“WHAT WE HAVE TO DO every so often in America is save capitalism from itself.” Hillary Clinton’s take on capitalism is pretty much the same as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s take on capitalism. If that doesn’t justify placing Clinton among America’s progressives, then the definition of “progressive” must have been changed when the world’s political scientists weren’t looking.
Only the most extreme denizens of the Far Right would dispute that Roosevelt’s “New Deal” rescued American capitalism from the looming political consequences of the Great Depression. Certainly, that remains the firm judgement of practically all American socialists. Indeed, the great tragedy of American socialism is that the progressive movement (almost always in the guise of the Democratic Party) has unfailingly stepped up to defuse those economic and social bombs which, left undefused, might so easily have exploded into revolution.
Clinton fits very comfortably into that Democratic tradition. Ideologically-speaking she rates as a fairly staunch American “liberal” (New Zealand political scientists would call her a social-democrat). United States experts locate her on the same section of the left political spectrum as President Barack Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren, and only marginally to the right of Senator Bernie Sanders who, in spite of calling himself a “democratic socialist”, has devoted his life to promoting a social and economic programme indistinguishable from Roosevelt’s New Deal.
So why is this woman, this feminist, this progressive, demonised as some sort of fanatical neoliberal war goddess? Why do even New Zealanders who identify as “left-wing” claim to see no meaningful difference between Clinton and her Republican rival, Donald Trump? How has the woman who campaigned for George McGovern – the most radical presidential candidate in recent American history – been so egregiously defamed?
The answer is simple. Hillary Clinton has been demonised by the most reactionary elements of the American Right ever since she and her husband looked set to claim the White House in the presidential election of 1992. For nearly quarter-of-a-century she has been the target of an unrelenting campaign of false accusations, scurrilous rumours and outright lies. Recall the disgraceful campaign to undermine the prime-ministership of New Zealand’s own Helen Clark, multiply it by 10, and you will have some idea of the magnitude of what Clinton quite correctly described as “a vast right-wing conspiracy” dedicated to her and her husband’s destruction.
Those who were not yet born in 1992 find it difficult to fathom the depths to which the American Right was (and is) willing to sink in order to neutralise any and all threats posed to the legacies of Reagan and Bush by the Democratic Party and its more electable leaders.
That Hillary Clinton, as the Junior Senator from New York, voted for the invasion of Iraq has been parlayed by Sanders’ millennial supporters into proof positive of her war-mongering instincts. That dozens of her fellow Democratic senators did the same, is simply ignored. So, too, is the historical fact that ever since the days of the red-baiter, Joseph McCarthy, the Democratic Party has felt obliged to out-perform the Republicans on issues of national security.
The Millennial Left’s refusal to put the behaviour of politicians into some semblance of historical context is also evident in the their criticism of Clinton’s actions in regard to Libya. As US Secretary of State, Clinton was acutely aware of how much her country owed to its Nato partners for their unwavering support of the USA’s military commitment to Afghanistan. That was why she was willing to recommend to President Obama that he lend his support to British and French efforts in the UN Security Council to provide air support to Libyan rebels fighting Muamma Gaddafi. Clinton’s critics conveniently forget that it was the Security Council, not the US Secretary of State, who subsequently authorised the “humanitarian” bombing of Libya.
Unfortunately, this is not the sort of argument that sways Clinton’s younger critics in the slightest. Anyone who takes money from Goldman Sachs and their Wall Street partners-in-crime is obviously guilty beyond redemption. As is anyone who acknowledges the extraordinary electoral power of the Jewish Vote in US politics by making favourable references to Israel. (Did anyone hear Bernie condemn “Israel’s apartheid regime”?)
The “Bernie-or-Bust” die-hards who, unlike their mentor, refuse to recognise the brute realities of American presidential politics, have proved to be fast learners when it comes to orchestrating exactly the same phantasmagorical parade of falsehoods that, hitherto, Clinton only had to fend off from the Right.
Hillary has become “Killary”. Bumper-stickers scream “Liar, liar, pants-suit on fire!” Never mind that the US media’s fact-checkers have pronounced Clinton the most truthful of all the major primary contenders. Or that on her watch as Secretary of State the USA markedly improved its global conduct.
The only conclusion to be drawn from the above is that, in the minds of politicised Millennials, the meaning of “progressive” has changed. It now means: “Somebody who could not possibly be elected President of the United States.”