Notes on “Stop Hillary”

I just finished Doug Henwood’s cover essay in this month’s edition of Harper’s Magazine, which makes a strong case against a Hillary Clinton presidency (and has quite a few liberals riled up). A few bits of amusing or interesting miscellany I learned:

  • Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham crossed a picket line on their first date, with Bill apparently smooth-talking his way past a guard at Yale Law School’s art gallery (where unionized workers were on strike).
  • Hillary Rodham campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and has been a right-leaning liberal more or less from the outset (once self identifying as an “agnostic intellectual liberal and emotional conservative”).
  • Ms. Clinton’s legislative achievements as a Senator for New York were incredibly modest. Having been elected to the Democratic stronghold despite never having lived there, many of her sponsored bills concerned purely symbolic issues.



Henwood isn’t as tough on the Clintons as Christopher Hitchens in his lethal polemic No One Left To Lie To (2000) but the general picture he paints is the same. The Clintons, in this left wing counternarrative, function more or less as a kind of self-serving political corporation: opportunistic, triangulating, and instinctively conservative. This last point is key, because it separates them from other Democrats of the same generation who embraced the post-Keynesian, Reaganite consensus with less ease.

Henwood’s narrative is hard to disagree with. Having shunned anything remotely radical as undergraduates, both the Clintons pursued solidly MOR careers in politics and law. Early on, Bill embraced a tactic which would later be a mainstay of revisionist 1990s liberalism (and New Labour under Tony Blair) which involved carefully picking battles with individuals or groups on the left – often unions – to shore up “bipartisan” credentials and capture “the centre” by peeling away votes from the right. Hillary practiced law in a notoriously pro-business Arkansas firm and served on a number of corporate boards, including Wal-Mart’s. As Secretary of State, Henwood suggests H.Clinton was marginalized by the White House (this may go some way towards explaining her notably hawkish posturing since 2012, though this appears to be as much ideological as it does tactical).

The clincher comes towards the end of the piece, when Henwood describes the Clintons’ post-2012 manoeuvring and speculates about the future:

Since leaving the State Department, Hillary has devoted herself to what we can only call “Clinton Inc”. This fund-raising, favour dispensing machine is key to understanding her joint enterprise with Bill. Unlike the Bush family, an old-style WASP dynasty for all W’s populist bluster and blunder, the Clintons are arrivistes who approach politics in a highly neoliberal manner. That means non-stop promotion, huge book advances, and fat speaking fees…It means various Clinton foundations, which were first led by Bill, but now include Hillary and Chelsea. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, they’ve collectively raised $2 to $3 billion since 1992, three quarters of it from business interests, with finance the leading sector. 

H. Clinton’s neoconservative posturing, illustrated most effectively by this devilishly difficult Mother Jones quiz, is already attracting support from right wingers like Robert Kagan and Max Boot who, keen to stave off the isolationist streak growing in the Republican Party, may be willing to go blue if it means getting a “muscular” foreign policy in return.

In a very prescient-seeming conclusion, Dick Morris – an apostate liberal who once worked for the Clintons – predicts for Henwood that Hillary’s 2016 campaign will run itself against the Obama record, depicting it as a “beautiful” but ineffectual and toothless vision in need of revision by a firmer hand. Only a credible figure on the populist left of the Democratic Party, argues Morris, could arrest Hillary Clinton’s march to the White House (as Barack Obama, once believed to be on that wing of the party, did successfully in 2008).

Who knows what will transpire in American politics between now and the 2016 presidential election? But with the current frontrunner for the Democrats a figure decidedly to the right of their current leader (who is hardly the hard left “socialist” his most hysterical critics have branded him), American progressives who are concerned with growing inequality, poverty, and an increasingly hawkish approach abroad should pick up this month’s Harper’s and give Henwood’s essay a read. (Some loud words of encouragement to figures like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Saunders probably wouldn’t hurt either…)

Henwood’s essay “Stop Hillary: Vote No to a Clinton Dynasty” can be read in full here [paywalled]: