By Michael Howard
Hillary Clinton’s debate strategy is pretty straightforward: spit out a bunch of bland, hoary rhetoric that sounds nice but carries no information, refrain from putting her foot in her mouth (that is, refrain from discussing any serious issues in depth), and give the audience a few subtle reminders that she is, in fact, a woman.
If this were a sports competition, we would say that Hillary is “playing not to lose.” Naturally, the mainstream media – including NBC News, which hosted the final Democratic Party debate – is doing what it can to help out. The major outlets have all but ignored Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and while the debates provide him with ample opportunity to advertise his populist talking points, the pro-Clinton bias is plain to see.
Gun control is the sole issue on which it can be said (probably inaccurately) that Hillary is to the left of Sanders. That’s all she’s got—and she’s clinging to it. So, with their partisanship in mind, the executives at NBC News decided that it would be a good idea to kick off the debate with a relatively tough question, aimed at Sanders, about guns. “Right before the debate,” he was told, “you changed your position on immunity from lawsuits for gun manufacturers. Can you tell us why?”
After his explanation, Hillary was asked if she would “like to respond,” which translates to: “Would you like to capitalize on this opportunity to make yourself look progressive and gain the early momentum in this debate?”
Hillary tried her best, and yet, in spite of the fact that the debate was overtly slanted in her favor, she still managed to lose, and lose big. It wasn’t even close. The reader polls conducted by a number of websites reflect this. In Slate’s poll, 86% of participants selected Sanders as the winner. (This of course did not prevent the great political pundits at Slate from trumpeting Hillary as the clear winner. Their headline ran: “Hillary Clinton Won Sunday Night’s Debate.”) A poll run by Time shows the same result: 86% for Sanders. In Politico’s poll, 73% said Sanders. Huffington Post: 72% Sanders. Get the picture?
Clearly, Hillary Clinton cannot win an election on her own. Her utter lack of charisma is too damaging; her language is too stale; her hypocrisy is too transparent. That’s why she needs the establishment’s help—it’s the only thing keeping her in front of the more talented and resonant Bernie Sanders. Well, that and the support of contemporary feminists for whom the breaking of the “glass ceiling” is the only thing that matters.
Speaking of Clinton’s hypocrisy, it was rich to hear her lament the “systemic racism in our criminal justice system.” This is the same woman who, in a recent op-ed for the Jewish Journal, described Israel as a “thriving, raucous democracy.” The thrust of her article is so mendacious that it’s almost beneath refuting. One wonders what it is about Israel that Hillary finds so raucously democratic and laudatory. Is it the ongoing colonization of the West Bank? The conversion of Gaza into a giant concentration camp? The occupation of the Golan Heights? Perhaps it’s the illegal nuclear arsenal, or the blatant contempt for international law, or the intolerance and censorship of legitimate criticism. All crystalline examples of democracy, mind you.
Are we actually expected to believe that Hillary Clinton, who lent her unconditional support to Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014, and who refuses to acknowledge the stark parallels between Israel and South Africa’s apartheid regime, actually gives a shit about the plight of black people in the United States? Are we to believe that Hillary Clinton has recently mutated into a passionate egalitarian? Call me a cynic, but I’m not buying it for a second.
Her attempts to wrangle with Sanders on healthcare and Wall Street reform were frankly embarrassing. She plainly cannot compete with Sanders on these issues—she knows this better than anybody. Sanders wants single-payer healthcare; Hillary doesn’t. Sanders wants to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, a set of bank activity-limiting provisions of the 1930s, which was repealed in 1999. Hillary doesn’t. Whose policies are better for 99% of the population? It’s not rocket science, however much Clinton and her groupies want us to think it is.
Because of her indebtedness to the financial sector, which helps bankroll her campaign, Hillary is not allowed to flatly condemn Wall Street. She has to do it equivocally, with qualifications that betray the reactionary nature of her policies. She’s a corporatist through and through, and the mere presence of Bernie Sanders (who is not a socialist but sort of plays one on TV) has highlighted that fact. For this he deserves credit. Hats off to Bernie.
That she praised President Barack Obama for “taking on Wall Street, taking on the financial industry, and getting results” tells us everything we need to know about Clinton’s domestic policies. Only a sheer corporatist could be satisfied with Obama’s neoliberal legacy. To say that Obama “took on Wall Street” is a peculiar way to euphemize the events of 2009, when the newly-elected commander-in-chief (who, let’s remember, was elected on a promise to effect “change”) argued in favor of the bailout and assured the architects of the financial meltdown that they would not be held accountable for their actions. Likewise, ramming the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a backstairs “free trade agreement” that has almost nothing to do with trade and almost everything to do with protecting the rights of investors to make as much money as possible) through Congress is an odd way of “taking on the financial industry.”
Foreign policy was mostly a peripheral issue in Sunday night’s debate. Predictably, Hillary’s record as a ruthless warmonger did not come up. Still, as always, her responses to questions about the Middle East are interesting for what she neglected to say.
Take Syria. According to Hillary, it is “the root of so many problems that we see in the region and beyond.” This, as everyone knows, is utter tripe. Syria is not the cause of carnage in the Middle East; it is merely one effect of the carnage in the Middle East, which was caused by the invasion of Iraq by the United States, which Clinton voted for. Without that war (which is easily the greatest crime of the 21st century), ISIS does not exist, and the Middle East is a very different region. Of course, to say so is to speak honestly about the consequences of U.S. foreign policy, and Hillary Clinton is not in the business of speaking honestly about anything.
While Hillary prattled on about how her prescription for reigning in Wall Street “is tougher, more effective, and more comprehensive” than that of Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, who the moderators succeeded in sidelining throughout the night, verbalized with succinct eloquence what millions of people think whenever Hillary Clinton opens her mouth: “That’s not true.”
Considering the audience’s reaction to O’Malley’s quip (laughter, applause), it appears that more and more people are beginning to recognize Hillary Clinton as a peddler of snake oil. The hoi polloi of America, in other words, isn’t as stupid as she was counting on.
So does Hillary have a Plan B on which to fall back? Let’s hope not.
Michael Howard is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio.