Why is Hil­lary so un­pop­u­lar?

Half-truths, his­tory dam­age highly qual­i­fied can­di­date

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Thomas Walkom’s col­umn ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

Repub­li­cans loath her. Democrats sus­pect her. Polls show her to be one of the most un­pop­u­lar pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­tory. What is it about Hil­lary Clin­ton? In the­ory, the Demo­cratic Party’s pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee for the United States pres­i­dency should be golden. She is ex­pe­ri­enced. She is moder­ate.

A cen­tre-right Demo­crat, she strad­dles the class di­vide — with sup­port from or­ga­nized labour as well as Wall Street. On for­eign af­fairs she’s a lib­eral hawk in the tra­di­tion of Woodrow Wil­son and John F. Kennedy. When Barack Obama praised her as the most qual­i­fied pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee ever, he wasn’t far off. Still, she is strug­gles.

Dur­ing the pri­maries, she had a hard time shak­ing off a chal­lenge from Bernie San­ders, a self-de­clared so­cial­ist who had only re­cently joined the Demo­cratic Party.

On the eve of the Demo­cratic con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia that will for­mally name her the party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, polls have her neck and neck with the even more un­pop­u­lar Don­ald Trump.

Clin­ton has long been con­tro­ver­sial. As first lady to pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, she played an unusu­ally vis­i­ble role in govern­ment, in par­tic­u­lar mas­ter­mind­ing a health care re­form pack­age that ul­ti­mately failed.

The Clin­tons’ time in the White House was marked by a se­ries of so-called scan­dals with names like White­wa­ter and Trav­el­gate which, for most peo­ple, have long van­ished into the mists of time. An in­de­pen­dent pros­e­cu­tor later con­cluded that Hil­lary Clin­ton had done noth­ing wrong in any of th­ese.

None­the­less, they dam­aged her. Crit­ics were un­able to pierce Bill Clin­ton’s glad­hand­ing pop­u­lar­ity. But Hil­lary was eas­ier prey. By the time the Clin­tons left the White House, a no­tion — not en­tirely with­out merit — had taken root in the pub­lic mind that she some­times skirted the truth.

To­day the Repub­li­cans blame Hil­lary Clin­ton for ev­ery for­eign pol­icy mis­take of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. And it is true that Clin­ton, as Obama’s sec­re­tary of state, bears some re­spon­si­bil­ity for the 2011 war against Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi that left that coun­try in chaos.

But it’s also true those years from 2009 to 2013 marked a high point for Clin­ton’s pop­u­lar­ity. In­deed, it was only af­ter the lat­est scan­dal — her use of a pri­vate server to host govern­ment emails — broke in 2015 that her poll num­bers be­gan to col­lapse again.

On the face of it, the email scan­dal should have ap­pealed only to IT buffs. Her stated and very plau­si­ble mo­tive for us­ing a pri­vate cell­phone on govern­ment busi­ness was that she didn’t want to carry two mo­bile de­vices.

How­ever, this was Hil­lary Clin­ton. Once again, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched. Once again, she was cleared of crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing (al­though not of bad judg­ment) — this time by the FBI. A House in­ves­ti­ga­tion into another soi-dis­ant Clin­ton scan­dal — her role in the 2012 at­tack on a U.S. con­sulate in Libya that killed four Amer­i­cans — found no ev­i­dence of neg­li­gence on her part.

But both con­tretemps served to reawaken the old doubts. In May, one poll of Amer­i­cans found, to no one’s sur­prise 50 per cent of Repub­li­cans found her un­trust­wor­thy. More alarm­ingly for Clin­ton, it found 39 per cent of Democrats polled held the same view.

Now she is in Trump’s crosshairs. There are only two themes to his cam­paign. The first is that the U.S. is in dire trou­ble. The sec­ond is that Hil­lary Clin­ton is a crim­i­nal. The fact that “lock her up” be­came the defin­ing chant of last week’s Re­pub­li­can con­ven­tion was al­most cer­tainly no ac­ci­dent.

Does she de­serve all the op­pro­brium? Prob­a­bly not. On a truth scale, she may not score 100. But she does bet­ter than Trump.

So what is it about Hil­lary? Michael Arnovitz, a blog­ger from Ore­gon, sifts through the ev­i­dence and con­cludes that, in large part, she is pay­ing the po­lit­i­cal price of be­ing a strong wo­man play­ing what is tra­di­tion­ally viewed as a man’s game.

It’s hard to imag­ine that this could be true in 2016, in a world that has lion­ized lead­ers like Mar­garet Thatcher, An­gela Merkel, Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi.

But I con­fess I can’t think of any­thing else.

THOMAS WALKOM

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