Another Clinton, for Better or Worse

Anderson-MainThe worst moment in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the United States presidency – so far – came on July 5 when FBI Director James Comey announced that Clinton should not be prosecuted for mishandling classified information on a private email server. She may have been “extremely careless” in doing so, wrong or dishonest in insisting that no classified documents ever reached her server, and obstructive in deleting over half the emails on it, but none of this justified criminal charges, Comey said. Plenty of people disagreed and said so in an avalanche of negative publicity for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Among them was her Republican rival Donald Trump. But in a display of his unerring genius for shooting himself in the foot, he also triggered a deluge of negative headlines of his own by seizing the moment to praise the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, renowned supporter of anti-Israeli suicide bombers and butcher of his own people. Sure he was a “bad guy”, said Trump. “[But] he killed terrorists. He did that so good.”

Once again, as he has done countless times during the primary season and beyond, Trump squandered an opportunity, made news for all the wrong reasons, and made Clinton look like the least awful choice for president. Assuming his aptitude for self-destruction persists through November, Hillary Clinton and all her political baggage should move into the White House next January. It may prove the least deserved and least celebrated victory in the history of the U.S. presidency, even though it will mark the ascendance of a woman to the most powerful office on earth for the first time ever. That woman, however, is widely reviled as a Machiavellian schemer whose long political career is littered with corruption, lies, inconstancy and failure. She will not be redeemed by the presidency unless she achieves double digit U.S. economic growth, defeats ISIS, and solves climate change. In other words, she will likely be a one-term president, easily felled in 2020 by any Republican candidate who is not Donald Trump.

From Goldwater to McGovern

Clinton’s long path to the presidency by default has more political zig zags than a mountain logging trail. The Chicago-born daughter of a successful entrepreneur and his partly French-Canadian wife had a comfortable baby boomer childhood in a fairly religious and conservative household. As a politically precocious high school student, she was a campaign volunteer for hard-right Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. A few years later, as a super-achieving university student, she switched to the Democrats and backed hard-left presidential aspirants Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern.

Her fateful relationship with Bill Clinton began at Yale Law School in 1971, and within a decade they were Governor and First Lady of Arkansas. She married him only reluctantly, and would have plenty of cause to regret it, but political failure was not one of them. Their amazing partnership kept him in the governorship for most of the 1980s and her unstinting support was key to his rise to the presidency and his endurance there from 1992-98, including his survival of the various “bimbo eruptions” and impeachment ordeal. Her conjugal perseverance, under the circumstances, was especially remarkable for a lifelong orthodox second-wave feminist activist.

When Bill left office, it was at last Hillary’s turn to reach for the brass ring. It began with her election as Senator for New York in 2000 and re-election six years later, which set the stage for her first bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Astonishingly, for such a seasoned political operator, she blew it. Her campaign had no plan for a protracted primary season, wasted its money, and failed to craft a message when it mattered. The virtually unknown junior senator from Illinois, a “community activist” with a great smile and an extraordinary gift for oratory, snatched the nomination away. Hugging his enemy closely, President Barack Obama then asked Clinton to run his State Department.

Her term at State was marked by a procession of policy failures. She bet on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, helping Islamists briefly take control of a regional superpower and badly destabilize the whole region. She initially feted blood-soaked Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer,” before turning against him and helping trigger a civil war that unleashed a tidal wave of refugees on Europe. She led the charge to topple loony Libyan strongman Muammar Gadaffi, which produced yet another failed state, where in 2012 one of her ambassadors and four other Americans were killed due to a gross security SNAFU overseen by her office.

The resulting congressional investigation included an 11-hour grilling where she stonewalled effectively and seemed to escape not just unscathed, but enhanced. She was good under pressure. Unfortunately for her, however, the Benghazi inquiry also unearthed the reckless and dodgy email practices that haunt her still.

Clinton’s got the numbers

In spite of everything, and because of Trump, she remains the odds-on favourite to become the next president. The electoral college math is stacked heavily in her favour. Polling consistently shows she has over 100 of the 270 electoral college votes she needs to win already wrapped up in California (55), New York (29) and Illinois (20). Of all the electoral vote-rich states, Texas (38) is normally the most reliably Republican, yet Trump only has a slim lead there. His unfavourable ratings hover around 60 percent. Among African-Americans, his support is in the single digits; amongst Hispanics, it is only slightly higher. Further, he has a 70 percent unfavourable rating with women. He would have to win almost every white male vote in the country to overcome these demographic hurdles.

Clinton is exceptionally unpopular too, just not as bad as Trump. Since April, her unfavourable ratings have wobbled between the high-40s and mid- 50s. She has consistently polled above 50 percent as untrustworthy and dishonest. The latest turn in the email server scandal will not help.

But Clinton’s poll numbers have been artificially suppressed by Bernie Sanders’ stubborn refusal to accept the inevitable. Like his fellow ultra-leftist Jeremy Corbyn, the lame-duck leader of the British Labour Party who has refused to step down despite losing the confidence of the overwhelming majority of his caucus because of his lame performance during the Brexit campaign, Sanders‘ Pythonesque insistence that “I’m not dead yet” has transformed him from a romantic figure into a pathetic one. His refrain presumably hinged on the slim hope that Clinton would be indicted over the emails or perhaps suffer guilt by her association with the Clinton Foundation family philanthropy, because of its opaque business practices and unsavoury donors like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Or he’s holding out for a job in Clinton’s cabinet or a crumb in her campaign platform. But the fire has gone out of the Bern, and his bargaining position is in ashes. When Sanders finally capitulates the polls will likely see a consolidation of Clinton’s support.

Thus it is time to consider what kind of president she will be. The evidence suggests she will be…flexible. In October 2002, then-Senator Clinton voted to license President George W. Bush to use force in Iraq. In a Senate speech, she stated: “So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation…” At the time, public support for invading Iraq was at 60 percent.

Hussein did not disarm nor allow UN inspectors to look for his alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. and some of its allies, not including Canada, invaded, crushed the regime, and watched the dictator hang. By 2006, WMDs still had not been found, and Iraq looked an ungovernable mess. Clinton zigged away, saying the war was a mistake and she never would have invaded as president.

She was also flexible on gay marriage. In 2004, Clinton called traditional marriage a “sacred bond between and man and a woman”. At the time, she was on board with over 60 percent of Americans. Eleven years later, with public opinion now narrowly in favour of gay marriage and the U.S. Supreme Court on the brink of recognizing it as a constitutional right, Clinton zagged again and tweeted that “Every loving couple & family deserves to be recognized & treated equally under the law across our nation”.

Flexibility was also key to the preservation of her marriage and her husband’s presidency. According to the late journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, among others, she headed a “bimbo eruption squad” in the White House that organized efforts to trash the credibility and reputations of various women who succumbed to Bill’s charms, willingly or not, and then went public about it. When feminist fulmination over the incidence of sexual assault in America reached an unusually fevered pitch last November, the same Hillary Clinton zigged by tweeting that “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported”.

Call it flexible, pragmatic, unprincipled, or ruthless. Whatever it is, Clinton’s got it, in spades.

Hillary Clinton went before the House Select Committee on Benghazi to defend her involvement as former secretary of state. Alice Li / The Washington Post.
Hillary Clinton went before the House Select Committee on Benghazi to defend her involvement as former secretary of state. Alice Li / The Washington Post.

A Clinton presidency preview

This is not to say that she is timid. On the contrary, she often swings for the fences. In the 1990s, as the unelected wife of the president, she took the lead on a major effort to reform American healthcare. “Hillarycare” faced withering attack from conservatives and fizzled when even the Democratic-controlled Congress refused to support it. Her efforts probably softened the ground for the eventual passage of Obamacare, but that will be his legacy, not hers, and she will have to seek another.

Energy and the environment seems an obvious choice. Throughout the primaries she vowed to reduce American oil consumption by a third and make the United States a “clean energy superpower”. For Clinton, climate change is “the defining issue of our time”. And a moral issue at that: she seeks “climate justice” for victims of carbon emissions and frames it as a “civil rights issue”. If she delivers, it will certainly set her apart from her predecessor who was all hat and no cowboy on saving the planet. Obama talked a great green game while presiding over a domestic carbon energy production boom that transformed the U.S. into a net oil exporter.

Most of his green credibility came at the expense of others, especially Canada. He spent years dithering on the Keystone XL pipeline and smearing the Canadian oilsands that would feed it before finally vetoing the project. Clinton was “inclined” to support Keystone as recently as 2010, but she zigged into full-blown opposition this year, no doubt to satisfy wealthy campaign donors in California, a state that produces heavy oil with greater carbon content than the “tarsands”, which Clinton calls “our continent’s dirtiest fuel”. Canadian energy producers can only hope that her promised big new green energy plan, which she calls this generation’s moonshot, is as onerous as the taxes and regulations Ottawa and most provincial governments are imposing on the domestic industry. Then maybe they’ll be able to compete in the continental energy market again.

Other Canadian manufacturers and exporters also have reason to be uneasy about a Clinton presidency. When she was a senator and Secretary of State, she was a free trader who backed several new international agreements including the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As recently as November 2012 she said the TPP “sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open, free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.”

By 2016, the year of Brexit and Trump-Sanders protectionism on steroids, Clinton had zagged again and driven over the TPP in her campaign bus. She now won’t support it “in its current form”.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during an election night event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during an election night event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press.

President Clinton may be a menace to Canadian economic interests but don’t expect that to impair her relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. On gay rights, climate change, gender equality and the whole spectrum of progressive orthodoxy, they are kissing cousins. She will be patronizing and he will be obsequious. In short, expect a continuation of the relationship Trudeau has with Obama, where the latter recently came to Ottawa and gave a magnificent speech to Parliament, rich in flattery and professions of cooperation and affection, including praise for Alberta, the province now in recession partly because the Obama administration clobbered its share of the North American energy market in order to make the president look green and good on the international stage.

Hillary Clinton is likely to become president. This will not be good for Canada. Trump would be even worse. It’s enough to make a Canadian nostalgic for a prime minister who stood up for our interests.

Tim Anderson is a Calgary writer. Paul Bunner is the editor of C2C Journal.

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