Updated (again and again and again): Damnation by faint praise: Sanders claims to be more electable than Clinton

Based on early polling, supporters of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary campaign claim that he would be more electable than Hillary Clinton in the general election.[1] Such polling may not be a reliable indication of general election outcomes for a number of reasons,[2] but it’s getting hard to keep track of all the reasons why Sanders’ claimed advantage in electability may merely be damnation by faint praise and even as the mainstream media seem to be dismissing Sanders’ chances,[3] progressives and even some not-so-progressives are pushing back with arguments[4] that amplify and add to the points I began making with this post on January 10, 2016 (updated on January 29, twice on February 29, and on March 6). In addition, while Clinton enjoys considerable support among Blacks, a few have cast doubt on her deservingness of such support.[5]

First, it is increasingly apparent that Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State will, at the very least, raise significant questions about her judgment on national security issues:

On June 16, 2011, top Clinton aide Jake Sullivan wrote to Clinton to say she would get “tps” — presumably short for “talking points” that evening. The subject of the email is redacted so it’s not clear what topic these points covered.

The next morning, Clinton wrote back to say she hadn’t received them yet, and after a few minutes Sullivan responded that staff were having issues sending the document in a secure fax but that they were “working on it.”

“If they can’t,” Clinton replies, “turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure.”

Clinton’s critics are now seizing on the email, and say it shows a disregard of the security of classified information.[6]

“Of 30,000 emails Mrs. Clinton turned over to State, we now know that 2,093 were classified as ‘confidential’ or ‘secret.’ Another 22 were classified ‘top secret’—and State withheld their contents from public release.”[7] And this would include “sensitive national security information on Hillary Clinton’s server that goes beyond the ‘top secret’ level . . . relating to what are known as ‘special access programs.”[8] Apparently, this information “was so sensitive that McCullough and some of his aides had to receive clearance to be read in on it before viewing the sworn declaration about the Clinton emails.”[9] It also includes 104 emails that Clinton herself wrote and which, at least in retrospect, should have been properly marked.[10] The Clinton campaign continues to insist that “[t]his is the same interagency dispute that has been playing out for months, and it does not change the fact that these emails were not classified at the time they were sent or received,”[11] and that the entire controversy is a consequence of endemic overclassification.[12] Worse, “a) Clinton continues to believe that this issue is such a non-issue that it doesn’t even deserve a response and b) maybe because of that belief, she continues to not have a concise response to questions that the email story raises about Americans’ trust and confidence in her.”[13] I have yet to see an explanation for how one agency can see information labeled as “reporting on human intelligence sources in ongoing operations” and therefore as being classified at the highest level[14] while another agency sees it as not a problem at all. Jonathan Turley, who apparently has extensive experience with classified material, continues to insist that all information coming in or out of the Secretary of State’s office is presumptively classified.[15]

The latest release provides fresh evidence that Mrs. Clinton knew her server held national secrets. In one email from April 2012, aide Jake Sullivan forwarded Mrs. Clinton a blog post from a jihadist group. Mrs. Clinton replied: “If not classified or otherwise inappropriate, can you send to the NYTimes reporters who interviewed me today?”

The fact that Mrs. Clinton had to ask if this one was classified suggests she knew that people were sending sensitive information to her unsecure server.[16]

It seems, and has seemed for some time, almost certain that Clinton did indeed violate the law in handling classified information.[17] Whether she gets prosecuted for it is another question, and one that can’t be separated from her relationship with the Obama administration.[18] “A fight over the emails . . . could weaken Democratic enthusiasm and turn off swing voters.”[19]

One excuse we are likely to hear is that Mrs. Clinton shouldn’t be held responsible for others who sent her classified information, as California Senator Dianne Feinstein recently said. In other words, let Mrs. Clinton’s aides take the fall.

But those aides—and the country—wouldn’t be in this mess if Mrs. Clinton hadn’t set up an off-grid account to evade disclosure laws and protect her messages from public scrutiny when she ran for President. Her employees can hardly be blamed for using a system she designed, and Mrs. Clinton was responsible as the senior official for knowing the classification rules.[20]

In addition to investigations by both the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of Clinton’s email setup, “the State Department [has] opened a inquiry regarding the activities of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation during her time time as secretary of state. . . . And that list doesn’t include the myriad looks Congress is taking into Clinton’s time at State.”[21] The latter committee investigations have been going on for years and while I agree at least some of these of dubious value—P. J. Podesta notes that they include “the ill-founded GOP congressional investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attacks”[22]—their longevity adds to a sense that Republicans simply won’t let go regardless of the merits, which is to suggest that a second President Clinton might face yet another Whitewater-style investigation and yes, even possible impeachment.[23]

If you don’t remember the first Whitewater investigation, it was mind-numblingly stupid. Probably most of us who were alive and aware at the time are still shaking our heads about it. Its subject was initially a failed land deal, but it took a detour into, among other affairs, Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual harassment of Paula Jones and his sexual relationship with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky. He was impeached (yes, really!) and acquitted, largely along partisan lines, on allegations he had committed perjury in testimony on his relationships with Jones and Lewinsky,[24] and when it was all over, “[s]ix years and more than $50 million in taxpayer money later, an independent counsel . . . concluded there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton with any criminal wrongdoing.”[25] Surely, even voters sympathetic to Hillary Clinton will not want the country to go through this again.

Voters veer right when worried about “national security,”[26] and Donald Trump seems to have indeed gotten a boost from recent terror attacks.[27] As a woman and a Democrat in a sexist society that tends to view Democrats as “soft on terror” and to associate “toughness” with masculinity, Clinton faces serious handicaps in appealing to people who worry about this issue anyway. The email controversy exacerbates this. At the same time, Clinton loses with the anti-war crowd because her record is hawkish,[28] particularly in her support for the Iraq war.[29] Criminally, she claims a friendship with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.[30]

Clinton just can’t quit him. Even as she is trying to outflank Bernie on his left, Hillary Clinton can’t help but stutter the name of Henry Kissinger. Last night [February 4, 2016] in the New Hampshire debate, Clinton thought to close her argument that she is the true progressive with this: “I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time.”

Let’s consider some of Kissinger’s achievements during his tenure as Richard Nixon’s top foreign policy–maker. He (1) prolonged the Vietnam War for five pointless years; (2) illegally bombed Cambodia and Laos; (3) goaded Nixon to wiretap staffers and journalists; (4) bore responsibility for three genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh; (5) urged Nixon to go after Daniel Ellsberg for having released the Pentagon Papers, which set off a chain of events that brought down the Nixon White House; (6) pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan; (7) began the US’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran; (8) accelerated needless civil wars in southern Africa that, in the name of supporting white supremacy, left millions dead; (9) supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America; and (10) ingratiated himself with the first-generation neocons, such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who would take American militarism to its next calamitous level. Read all about it in Kissinger’s Shadow!

A full tally hasn’t been done, but a back-of-the-envelope count would attribute 3, maybe 4 million deaths to Kissinger’s actions, but that number probably undercounts his victims in southern Africa. Pull but one string from the current tangle of today’s multiple foreign policy crises, and odds are it will lead back to something Kissinger did between 1968 and 1977. Over-reliance on Saudi oil? That’s Kissinger. Blowback from the instrumental use of radical Islam to destabilize Soviet allies? Again, Kissinger. An unstable arms race in the Middle East? Check, Kissinger. Sunni-Shia rivalry? Yup, Kissinger. The impasse in Israel-Palestine? Kissinger. Radicalization of Iran?  “An act of folly” was how veteran diplomat George Ball described Kissinger’s relationship to the Shah. Militarization of the Persian Gulf?  Kissinger, Kissinger, Kissinger.

And yet Clinton continues to call his name, hoping his light bathes her in wisdom.[31]

As of January, 2016, while employment is climbing modestly as a proportion of population, the decline in headline unemployment figures is exaggerated by a declining labor force participation rate. The discrepancy is even larger when people who are completely excluded from the labor force but say they want work now are counted. Graph by David Benfell from Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, public domain.
Fig. 1. As of January, 2016, while employment is climbing modestly as a proportion of population, the decline in headline unemployment figures is exaggerated by a declining labor force participation rate. The discrepancy is even larger when people who are completely excluded from the labor force but say they want work now are counted. Graph by David Benfell from Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, public domain.

