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Lock her up? Sadly, she locked herself up

August 29, 2020

I’ve been watching the Hillary Clinton documentary series on Sky. It’s a welcome diversion from the endless coverage of Trump and his cronies turning the White House into a stage set from some dystopian dictator movie.

It’s not for me to judge Hillary’s character. Certainly, the carefully choreographed interviews that formed the centrepiece of the series were never likely to tell the whole story of the person and her career.

Many people, my wife included, felt that her failing to win the presidency in 2016 was a tragedy. Over the past three years, perhaps many more people have reflected on what might have been, were it not for the 70,000 votes that denied her victory in the electoral college.

The striking aspect of Episode Two, which dealt with Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency, Whitewater, Gennifer Flowers, Vince Foster’s suicide and the failure of Hillary’s healthcare initiative, was its reminder that the viciousness of modern American politics didn’t start with Trump.

To an extent, it was always there, but before Bill Clinton, all of America’s post-war presidents, whatever was going on behind closed doors, gave the office a veneer of respectability and dignity. That ended with Bill, or perhaps more accurately, with Monica Lewinsky. The American public’s respect for their presidents took a dive when tales of semen stains made the headlines.

Thereafter, the president was fair game. Clinton was incapable of keeping his trousers zipped. Bush Junior was a man of limited intelligence with a self-satisfied smirk who conned the nation into going to war. Obama was the epitome of dignity, yet ended up like Gulliver, pinned down by Republican majorities in both houses of Congress who were determined to destroy him. And then Trump, con artist, pussy-grabber and trash-talker extraordinaire, is the ultimate anti-president.

During Bill Clinton’s reign, the conspiracy theorists, the dirty tricks artists and the grass roots extremists seemed to step up a gear. Did it all start with Clinton, or with Nixon? Nixon, for sure, was a more immoral president than any of them except Trump. But he maintained a veneer of dignity to the end. If he achieved nothing else, he proved that it was possible for a president to be taken down while in office.

Thereafter, every president became a target of opportunity, but during Clinton’s time the partisan divide, fanned by the likes of Newt Gingrich, seemed to intensify. And since he left office, it seemed as though Hillary’s principal role was as a partisan lightning rod – as a senator, as Obama’s Secretary of State and ultimately as a presidential candidate. And, of course, as a woman of power and influence. A convenient denizen of the swamp, if you will.

What was it and is it about Hillary that made half the country want to lock her up? Is she really, as one person commented, like every husband’s ex-mother-in-law? Is it the hard protective shell she built around herself that her detractors interpreted as lack of empathy? Was it her failure to divorce a man who consistently cheated on her, evidence in many people’s minds of her ruthless pragmatism and desire for power? Was it her speaking engagements with the Wall Street giants, evidence of her greed, or her emails, evidence that she didn’t think that government rules applied to her? Or was it her obvious contempt for the deplorables on the other side?

One person in the documentary pointed out that her rock-solid confidence in her own righteousness made it hard for her to understand why people were so keen to attack her. Perhaps Joe Klein did the damage early on when he portrayed his version of her in Primary Colors as a foul-mouthed Lady MacBeth figure as she berated Bill for his priapic indiscretions during his first campaign.

So here, for what it’s worth, is how I see Hillary.

She’s a person from an age when women like her, determined, intelligent and fiercely ambitious, didn’t feel the need to go to charm school. These women, inspired by the likes of Gloria Steinem, thought they could and should succeed by ability only. The compromises she needed to make in order to turn herself into an electable persona didn’t sit easily, either as a president’s wife or as a candidate in her own right.

Her self-control, which she built as a wall between her public persona and her private passions through bitter experience in the White House, has worked to her disadvantage. A degree of vulnerability, which she never felt able to show, can be an electoral asset. You could say, therefore, that she locked herself up.

If she had been elected president, she would have faced continuing hostility from those who didn’t vote for her. Her political opponents would have denigrated her, opposed her and fought her at every turn. The hostility that Obama attracted would have been small beer in comparison. This would have made it difficult, to put it mildly, for her to do her job. She would have had as many setbacks as achievements.

That said, she would still have been ten times more effective than Trump. Even if she had been defeated for a second term, she would, in the long term, have earned the same respect as other one-term presidents such as Carter and Bush senior.

She wouldn’t have left the United States a smoking, riot-torn ruin, and she would have paved the way for more women to reach the highest office.

There but for the lack of 70,000 votes. And by the way, I’m sure she’s a damned fine mother-in-law.

From → History, Politics, USA

6 Comments
  1. Though I had resigned myself to it, I too thought Hillary’s loss a tragedy, but saw it as a self-inflicted wound on the part of the Democrats. It was not Hillary. It was our Constitution.
    After the open and unapologetic attacks on the Constitution by Bush (or more accurately, Cheney) came the compounding thereof by Obama.
    The post-war presidents’ veneer was only possible because the news media still believed in not looking behind the closed doors. If forced to do so, they swore omerta.
    Hillary was abrasive, obnoxious, condescending, smart, capable and female.
    With all those attributes but the last, she would have been elected.
    In order achieve in these hyar United States, a woman must out-man the men. Of course, that immediately makes her a target.
    Your suggestion that she should have shown her vulnerability, most ESPECIALLY coming from you, proves my point.

    • Interesting comments Debby. I’m not saying that she should have shown her vulnerability, but that in order to get elected, the public was more likely to relate to someone who did. Two different things. And yes, wo0men do seem to have to out-man men. Interestingly, Biden has always worn his emotional heart on his sleeve. Why is this acceptable for a man, and not a woman?

      Our two female Prime Ministers didn’t conform to the out-manning stereotype. I must think about this in the context of Hillary’s career, and perhaps write about it. Maybe look at Merkel too. S

      • The way for Biden was paved by Edmund Muskie.
        Generally it’s not allowed, and right now, just think how fast and hard Trump would pounce and pound.

      • P.S. Should have reread the original comment.
        I had resigned myself to Trump’s election well ahead of it, and it was because in part, that I recognized the problem caused by Hillary’s hard shell.
        The ultimate damage, however, was caused by the Democrat party hierarchy. They would have won with Bernie. I won’t go into what I thought of him, but my right wing son would have voted for him.
        However, the tragedy I mourned was the Constitution.

        P.P.S. George H.W. was a three term president.

      • And still mourning no doubt. Surprised at your suggestion that Bernie would have won, and about your son. Would he have won this time, I wonder?

      • not this time, no.
        his ship sailed as soon as some of the “mainstream” candidates espoused some version of some of his major ideas.

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