by Brett Veling
Hillary Clinton is no stranger to smear campaigns, ongoing investigations, or insidious rumors that linger overhead like storm clouds. In fact, she’s been under investigation in some form or other by the Republicans for the majority of her political career. When the Whitewater (and Vince Foster/Travelgate/Filegate/Monica Lewinsky…) investigation finally wound down to an end, Independent Counsels Ken Starr and Robert Ray, along with a number of others, had spent an astonishing amount of taxpayer money. A 1999 CNN headline proclaimed: “Independent probes of Clinton Administration cost nearly $80 million.” More recently, Congress has spent over $20 million on the Benghazi investigations in all their seemingly endless incarnations. And during the current race, the Koch brothers and other right-wing NGOs have been pouring millions more into an attempt to destroy Hillary’s public image through media campaigns. And with the tab climbing into the hundreds of millions, all of these investigations and campaigns have led to exactly zero charges against Hillary Clinton.
Throughout all of this, Hillary has generally been a model of taking it in stride – as her calm demeanor, relaxed body language, and air of confidence during both her first live address as First Lady in response to Whitewater and her 11-hour Benghazi ordeal can attest to. But recently she dared snap back at a young woman who accused her of being politically indebted to big oil. She took a lot of heat for telling this young woman that she was “sick and tired of the Sanders campaign lying about” her! And while she was wrong in that the young woman was a Greenpeace activist, not a Sanders campaign member, she was right in that the Sanders campaign and Sanders supporters have been doing a lot of lying about her recently. Frankly, I’m surprised it took her so long to lash back like that. This really has been decades in the making, and to now hear misinformation about her coming from conservatives and liberals alike… I’m sure it was nothing personal towards the Greenpeace reporter.
With the Benghazi panel losing steam, Sanders supporters have chosen to pick up the baton in this decades-long marathon of Clinton bashing campaigns with somewhat disconcerting enthusiasm. Friends who support Sanders seem to feel the need to directly “enlighten” me on the issues by dropping hyper-edited videos, unflattering memes, and downright misleading charts (some taken straight from GOP think-tanks) that supposedly prove how vile and corrupt Hillary is while Sanders is the only honest politician in the game. They send me links to articles titled things like “The One Piece of Writing Every Hillary Supporter Should Read,” claiming to be level-headed pleas to listen to what’s got everyone so excited about Bernie, and quickly divulging into condescending, patronizing, and misguided opinion pieces which rely on various assumptions and inaccurate – though sweeping – analyses of history and political prologue.
And in recent weeks, it seems that Mr. Sanders himself has been caught up in the passion, and has begun attacking Hillary personally – one of the things he just a few months ago so proudly said he’d never do and has never done to a political opponent. Just during the week of April 3rd, he earned 16 Pinocchios from the Washington Post, primarily for his charges against Clinton. He inaccurately claimed that she has accepted “large sums of money” from the fossil fuel industry, that the Panama free-trade deal enable easier access to offshore accounts, and that she had called him “unqualified to be president.” He then, shockingly, proceeded to outline his reasons for considering Hillary unqualified.
Amid all this – Susan Sarandon and other Bernie supporters questioning whether they will be able to support Hillary as the Democratic nominee, some loudly proclaiming “Bernie or Bust,” a campaign that for the first time has sunk to personal attacks and vitriolic rhetoric on both sides (just watch the last debate) – some have lamented that all we are doing is weakening the chances of our nominee. But a robust public debate about who our candidates should be is an enduring example of American democracy at work, of the civil engagement that we so value as a culture. Nobody really does it like we do in America, and politics are no exception (though I think everyone agrees our system could be cleaned up).
To accept many of the current pro-Bernie arguments, you first must accept that Hillary represents no change at all when it comes to current policy. In fact, at the beginning of the campaign, Bernie Sanders himself frequently stated that her platform and positions on the issues were not that different from his. He used to stop supporters at his rallies from booing when he mentioned Mrs. Clinton and would let them know why he respected her so much. He doesn’t seem to do that anymore, and the perceived amount of daylight between them continues to grow… But what seems to be lost is that Hillary does have a plan to make things better for everyday Americans. And she does have a record of accomplishing change. So for now, let’s accept that they are, really, offering quite similar visions to the American people, while their platforms differ in the specifics of how to get there. Let’s also accept that with all of the gerrymandering our GOP-controlled Congress has done over the past few years, when the next president moves into the White House they will be working with a Republican controlled – or at least split – House and Senate for the majority of their term. If they are going to get anything done starting on day one, they will need to be passionate, tough, and unwilling to quit. But they also need to be willing to negotiate and not let idealism become the enemy of what is achievable in Washington.
