In some cases, she was talking about policy debates she lost while serving as Obama’s first-term secretary of state, or about advice she suggested was not heeded.
Gearan notes further:
The critique, delivered as part of a Washington speech focused on the Iran nuclear deal, was in many respects subtle — wrapped inside overall praise for Obama and never targeting him directly. But the differences were nonetheless striking for a candidate who has worked carefully to soften her hawkish national security reputation and who badly needs Obama’s liberal coalition of voters to gain the White House.
It’s almost as though Clinton decided that her re-reboot is only about authenticity not about humor and heart. At Brookings, she bared the talons that she has never been able to hide fully. Clinton probably spoke as she did because she knew she was on friendly turf.
Brookings after all is the home of neo-con Robert Kagan who championed the Cheney/Bush War on Iraq and over the following 14 years has consistently urged the same muscular foreign policy that Clinton lauded Wednesday. His wife Victoria Nuland, who shares his views, served as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs under Hillary at the State Department and helped promote the regime change in Ukraine that led directly to Russian sabre-rattling in the eastern part of that country.
Dropping the mask at least for the afternoon may have been liberating for Clinton but one must conclude she likely alienated more potential Democratic primary voters than she attracted. Increasing her distance from Obama will hurt her with African-American voters upon whose support she is now utterly reliant. Likewise, the disdain that many progressive Democrats (including yours truly) feel for her will only increase. Ultimately, Hillary’s speech at Brookings tells voters that Clinton hasn’t evolved much since her 2002 vote in favor of George W. Bush’s request for authorization to use military force against Iraq – a vote that may well have cost her the Presidency seven years ago.
6) The “Hitman” – Given that Hillary “apologized” Tuesday for her “mistake” in using a private server to maintain and preserve emails, including arguably classified ones, she sent as part of her duties as Secretary of State, one might expect that her surrogates would mute criticism of the messengers. One would be wrong. Thursday Politico reported that Clinton
mouthpiece shill confederate supporter David Brock contends there’s “a special place in hell” for the New York Times because of its supposedly unfair coverage of Clinton’s email kerfluffle.
Employing customarily salty language, Brock writes in his soon-to-be-released book Killing the Messenger that former Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan “has a hard-on for Hillary.” Brock cites an anonymous Times source for the proposition that Ryan “wants that coonskin nailed to the wall.” In fairness to Brock, the Times has committed one obvious mistake in its coverage of Clinton. It incorrectly reported, while Ryan was on vacation in July, that the FBI was investigating Clinton for criminal wrongdoing with respect to her email practice.
It seems unlikely that Clinton wants a high profile
mouthpiece shill confederate supporter engaged in a pissing match with the nation’s most powerful newspaper – one which endorsed her in 2008 over then Senator Barack Obama – over its coverage of her self-described email “mistake”. After all, the ultimate takeaway from Brock’s tantrum is that he (and presumably she) is furious that the newspaper reported what she acknowledges was error on her part. Instead, it would be reasonable to assume, Clinton simply wants the whole sordid episode in her rearview mirror as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, per Politico, “[s]hortly after “Blinded” was published, Bill Clinton called [Brock] to lavish praise on his expose. Later, Brock was invited to the former president’s Harlem office where he was shocked to discover Clinton had purchased dozens of copies — and stuffed them into a big cabinet.” Whether Hillary green-lighted the “hit” on the New York Times or Brock had gone rogue, she cannot benefit from a renewed focus on her email shenanigans.
7) The Polls – From Saturday September 5 through today, a series of increasingly ominous polls for Clinton were released.
Last Saturday’s polls – Survey USA has Clinton down 5 points in a general election against Trump. This is the first poll showing her behind Trump in a general election. The same pollster shows Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders losing to Trump as well but by narrower margins.
Sunday’s polls – A whole slew of polls released by NBC/Marist have nothing but bad news for Hillary. She’s behind by 9 to Sanders in New Hampshire. In Iowa, she’s up by 11 over Sanders but her lead has shrunk by 13 points since the previous NBC/Marist poll. Joe Biden does significantly better than Clinton in head-to-head matchups with various Republicans.
Tuesday’s polls – Per Monmouth, Clinton maintains a formidable 20 point lead over Joe Biden in a national poll of Democratic primary voters. But with only 42% of voters saying they support her, most prefer another candidate and her support is down 10 points in the month since the previous Monmouth poll was published.
Thurday’s polls – Quinnipiac has Bernie Sanders leading in Iowa by one point. This is the first poll showing her behind in the Hawkeye State.
Friday’s polls – CNN reports that Clinton’s support among all Democratic primary voters is down to 37%. Sanders is second with 27%. This is the narrowest gap by far between the two candidates and the lowest level of support Clinton has received nationally since she kicked off her campaign. The same pollster has Clinton tying in a general election with Trump but losing to Ben Carson and Jeb Bush. CNN has Biden beating Trump and Bush but losing narrowly to Carson.
There is no escaping the conclusion that the past week was the roughest yet for Hillary Clinton as she competes to succeed Barack Obama. But, as I wrote a month ago, her campaign retains some formidable advantages – mainly the Clinton’s magic fundraising touch and the endorsements she’s stockpiling. Maybe just maybe these will see her through the Democratic convention and even to victory in the general election. But she has yet to connect with voters in any meaningful way, and her ham-fisted attempts to do so tied to an out-of-date neo-liberal economic record and still evident neo-conservative foreign policy predilections weigh heavily on her campaign.