Leading up to the election last November, I was all-in on Hillary Clinton. This was due in equal measure to her impressive résumé as a career public servant, her capabilities as a politician, and her vision for America’s future. It also helped that, unlike a lot of people my age, I never fully bought into the notion that Bernie Sanders was a better candidate, even though Bernie’s views are far more closely aligned with my own than Hillary’s were. Many of Bernie’s proposals sounded wonderful, but they also demonstrated either a) an overabundance of wishful thinking, or b) a lack of pragmatism, neither of which are typically qualities I look for in a President. Sure, free college for everyone sounds wonderful, but with a Republican-majority Congress – one that doesn’t even see fit to allocate any money to keep people, y’know, alive – it’s a pipe dream. And while Hillary’s proposals were derided for not thinking big enough, in all likelihood, she had much higher odds of passing some of her more moderate legislation than Bernie would have if he were elected.
But it didn’t matter. She lost anyway.
For a few months after the election, I was in a state of disbelief. I, like a lot of people, hoped against hope that some damning information about Trump would come out that would disqualify him from the presidency; when none came, Hillary and I went our separate ways. I accepted that Trump was President and started to keep an eye on where the Democratic Party would go next, and she took some time off to recover from the campaign and wander around the forest.
Then she came back; for the sake of everybody’s sanity, I wish she hadn’t.
I am not particularly interested in re-litigating the 2016 election. There are plenty of detailed postmortems out there for those who wish to read them, but at this point, they’re not particularly useful except as a historical record of how things went so wrong last November. You could blame Hillary’s loss on any number of things: James Comey’s letter, Hillary not campaigning in Wisconsin, “but her emails” – the list goes on and on. And, sure, these were all preventable errors by Hillary or her campaign (or, in the case of the Comey letter, just plain bad luck), but all of those things by themselves weren’t enough to sink her campaign; even combined, Hillary probably could still have overcome them. The reason she lost is more simple than that: a lot of voters just didn’t like her.
That’s not to say that they actively disliked her, per se, but she didn’t do much to endear herself to people who weren’t already sold on her. She wasn’t a lovable old crank like Bernie, nor was she a loudmouthed, preening, anthropomorphic pile of discarded Andrew Dice Clay jokes wrapped in an American flag (made in China) like Trump. She was just…there, remaining somewhat above the fray and positioning herself as The Qualified One, The One Who Can Get Things Done. Some of that was deliberate; Hillary couldn’t get away with saying the kinds of things Trump did, and when she tried (like with her “basket of deplorables” comment), it backfired horribly.
The rest of it, though, centered around the fact that for all her political experience, Hillary isn’t a particularly interesting or galvanizing figure; what’s worse, she’s genuinely awful at connecting with people. It’s been 25 years since Hillary entered the national spotlight, and we know just as much about her as a person now as we did in 1992; hell, I like her and I can’t think of a single interesting fact about her. And, yes, presidential elections should be about the issues and not a personality contest, but a good leader needs to inspire people. When you can’t do in 25 years in the public eye what Bernie was able to do in 10 months, you might want to recalibrate the way you present yourself to the world.
Hillary seemed to realize it, too: there were plenty of attempts throughout the campaign to make more likeable or relatable, but they all came off as forced and pandering, because that’s not how Hillary approaches politics. She’s always been more concerned with actual policy than she is with political optics. That’s admirable, and in a just world, more politicians would take her approach.
But nobody was asking for her to keep a video diary on Snapchat or for her to film a reality show about life on the campaign trail; they just wanted to be reassured that Hillary was human, that she had a personality, that she cared about things because she has passions and not because focus-group data indicated that she should. A simple fix would have been for Hillary to say, honestly and earnestly, “I didn’t get into politics because I wanted to be famous – I got into politics because I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.” That would have done a hell of a lot more to humanize her than doing the Whip on “Ellen,” or making a cameo on “Broad City” (where all of her dialogue was just a stump speech in conversation format), or mentioning how much she loves hot sauce on Power 105. It’s not too much to ask of a potential leader of the free world that they demonstrate some semblance of a personality.
Following her return from Woodland Creature Fantasy Camp, Hillary stepped back into the public eye, first at Trump’s inauguration, then with a handful of speaking arrangements. At the time, I didn’t mind; she’d just been dealt a crushing defeat in a very winnable election, and I understood the impulse for her to show everyone that she was bouncing back (and that, by extension, we could too). And yet, despite her initial insistence that “a political return was far from the top of her mind,” reports started trickling in about what Hillary planned to do next, even though nobody really seemed all that interested- there were far more pressing and immediate issues at hand than the redemption tour of possibly the only Democratic politician in America who could lose a general election to Donald Trump.
One of the biggest criticisms with the traditional/centrist Democratic Party is that it is out of touch, that it tries so hard to appeal to everybody that it ends up satisfying nobody. It does so by seizing on what it thinks people should want rather than what they actually do, and by paying lip service to liberal ideology while working in reality towards more moderate legislative goals. Hillary’s loss was proof positive to many liberals that the Democratic Party as presently constructed needs to die, and in its place must rise a truly liberal party that embraces the convictions it claims to hold and has no qualms about setting itself in stark contrast to the right-wing conservatism of the Republican Party. The new Democratic Party, the thinking goes, must be proudly, unabashedly liberal – no more bipartisanship for its own sake; no more mealy-mouthed speeches and platforms that rarely result in tangible progress; no more meaningless, “catchy” slogans dreamed up by boring people for the purpose of “going viral” and not much else; no more timid legislation that only serves to inch society forward because the threat of failure is too frightening to bear.
So naturally, with her cosmic inability to read the goddamn room, Hillary Clinton tried to jump right back in the driver’s seat, announcing that she’s “back to being an activist citizen and part of the resistance” and outlining her plan to start a new PAC, which will likely be called “Onward Together.” First, this is exactly the kind of tone-deaf response to popular sentiment that only Hillary could muster. “Hey everyone, I’m here to join the #resistance! I brought my pussy hat annnnnnnd…a massive fundraising arm that’s often cited as one of the major problems with politics today! Let’s take a selfie!” Second, if Trump’s election taught us anything, it’s that people are fed up with establishment politicians and want to shift the government in a new direction – there is no quicker way to make people lose interest in a movement than by having it co-opted by the establishment. Nevertheless…she persisted. (Speaking of, Hillary’s new catchphrase – and I applaud her ongoing effort to make just one of these godawful things take off – is “Resist, Insist, Persist, Enlist.” It’s only four words, but it somehow feels like the most overwritten slogan in human history.)
The Democratic Party no longer benefits from the presence of the Clintons. This includes Chelsea, last seen coyly pretending she’s not going to pursue a career in politics while surreptitiously gauging public interest in her political career. (“Who, me? Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it! But that’s very kind of you to say that I’d be wonderful at it…wellllll…maybe I can be persuaded!”) They have become a symbol of many of the worst characteristics of politics: the pandering; the malleability of their beliefs according to which way the political winds are blowing; the attempts to harness populist sentiment for their own gains; the belief that political power is theirs by right. It would have been incredible to see Hillary Clinton elected President on November 8th, and I believe now – as I did then – that she would have done a wonderful job. But her window of opportunity has closed; it’s time for her to step away from politics and allow the Democratic Party to evolve without her.