There seems to be foreshadowing of Jimmy Carter’s presidency – during which a bunch of really big and great ideas were talked about but basically nothing got done – written all over Mr. Sanders’ campaign. If the Republicans were unwilling to work with President Obama on absolutely anything, Democrats would be foolish to think that they will somehow work better with a more incendiary president. There is much to love about Bernie and the revolutionary vision for America’s future he has been expounding. But that vision is not achievable for any president in one term (or even two), given the structure of our government and realities of the political landscape in Washington today. When Bernie criticizes Hillary for her “incrementalism,” he seems to conveniently forget that the American system of government was designed to move slowly and incrementally. So maybe, just maybe, Hillary learned from her more revolutionary days that in the end, you have to compromise anyways. The founding fathers wanted it that way because they desperately feared the ability of one faction or party to sway things too far in either direction: Jefferson feared “monarchists” (read: Federalists/Wigs/Republicans) while Adams feared “republicans” (read: Democrats). Electing a president does nothing to change this system of checks and balances or the underlying mechanics of how politics is played in Washington. Revolutions and elections are two very different things: While we may need revolutionary change in our government and systems, electing a president is a not a direct route to affecting that change.
Mrs. Clinton may not be firing up the base with “yuuuge” promises, but she is talking about concrete, tangible steps that can actually be taken to move us in a better direction. All while working within the current system, the one that unfortunately really must be worked within. While her tack may not seem nearly as exciting, it is far more achievable, and could actually set this country on a trajectory toward positive change rather than worsening the stagnation that has been the hallmark of American politics for the past couple decades. Make no mistake, though: The next president will face fierce opposition from the GOP. Hillary has been dealing with – and overcoming – their attempt to destroy her and her husband personally and the Democratic Party in general for over 20 years. She’s the best-qualified candidate to overcome Republican obstructionism once in office. And, boy, does she have some plans!
Hillary has a solid economic platform to increase wages and jobs throughout America. Her plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $12.00 per hour and encourage individual cities and states to exceed that number while strengthening overtime rules is much more realistic than pushing for a $15.00 per hour federal minimum wage with a Republican Congress. And she, too, is pushing to provide additional support to American families through paid family leave, sick days, affordable childcare, and equal pay. She plans to provide much needed tax relief to the middle class, close corporate tax loopholes, and make our wealthiest citizens pay a fairer share of taxes. While it may prove difficult to get GOP-controlled states to go along with free college for all, Hillary’s plan to make college debt-free and refinance the loans of Americans already carrying student loan debt accomplishes the same goal while quieting opponents proclaiming the dangers of the “nanny state.” She also has a plan to control costs and keep tuition affordable at colleges and universities. And investing more in early childhood education will help provide every American the opportunity to start out on strong academic footing. Her plans to increase investment in green energy, scientific and medical research, national infrastructure, and to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing industry will create a plethora of well-paying jobs. She is right when she says that her plan to extend the authority of Dodd-Frank to regulate the shadow banking industry (think mortgage brokers, insurance companies, hedge funds, and investment banks like Countrywide Financial, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merill Lynch, Goldman Sachs) will do more to prevent another financial crisis than reinstating Glass-Steagall – which wouldn’t have prevented the great recession in the first place. And as for the big banks: She will veto any legislation attempting to weaken Dodd-Frank, reign in risk throughout the financial system, and hold individuals and corporations accountable if they break the law. Her plan to build and improve on the Affordable Care Act is more sensible than trying to force single-payer under the name of “Medicare for All” through Congress. She also plans to stem the rise in prescription drug prices, limit out-of-pocket expenses, and protect access to reproductive health care for women. Her plan to install over half a million solar panels by the end of her first term and power all American homes through renewable energy within the next decade is realistic, necessary, and an aggressive shift away from current energy policy and our crippling dependence on fossil fuels.