Then there’s Wall Street (as a proxy for the wealthy), which has recovered nicely from a recession that many people are still suffering from (figure 1).[32] Clinton stumbled badly in linking her relationship to Wall Street to the 9/11 attacks,[33] especially given an anti-establishment mood among voters, and the perception that she is a Wall Street favorite will surely come back to haunt her.[34] Many people are now poor or on the edge of being poor and are being pushed toward homelessness.[35] Meanwhile, people are justifiably[36] furious about the disproportionate influence of the rich in politics.[37] While the U.S. political system has arguably always been rigged against ordinary people,[38] they seem to be feeling more vulnerable now. By effectively aligning herself with Wall Street, Clinton places herself at the epicenter of frustration not only over the bank bailouts and the Obama administration’s handling of the financial crisis but over the failure of representative politics in general.

Clinton has outrageously claimed that as a woman, she is the ultimate “outsider” in politics,[39] and I’ve already noted above that her gender may count against her on “national security.” Even her bulwark of support among older feminists may be diminishing[40] and younger women who share in the anti-establishment mood seem somewhat less enthusiastic,[41] drawing criticism from Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright that backfired badly in suggesting that “[t]here’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”[42] and that younger women were going where the ‘boys’ are.[43] Allegations that Clinton effectively “enables” her husband’s misbehavior, including an allegation of rape, should further diminish this support[44] and it appears likely that Republicans will seek to exploit this.[45]

Hillary Clinton’s mudslinging and slut-shaming campaigns against women who claimed to have had consensual sex with her husband are well documented. In his memoir, George Stephanopoulos, quotes Hillary Clinton as saying of one such woman, “We have to destroy her story.” Hillary biographer Carl Bernstein describes Hillary directing an “aggressive, explicit” campaign to discredit Gennifer Flowers, an actress who said she had a long affair with Bill Clinton. She referred to Flowers as “trailer trash.” In a tough 2008 essay for Slate, Melinda Henneberger and Dahlia Lithwick wrote that Clinton “consistently relates to and protects and stands with the oppressors in the gender wars … she invariably sees [Bill] as the victim, preyed upon by a series of female aggressors.”[46]

Maureen Dowd adds,

The interesting thing about the spectacle of older women trying to shame younger ones on behalf of Hillary is that Hillary and Bill killed the integrity of institutional feminism back in the ’90s — with the help of Albright and Steinem.

Instead of just admitting that he had had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and taking his lumps, Bill lied and hid behind the skirts of his wife and female cabinet members, who had to go out before the cameras and vouch for his veracity, even when it was apparent he was lying.

Seeing Albright, the first female secretary of state, give cover to President Clinton was a low point in women’s rights. As was the New York Times op-ed by Steinem, arguing that Lewinsky’s will was not violated, so no feminist principles were violated. What about Clinton humiliating his wife and daughter and female cabinet members? What about a president taking advantage of a gargantuan power imbalance with a 22-year-old intern? What about imperiling his party with reckless behavior that put their feminist agenda at risk?[47]

Clinton’s claim to be an “outsider” is further hurt by the appearance that the Democratic Party establishment is tilting the primary contest in her favor.[48] Clinton sometimes seems to be uninterested in the progressive vote,[49] which should warn progressives that a President Clinton might be even less receptive to their agenda than the hippie-punching Obama administration.[50] To the extent that progressives turn out to vote in November, they may indeed well vote for Clinton on the grounds that “the other guy is worse.” But there is a significant risk (I would say a probability) that they will not do so enthusiastically and, more to the point, may not turn out to vote in the numbers that Democrats tend to need to prevail.[51]

What all this amounts to is that the only reason that Clinton should have any credibility as a presidential candidate is a perception mostly unsupported by evidence[52] that she is more electable than whomever the Republican Party selects (probably Trump[53]) out of a cast of far right-wing crazy characters. But the Democratic Party now appears more interested in nominating Clinton than in winning in November.

