What I Learned From Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened.”

There were quite a few people upon learning of the release of Hillary Clinton’s new book who vowed to not read it “on principle.”  I was not one of those people.   There is value in getting Hillary Clinton’s perspective on the election, even though what I was hoping for with the book was a detailed account of how her campaign made the decisions that she did and how she felt about it now.  (I did not get that.)

There are many things that I agree with Hillary Clinton on.   Yes, the Comey letter was ridiculous and possibly tipped the election, yes she has been the victim of right wing conspiracy theories for decades, yes Trump is a bigoted and misogynistic fascist demagogue, and finally,  yes, Hillary Clinton would have made an infinitely better president than Trump could ever hope to be in his wildest dreams.

Her book begins with a chapter on how she felt the day she lost the election and then continues with a second chapter about how she felt.  Don’t worry, the book will later include a chapter about the night of the election so you can learn about how she felt about it a third time.   There is very little policy in the book.  It is mostly about how she personally felt about things we all saw happen last year.  So in order to learn anything there had to be at least a little reading between the lines, but what Hillary Clinton says can be rather illuminating.

Taking Money From Wall Street and Banks is No Big Deal

There are a few parts of the book where Hillary Clinton praises Bernie Sanders.  It is usually when he said something nice about her, or when he rightly calls out the media for concentrating on her “damn emails.”  One thing she said she appreciated was a conversation between her and Senator Sanders where he promised not to stoop to personal attacks on her or her family.  We all know what Sanders meant by that (cough…Monica Lewinsky…cough) but Hillary took it as a promise to ignore her donation history too and she is angry that Bernie broke that promise.

Hillary Clinton has two defenses.  The first is that Bernie Sanders could not name a single time she had switched positions on an issue during a debate.  It is important to note that many supporters of Sanders criticize him of this as well, but for completely different reasons.  The cases where Clinton switched positions due to financial pressures from lobbyists are obvious and many believe that if Sanders had hit her hard on this issue he would have hobbled her and he would have won.   Clinton apparently agrees with this assessment because she thinks even without it Sanders did so much damage to her that she could not beat Donald Trump.

Her second defense, which she used in the debates, is that Obama took more money from Wall Street than any other candidate ever in 2008.   It is a curious defense when we consider Obama’s attacks on her in 2008, but we also have to consider the fact that Obama’s financial reform was lighter than Glass-Steagall, which Hillary’s husband repealed.  Senator Elizabeth Warren gives an account of her role in Dodd-Frank in her book A Fighting Chance and she portrays a President Obama who wanted to do some kind of reform, but had to be pushed by people like herself and Barney Frank to even make the bill as tough as it was.

Clinton does admit that her speeches were “bad optics” in her book, but doesn’t ever address any of the numerously problematic things she said in those speeches.

Compromise Is Good But Not When Bernie Sanders Does it

When it comes to Bernie’s stance against taking corporate money, Clinton sees this as simply an unreasonable stance.  She simultaneously claims she is against Citizen’s United, and that money in politics does not influence the votes of Democrats, and if you can untangle the logic knot of that position be my guest.

Bernie Sanders DOES take some pragmatic stances because despite how his critics portray him his goal is to revolutionize the Democratic Party and American Politics in general and the logistics of that task is important.  In his book, Our Revolution, Sanders outlines exactly how we do this.  A big part of his strategy is to expand Democratic territory into rural areas and the South, by highlighting the ways Republicans have tricked working class white voters to vote against their own interests AND by fighting voter suppression and disinterest in minority communities that feel ignored.

Clinton attacks Sanders for doing just that when he campaigned for Heath Mello for Mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.  The sticking point was that Mello is not pro-choice.  By contrast, Hillary Clinton thought it was perfectly fine to pick Tim Kaine as her running mate, who has had a strong record in the senate, but had a horrendous record on abortion as governor of Virginia.

Clinton also used this same tact to attack Sanders about gun control.  There are three issues that have come up.  The first, is that Sanders voted against the Brady Bill on five separate occasions while he was in the house of representatives, because his state was against waiting periods.

The other two issues were that Sanders had voted that people be allowed to check their guns in their carry on luggage while boarding Amtrak trains and he voted against victims of gun violence being able to sue gun manufacturers.  In terms of the latter position, this is the rare case of Clinton being “more extreme” than Sanders and he being more pragmatic.  I tend to agree with Sanders, that allowing people to sue because a product they manufactured was used to kill people and there was no negligence on the manufacturer’s part, opens up a whole new can of worms.

In truth, there is a conversation to be had about what Sanders is and is not willing to compromise on.    However, the way Clinton uses it is to portray him as a pie and the sky huckster who tried to sell people on false promises in order to slander her.

Hillary Clinton’s Story is Every Woman’s Story.

Early in her book, Hillary Clinton talks about her own story not being as inspiring as her husband’s or Barack Obama’s.  So in order to counteract this she emphasized how her story was that of the woman’s movement.  Boy did she ever!  The so-called “Bernie Bro” was a myth cooked up by the Clinton team the same way they used Obama Boys in the 2008 campaign.   As somebody who campaigned for Obama in 2008, I had a lot of run-ins with aggressive Clinton supporters who hurled personal insults at me.  They were a minority, and at the time I didn’t think it was a coordinated effort, but when this time they paid trolls to attack Sanders supporters online, I got wise to it.

Let me be clear, Clinton has no doubt encountered a lot of misogyny and sexism in her life.  Compare her book to that of Elizabeth Warren though, who in her book A Fighting Chance details how her own mother discouraged her from going to college because she wouldn’t be able to find a husband, and how she experienced sexism as both a lawyer and a politician.  With Warren, this is part of her story, for Hillary Clinton it is the WHOLE story.

