Hillary Clinton is the most powerful woman in US politics, and she also plays a critical role in US culture and history. In some senses, she’s an aspirational figure for many American women — her career is impressive, she’s done some pretty amazing things, and she’s spent much of her life in public service. As Senator and Secretary of State she pushed through huge social changes and critical negotiations while being constantly attacked by simple virtue of being a woman in power.
I’m often told that liberals should support her simply because she’s a woman, that women in particular should vote for Clinton because of what she represents. I’m also told that attacking Hillary in any way is sexist — that criticising her policies or delving into a discussion of what she’s done and what her comments suggest about what she will do is equivalent to trashing her because of how she looks, because she’s a woman, because of her hair or age or anything else. It’s a curious dichotomy: I can be a good liberal and support her wholeheartedly, or I can make critical commentary and be an evil sexist monster.
Life isn’t that simple. Politics aren’t that simple. Hillary Clinton is a human being, and while she has liberal leanings, her liberality is by no means mine. She’s much more moderate, and in many senses she’s actually more conservative than Barack Obama — remember, the president who’s disappointing liberals because he’s not liberal enough? Those who think that Hillary is going to magically solve a slew of social problems and usher in a new world for US liberalism might want to think again, because her actions, and her policy statements, speak otherwise.
Hillary Clinton supports the death penalty. I do not. That’s a pretty fundamental issue for me in US politics — I do not believe that we should be murdering people in the name of the state. I do not believe in the summary executions performed by police on the streets of the United States nearly every day, and I do not believe in the formalized dance of death chambers in many states. Multiple states have banned the death penalty, and there’s an overall trend against it, because it’s a blotch on who we are and who we should be as a nation. I have a hard time imagining that I will ever vote for a candidate who favours murdering people, no matter how ‘progressive’ that candidate might be.
Clinton also supports faith-based initiatives, a controversial component of the Bush presidency. They were controversial because they’re a pile of garbage. The state is abrogating its responsibility to care for the most vulnerable in society by suggesting that religious organisations should handle issues like poverty and homelessness. This isn’t just a fiscally inefficient way to provide social services. It’s a repugnant one. The charity model does not work. Suggesting that the state shouldn’t bear responsibility for ensuring that everyone in this country has an equal chance is repulsive. Moreover, many faith-based initiatives come with serious strings attached for ‘beneficiaries,’ like being forced to listen to a Bible lesson to get services, being refused for being gay or trans, or being forced to abide by ‘Christian values’ in order to receive food or housing.
Historically, Clinton has supported three strikes laws, and while her position has evolved over the years, her commentaries have been muddy and unclear. She admitted that our justice system is significantly flawed when it was politically convenient, but what does she really think? Mandatory sentencing of this nature is cruel, oppressive, and, again, not cost efficient. Our prisons are overcrowded and entire communities are being torn apart by mandatory minimums and three strikes laws — do you really want to elect a president who supports such laws? Especially in a landscape where a growing number of states ranging from true blue California to dark red Texas are reforming prison and legal policy to address mandatory minimums, admitting that they don’t work?
Hillary Clinton is a hawk — even conservatives think of her as a neoconservative. She’s far more likely to be an interventionist president, dispatching troops much more readily than Obama did. As backing, she’ll have the human rights record and legacy of her husband’s years in the White House. If Jeb Bush does it, it’s Iraq all over again. If Clinton does it, it’s Bosnia or Rwanda, a brave stance against human rights violations. It’s something to think about as political tensions surrounding Russia and North Korea escalate. Do we want to be dealing with problems in the Middle East (an issue Obama will not be able to resolve) while also taking on two additional nations? ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia’ is no joke.
Clinton also hasn’t exactly indicated that she’d take a tough stance on Wall Street and financial regulation, issues that are still pressing. We may have emerged from the ‘recession,’ but, oddly enough, the economy still looks pretty fucked from here, and I’m far from the only one who is not convinced that Clinton will be able to address the issue. She’s heavily tied with the industry, and that makes it difficult if not impossible for her to take a fair, balanced, and aggressive stance in the war against abuses of the system.
Clinton is walking a political tightrope. With the nationwide swing to the right, she needs to appear just moderate to right enough to grab undecided voters, without alienating liberal ones too much — and much of her platform may rest on the confidence that liberal voters will support her over whatever horrific alternative the Republicans put forth. She may be right, and she may win on these grounds, but the question is: Are those policy statements you’re so confident are a little fudged or overstated to appeal to conservatives so untrue?
Image: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Talk Radio News Service, Flickr