Mrs. Clinton has an incredibly comprehensive plan to bolster civil rights and “break down barriers” for every American. In terms of our broken and corrupt criminal justice system, she has proposed reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, ending private for-profit prisons, making it easier for convicted criminals to reenter society after being incarcerated, and working to reform police departments by shifting the focus of police training, ending racial profiling, encouraging the use of body cameras, and slowing the acquisition of military-grade equipment by local police departments. She will also work to help Americans struggling with addiction through prevention, treatment, and recovery, while working to keep people from being sent to prison for nonviolent drug offenses. She supports medical marijuana and the right states like Colorado and Washington to experiment with recreational legalization. As for that other utterly corrupt system of ours, campaign finance, Hillary wants to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn “this disastrous” Citizens United and will fight to get secret and unaccountable money out of politics. She also plans to fight to make it easier for Americans to vote by restoring necessary provisions of the Voting Rights Act, starting universal automatic voter registration for 18 year-olds, and setting a federal standard allowing early voting to start 20 days prior to an election. She wants to tackle immigration reform by creating a pathway to citizenship, allowing millions of currently illegal workers to get paid “over the table.” Her plan to improve LGBT rights reads exactly like a Human Rights Campaign pamphlet: She wants to ensure full equality for all LGBT Americans, protect transgender rights, work on the issue of LGBT youth homelessness, promote human rights for LGBT people globally, and limit costs for people living with HIV/AIDS, among many other things. And of course, she’s always been an outspoken champion of women’s rights and equality. Needless to say, electing her would be a resounding triumph for feminism in-and-of itself.
Absolutely nothing about any of that says “status quo…”
As for their records: Those have been discussed endlessly in debates, news panels, articles, and social media threads, so I won’t spend much time on specific legislative achievements or roll call votes. The assumptions that Bernie Sanders supporters want us to make here are:
That Bernie has been accomplishing change for 30 years while Hillary has been ineffective as a civil servant. If you let their Senate records speak for themselves, though, Hillary is actually the one who has accomplished far more change. During her eight-year tenure as one of New York’s senators, Hillary sponsored 10 significant bills that became law. In his nine years as a senator, Bernie has sponsored just one significant bill that passed the chamber. Hillary was able to pass 33% more amendments to legislation per year than Bernie has been able to as a senator. So, more accurately, Bernie has been talking about change for the past 15 years while Hillary has actually been getting stuff done.
That Hillary is far more moderate or even “right-wing” than Bernie. With their 93% similar voting record as senators, it’s hard to see how this argument is even statistically possible. Hillary is more conservative than Bernie when it comes to foreign policy, but Bernie still voted to authorize the war in Afghanistan and use of force in Yugoslavia – not so much a pacifist’s record. And Bernie is far more conservative than her on the issue of gun control. The good people at fivethirtyeight.com crunched the numbers and found that during her second term, Clinton was more liberal than 70% of the Democrats she caucused with and more liberal than 85% of all members of the Senate (including Barack Obama).
And that, while Sanders has consistently maintained his values, Hillary has “flip-flopped” on her policy positions and is therefore untrustworthy. Firstly, the positions that Hillary has moved on are primarily gay marriage, immigration, and criminal justice reform. All three of these have only recently risen to the top of political discourse, and much of the Democratic Party – and indeed the nation – has changed their stances on these same issues over the same timeframe. In other words, Hillary is not alone in this growth. But most importantly, this argument (one of the favorites of Bernie supporters) fails to take American history into account. It fails to recognize that the ability to grow and reconsider, to admit when you were wrong, is a necessary and vital attribute of strong leadership. It hasn’t been stalwart resolve to stand behind rigidly fixed positions that has allowed our greatest leaders to accomplish the things we are most proud of as a nation. In fact, it is quite the opposite. If Lincoln, who was once fiercely anti-abolitionist, had not changed his position, who knows when we would have abolished slavery? If Johnson had not evolved in his views on race relations, just when and where would we have seen the signing of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act? Effective leaders must have the ability to assess changing situations and reevaluate previously held assumptions, and not be afraid to change course when necessary. If we hold as a litmus test that politicians are never allowed to change their mind, where can we anticipate all of that revolutionary change we so desperately desire to come from?
If anyone in Washington is a symbol of surviving and overcoming the rough and tumble, complex to navigate, bruising and scarring, rumor- and scandal-filled life of a politician, it is Hillary goddamn Clinton. She is still standing, after all these years, and you can bet she will be standing just as tall when she is the Democratic nominee (as, of course, she will be).
Brett Veling attended Emerson College majoring in Film and Writing, Literature & Publishing. He currently lives in Seattle, WA, where he closely follows politics, news, arts, and culture, and enjoys getting outdoors as much as possible.