Amidst a crescendo of emotional and misdirected idealism, Americans set a new benchmark for identity politics in 2008, when they elected a presidential candidate whose chief qualification was neither experience nor notable intelligence but the mere colour of his skin. What ensued has been a string of unmitigated public policy failures, the quadrupling of America’s debt and the erosion US power and influence in the world’s most hostile regions. An optimist would hope American voters have gained a bitter wisdom from their Obama indulgence, but if they have learned nothing and succumb to the tantalizing temptation of electing yet another token, this time on the basis of gender rather than race, the only explanation will be that the attraction of Mrs Clinton’s XX chromosomes far outweigh her decades of dizzying inconsistency.
When she last ran for president, Clinton referred to her voting record in the Senate on “workers rights” issues — take that to mean her support for Big Labour — citing it as proof of her pro-union credentials. Speaking at a progressive conference in 2007, she boldly stated her intention if elected president to “stand up for unions [and] make sure they can organize for fair wages and good working conditions.” However, during her tenure on Wal-Mart’s board of directors in earlier years, Clinton stood silent as the company fought tooth and nail to foil any and all efforts to unionise its workforce.
More opaque is Mrs Clinton’s stance on the free-market economic system. In her latest book, Hard Choices, she makes the uncontroversial claim that there are “still too many barriers and restrictions” facing American companies looking to create jobs. Yet mere months later, Clinton roused emotions at a Democratic campaign event when she fiercely proclaimed: “Don’t let anybody tell you … it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.”
This malleable perception of industry and the free market’s roles in shaping the economic fortunes of working Americans sits uncomfortably with a quote cited fondly in one of her earlier books, It Takes a Village. The free market, she insisted then, “has been the most radically disruptive force in American life in the last generation.” Taken from Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Lost City, it reflects his contention that mega-discounters have had a disastrous impact on Mum and Dad shopkeepers and old-fashioned Main Street merchants, damaging and de-stabilising communities as a consequence. And the biggest of those discounters? Why, none other than Walmart, on whose board Hillary Clinton was only too happy to serve.
A president bereft of any real convictions must be cause for grave concern, yet such a deficit of core principles need not preclude all righteous actions. For instance, Bill Clinton brokered a deal with a hostile, Republican-controlled Congress that balanced the federal budget — a feat he could never have achieved had he remained faithful to the values enunciated in his election platform. While irreparably tarnishing his progressive credentials in the eyes of Democratic ideologues, this achievement helped ensure that history remembered him as something more substantial than the Lothario who scuttled about the Oval Office in his underpants and pioneered new uses for cigars and obligingly lovestruck interns.
As for his wife, her history of about-faces makes it as easy to guess her position on any issue — and with Hillary it can never be more than a guess — as it is to predict the colour of the pantsuit she will wear on the next day’s campaign trail. So far, she is sticking to the much the same well-worn platitudes about ‘fairness’ and ‘inequality’ so frequently relied upon by President Obama. Considering how well it has served the current incumbent, class envy makes strategic sense — and she has been been brazen in inciting that sentiment.
“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favour of those at the top,” she thundered when announcing her candidacy. Another of her sound-byte quotes advances the same sentiment: “There’s something wrong when your average CEO earns 300 times more than your typical worker.” Her admirers always respond with lusty cheers, but would that be her line if elected? Who can know, given that her entire political career has been marked by an eager willingness to swap and trade principles according to need, circumstance and audience.
Or take Mrs Clinton’s chest-beating about the need to banish special-interest cash and the influence it buys lobbyists in Washington’s political process. This line of attack can only strike long-time Clinton watchers as the elevation of hypocrisy to a virtue, given recent revelations about the opaque origins of millions of dollars in contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Likewise, will Mrs Clinton be called to account for grave lapses in judgment, such as the use of a vulnerable private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State — a ruse apparently inspired by her desire to render correspondence immune to congressional subpoena and scrutiny? Were she to make it to the White House, how many of those notes might now be in the hands of hackers and foreign powers?
Another, though perhaps less damning, indictment of the Clinton style might well arise from the succession of $300,000 fees she has pocketed on the speakers’circuit. Ironically, most of her most richly remunerated monologues were delivered at university graduation ceremonies before audiences that have also heard her lament the cost and debt of a gaining tertiary education.
The lack so far of a serious rival for the Democratic nomination suggests demands for answers, for firm statements of policy and intention, will be more of an irritant than a serious impediment to her quest to reclaim the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It seems Hillary is running because she is, well, Hillary. And that, by Clinton reckoning, should be more than enough.