Later in her book Clinton admits that she may have talked about race too much, playing into Donald Trump’s hands.  She never mentions that she might have talked about gender too much.  Though she mentions her slogan “Stronger Together” many times, this one was hardly used on the campaign.  The slogan that was used was “I’m With Her” which will probably go down as one of the worst campaign slogans in politics.  It would be as if Obama had made his slogan, “Once you go black.”

Hillary Clinton’s narrative is an inherently feminist one if you buy the idea that all feminism is about is women being ambitious and successful.  Hillary buys this herself because she says in her book that many Republican women are feminists.  I guess this is all fine, but it never occurred to Clinton that even many women who considered themselves feminists would find this ridiculous and  wouldn’t take kindly to being insulted.  In his book, Listen Liberal, historian Thomas Frank criticizes Clinton for arranging a International Woman’s Day event that celebrated female entrepreneurs when the holiday has its roots in labor movements, illustrating the disconnect perfectly.

Then there was the issue of her husband’s sex scandals.  People would make the case that she should not be judged by her husband’s transgressions, or that comparing Bill Clinton and Trump was a false equivalence, but that didn’t matter.  By leaning so hard on the idea that Bernie Sanders supporters were misogynists and Trump was even worse, she invited people to remember and reflect on those things.  Democrats had no problem voting for Bill Clinton despite his sex scandals and as such Republicans had licence to not care about Trump’s transgressions.  It may not have been right, but the point is Hillary Clinton was not the best person to make that case.

The Clintons Are Not Responsible For Their Own Actions.

One telling part of the book is where Clinton talks about Black Lives Matter.  The beginning of this chapter is somewhat moving and hits all the right notes.  It then segues into gun control and finally ends with a volley of attacks at Bernie Sanders.  I’m not sure if Clinton only talked about Black Lives Matters as a means to attack Sanders but it sure reads that way, and I was aghast at how cynical it came off.

However, I have already covered Clinton’s attacks at Sanders.  What is most troubling about this chapter is Clinton is frustrated with the Black Lives Matters protesters for asking her to take personal responsibility for all the things the Clinton’s have done to black people.   Hillary focuses on the crime bill, which she points out both Bill Clinton has said was a mistake and Bernie Sanders voted for.   The crime bill is a complicated issue, and yes, pretty much everybody was on board at the time and even some Republicans have claimed that voting for it was a mistake.  However, even though Hillary Clinton pledged to end private prisons the not taking responsibility part is disturbing.

Clinton begins her book with a quote by Harriet Tubman and holds herself up as a fighter for racial justice.  I think she means it now. However, not facing the past head on is a real problem, and one Clinton seems to think is unreasonable for her critics to expect.

Losing the Midwest Was Not Hillary’s Fault

One of the big criticisms that Hillary Clinton got was that she didn’t campaign enough in the “rust belt.”  Clinton lost six states that Barack Obama won in 2012, and five of those states were in the Midwest.  Clinton dismisses this accusation as a load of crap.  She does admit that she did not campaign enough in Wisconsin but the reason for this is because the data she had showed them they had a solid lead in the state.  So why did she lose those states?   She lost because of third party voters.

The only data point Clinton uses to support this is that Donald Trump got less votes in Wisconsin than Mitt Romney did in 2012.  Let’s take note of a couple things.  First, Trump did better than Romney nationally and more importantly did better than Romney in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Florida.    If Jill Stein had not been in the race, the only two states that would have been effected, making the huge assumption that every single Stein voter would have switched to Clinton, would have been Michigan and Wisconsin.  In that scenario Trump still would have won.

Rachel Maddow hilariously made the claim that if all of Stein voters and half of Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson’s voters had voted for Hillary Clinton than she would have won.  The problem with this is obvious.  If the other half of Gary Johnson voters voted Trump they would cancel each other out and Trump still would have won.  Hillary Clinton makes the claims she would have won if not for third party voters as if it is obvious and mentions Gore losing New Hampshire and Florida in 2000 due to Ralph Nader.  Many people have pointed out the problem with this hypothesis before, that we simply do not have any data about the “second choices” of Nader voters and just assume it would be Gore because we assume that all voters think in the left-right binary that politics is usually presented in.  But even if we assume that the narrative about Nader in 2000 is correct, Gary Johnson  was the “spoiler” in 2016, not Jill Stein and some have even predicted without him in the race it was possible Trump could have won the popular vote.

Here is another idea.   My theory is that it has something to do with trade deals, that were very unpopular in those Midwest states and Trump had been hammering Clinton on while campaigning there.  In her book, Hillary Clinton doesn’t mention NAFTA or TPP even once which are pretty stunning omissions for a book that is supposed to be concerned with why she lost the Midwest that Obama won four years earlier.

It Is All Russia’s Fault

Okay, Russia did interfere with the election by trolling online and spreading conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton.  That is what is known for certain.  Did Russia hack voting systems and machines in the 2016 election?  The answer is there is no evidence to support this whatsoever.

Hillary Clinton herself has admitted that what Russia did was not any different than what the Koch Brothers do.  If Russia hacked voting machines are registrations then this is a major story.  That is why the press keeps running stories implying this constantly despite having nothing hard to back this up.  There isn’t even hard evidence that John Podesta’s emails where hacked by Russians and given to wiki leaks.  Even if they were, there is nothing in the wikileaks emails that anybody has claimed was falsified.

Hillary Clinton’s book paints a picture of a vast conspiracy between Russia, Trump and Jill Stein to give the election to Trump.  Why it was Jill Stein who funded recounts in those key Midwest states is never explained.  If Trump colluded with Russia this is an impeachable offense, but this isn’t even the only thing that congress has grounds to impeach Trump for.  It is, however, the only one that can be used to make the case that losing to Trump was not Hillary Clinton’s fault.