During the Clinton years, liberals, frustrated by Bill’s pragmatism, often wished he would switch places with Hillary. Despite the Obama campaign in 2008 tapping into the liberal base’s cynicism regarding the Clintons (“change you can believe in”), his strategists appear to be re-investing their hopes in her. Jeremy Bird and Mitch Stewart, who led Obama’s field efforts in 2012, have started a fundraising and grassroots organizing entity called Ready for Hillary.
But before the donations make it into her coffers, it might useful for them to ask if she truly is a liberal and not an oily pragmatist.
Based on her political history the answer is no.
The portrait that emerges from her political background is not that she is the opposite of Bill; instead she completes him. She too has no ideological core, and is more interested in what plays in the heartland than championing ideals.
This is odd, given Hillary’s first political work as a “Goldwater girl” — a nickname for female teenage workers for the 1964 Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. None of Barry’s principled attitude (he refused to go back on his state’s rights principles and self-destructively voted “no’ on the 1964 Civil Rights Act) seems to have rubbed off on her. Instead an un-Goldwater-like duplicity would follow.
While her contemporaries were taking to the streets, finding contact with the establishment contaminating, Hillary was playing both sides in the 1968 Presidential elections, surely one of the most white hot years in campaign history. By day she knocked on doors for Nixon; at night she wrote position papers for his opponents.
By this time, she would find a partner in political shenanigans: Bill. Even then he was keeping his eye on the main chance. While others were gleefully burning their draft cards, Clinton in an infamous letter to the draft board, stated he would be willing to enlist in Vietnam in order to one day be a viable political candidate. He too played both sides. Christopher Hitchens, a contemporary who was part of the student protest movement in England, suspected that Clinton was funneling information to the police, based on the fact that Bill was always elsewhere when police raids occurred.
Famously, she and her husband would retreat into sixties’ idealism when his philandering and her murky business dealings got them in trouble. Otherwise, these “convictions” were disposable. In the 90s, she joined liberals in denouncing the 80s as the era of corporate greed — a decade during which she padded her fees like any Republican corporate lawyer ($4,000 an hour plus travel expenses for trips as meager as the three-hour drive from Little Rock to Fayetteville, Arkansas). This supposed champion of feminism expressed her desire to get Jennifer Flowers on the stand, where she “would break her.”
Admirers like Carl Bernstein, who in the Clinton years mutated from a toppler of corrupt presidents into their standard bearer, have attempted to spin Hillary from soulless political operator to an idealist conflicted by competing passions. For him, she is an “emotional conservative” and “intellectual liberal” (a meaningless phrase at first and fourth glance: does this mean she is at heart a traditionalist, and in her head an iconoclast? That she wants to be pro-death penalty but cannot be when she thinks it through?).
If so, why did she bemoan the fate of black people, but dumped Lani Guiner when she became a political liability? Why did she attempt to channel Eleanor Roosevelt, who tried to be the conscience of FDR, and yet retain the thuggish conservative Dick Morris for the purpose of keeping poll numbers high?
Bernstein’s yin and yang is really not a duality; it is simply pragmatism in the service of power.
In the 90s, liberals rationalized that voting for Bill, whom they often mistrusted, was the price they had to pay for getting Hillary as a background player.
Now liberals may get their wish, and it will be more of the same.