While Democrats and their allies have been gloating over the Republican Party’s tribulations, their own party has its problems. They had been ignoring them pretty successfully when their order of succession seemed clear. Now, the possibility that Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic nominee has exposed some of the party’s problems.
Although she has at times disavowed it, Hillary Clinton has been running for president since at least the 1990s. As heir apparent, she promotes herself as an progressive who makes progress. More accurately assessed, she has many credentials, but few accomplishments.
As first lady of Arkansas, Clinton is best known for her investments in the Whitewater Development Corp. and in cattle futures trading. As first lady of the United States, she is known for meddling in the operation of the White House travel office, trying to reform health care in secret, and for the suspicion that she accessed FBI security clearance information of prior administration personnel for political purposes.
When she isn’t downplaying them as old news, Clinton tries to wear those events as badges of honor, claiming a vast right-wing conspiracy against her.
As senator, Clinton voted for the USA Patriot Act, supported military action in Afghanistan, and voted in favor of the Iraq War authorization. She did so in order to distance herself from her husband’s responsibility for 9/11 and to build her bona fides for president. Now, she disavows many of those actions in the face of Sanders’ isolationism.
Obama appointed Clinton his secretary of state to avoid a re-election primary fight. Clinton took the job to build her resume for president. She didn’t resign it to be a grandmother. She resigned to gear up for the campaign and to try to distance herself from the disastrous foreign policy that she coauthored.
Her much-heralded reset with Russia encouraged Vladimir Putin to venture into the Ukraine and Crimea. Under her watch, we remained on the sidelines while the Arab spring withered. Idle threats of lines in the sand and unfulfilled promises to rebels yielded brutal civil war in Syria and an unprecedented, world-wide refugee crisis. Unwillingness to take effective action contributed to the rise of ISIS. Half-hearted efforts in Libya resulted in the debacle of Benghazi and a failed state, ripe for takeover by terrorists. Meanwhile, North Korea is pursuing nuclear weaponry.
Through it all, Clinton conducted official business on a private email server because she wanted to avoid scrutiny.
Even though he doesn’t confront her on many of these issues, Sanders is an effective foil for Clinton. He is who he is, and always has been: an unapologetic socialist who has been railing against the capitalist machine ever since he went to college and was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s.
On that basis, Sanders has been mayor of Burlington, a member of the House of Representatives, and a United States senator. Through it all, his primary concern has been domestic economic inequality. Along the way, as senator, he opposed the Iraq War authorization.
Sanders is campaigning on a simple platform of explicit revolution: that money is corrupting politics, and government should force the wealthy to share more with the people. It’s his answer to every problem, from poverty to health care to race relations to inequities in the criminal justice system to climate change. It has been resonating with the angry end of the liberal spectrum.
In response, Clinton has started to adopt some of Sanders’ gestures and rhetoric. It’s not genuine, and people sense it. It’s illustrated by her recent responses to questions about having taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street firms.
Her first response was flippant and ill-considered: that she took the money because it’s what they offered. Her second response was transparently untrue: that she took it because she did not know that she would be running for president. Her third was classic Clinton counter-attack: she blamed others and said she would only release the transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street firms if everyone else did, too.
Meanwhile, she takes breaks from her campaign to attend fundraisers with big donors.
After losing badly in New Hampshire, Clinton held the line in Nevada. Her well-established, national organization has secured the commitment of many superdelegates. It has also engendered in Sanders’ supporters a sense that the process is rigged in her favor.
Fairly assessed, Clinton is not a great candidate because people sense she is a phony. Sanders isn’t great either because he is so extreme.
If you’re a Democrat, there’s no reason to gloat.
Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.