  1. [1]Brent Budowsky, “In new shock poll, Sanders has landslides over both Trump and Bush,” Hill, November 11, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/presidential-campaign/259812-in-new-shock-poll-sanders-has-landslides-over-both; Jesse Byrnes, “Poll: Sanders more electable than Hillary against top Republicans,” Hill, December 2, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/261756-poll-sanders-more-electable-than-hillary-against-top; Kyle Cheney, “Sanders: I’m more electable than Clinton,” Politico, January 10, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/bernie-sanders-hillary-clinton-217554; H. A. Goodman, “Almost Every Major Poll Shows Bernie Sanders Challenging or Defeating Clinton and Republicans. Here’s Why,” Huffington Post, August 5, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/h-a-goodman/almost-every-major-poll-shows-bernie-sanders_b_7937906.html; Zaid Jilani, “Latest National Poll Shows Bernie Sanders Beating Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush,” Alternet, July 27, 2015, http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/latest-national-poll-shows-bernie-sanders-beating-scott-walker-donald-trump-jeb-bush; Real Clear Politics, “2016 Presidential Race,” n.d., http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/2016_presidential_race.html
  2. [2]Jeff Stein, “Bernie Sanders fans insist he’s more electable than Hillary Clinton. Are they right?” Vox, March 4, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/3/4/11158110/bernie-sanders-electability-clinton
  3. [3]Adam Johnson, “Hillary is anything but ‘inevitable’: The political press is lying to you about her delegate lead,” Salon, February 25, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/02/25/hillary_is_far_from_inevitable_stop_counting_her_bogus_delegate_lead_partner/
  4. [4]Maria Bustillos, “You don’t have to be a bro to support Bernie Sanders,” Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0210-bustillos-female-bernie-voter-20160210-story.html; Maureen Dowd, “When Hillary Clinton Killed Feminism,” New York Times, February 13, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/14/opinion/sunday/when-hillary-clinton-killed-feminism.html; Liza Featherstone, “Hillary Clinton’s Faux Feminism,” Truthout, February 28, 2016, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/35006-hillary-clinton-s-faux-feminism; Donna Smith, “An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton from One Progressive Woman,” Common Dreams, January 23, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/23/open-letter-hillary-clinton-one-progressive-woman; Eliza Webb, “Hillary Clinton has a race problem — and it’s resurfacing at a dangerous time,” Salon, February 26, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/02/26/hillary_clinton_has_a_race_problem_and_its_resurfacing_at_a_dangerous_time/;
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  18. [18]David Benfell, “Two thumbs on two scales,” Not Housebroken, December 19, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8456
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  23. [23]Bill Blum, “Could a President Hillary Clinton Be Impeached Over Her Emails?” Truthdig, February 9, 2016, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/could_a_president_hillary_clinton_be_impeached_over_her_emails_20160209
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  26. [26]Michael Lerner, “Why the Right Keeps Winning and the Left Keeps Losing,” Tikkun, November 10, 2014, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/why-the-right-keeps-winning-and-the-left-keeps-losing
  27. [27]Jonathan Martin and Dalia Sussman, “Fear of Terrorism Lifts Donald Trump in New York Times/CBS Poll,” New York Times, December 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/11/us/politics/fear-of-terrorism-lifts-donald-trump-in-new-york-times-cbs-poll.html
  28. [28]Medea Benjamin, “Hillary Clinton Hasn’t Learned a Thing From the Iraq Experience,” Truthdig, October 29, 2015, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/hillary_clinton_hasnt_learned_a_thing_from_iraq_20151029; Jackson Lears, “We came, we saw, he died,” review of Hard Choices, by Hillary Clinton, and HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, London Review of Books 37, no. 3 (February 5, 2015), pp. 8-11, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n03/jackson-lears/we-came-we-saw-he-died; Kelly J. O’Brien, “Answers to all the questions journalists might have about Hillary Clinton’s emails,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 5, 2015, http://www.cjr.org/analysis/answers_to_all_the_questions_journalists_might_have_about_hillary_clintons_emails.php; Niall Stanage and Amie Parnes, “Edging right, Clinton seeks distance from Obama on ISIS,” Hill, November 24, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/261157-clinton-seeks-distance-from-obama-on-isis; Josh Voorhees, “Why Hillary Clinton Has Moved So Far and So Fast to the Left,” Slate, June 8, 2015, http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/06/08/hillary_clinton_runs_left_why_the_democratic_frontrunner_is_embracing_the.html; Stephen Zunes, “Hillary the Hawk,” Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Winter, 2016, http://www.thecairoreview.com/essays/hillary-the-hawk/
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