It is true that Hillary Clinton has been the victim of relentless and ill-founded attacks by the professional political right. It is true that conspiracy theories abound and are put to constant use by FOX pundits and the right-wing blogosphere to undermine Clinton's credibility. And it is true that over the years Donald Trump and countless other Republican presidential aspirants have lined up to attack Clinton using coded sexist language.
But in the 2016 Democratic Party primary, too many Clinton supporters are using this history to head off criticisms directed at their candidate by Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters, and also those who care about human rights and democracy beyond our country’s borders.
Now I'll be the first to admit that a segment of Sanders supporters suffer from the view that their candidate is a messianic savior. Sanders himself has been consistently insistent that the campaign should not be about him, but rather the ideas he is promoting. Some of his supporters have nonetheless begun picking up on right-wing gossip news to discredit Clinton. And some of them have proved brittle and intransigent in responding to legitimate criticisms of the Senator’s program and outlook. They are wrong to do so.
But Clinton supporters are equally wrong to claim--as do many, including plenty of them who should know better--that any attack on Clinton by the left of the Democratic Party is simply an indication of the stupidity and gullibility of that left, and that Clinton's critics are feeble-minded buffoons who are simply falling for the propaganda of the right-wing attack machine.
That is insulting, disingenuous, and wrong. There are good reasons to be critical of Clinton.
In the first Democratic debate of this season, Clinton met criticisms of serial flip-flopping by saying, "I have a range of views" on a given topic. This moment of clumsiness gets at a real question for many voters: given that Clinton has only recently come along to some crucial positions when it comes to international trade, labor, the environment, and civil rights, can we trust that her conversion is genuine? Do we know what we're getting as an advocate?
Clinton has enriched herself personally by spending a lot of time on Wall Street. There's a certain amount of acculturation that comes along with these kinds of interactions. I don't believe that Clinton doesn't care about the average American, but I do think that she holds some very traditional liberal (in the 19th century or European sense) views about wealth and power that blind her to the potential of using social democratic instruments to create a fairer and more equal society. Her remarks about higher education, for example, ignore a great deal of history, some elementary features of how social contracts work, and the extent to which members of her generation benefited from the framework for public higher education that she derides when she attacks Sanders.
Most critically for me, Clinton has been an enthusiastic participant--as Senator, as Secretary of State, and as presidential candidate--in enshrining a neoconservative foreign policy. Her vote for the Iraq war, her advocacy of escalation in Afghanistan, and her push for regime change across the Middle East suggests a conviction that force and violence are the best policy tools. These actions suggest a belief that the U.S. has the right to re-make the world in its own image. And they suggest a disregard for the consequences of violent intervention, both for the hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and South Asia killed during these interventions, and for the blowback they create for our own country.
Clinton's neoconservatism also involves unrelenting and uncritical support for brutal colonial and dictatorial regimes in different parts of the world, and saw her take the side of the autocrats rather than the democrats during the Arab Spring. Her remarks suggest that she supports a powerful security state that is able to abuse the civil rights of U.S. citizens and evade with extraordinary contempt the supervision of Congress. She has demonized the whistleblowers who have shed light on the activities of that state. Although Clinton has expressed opposition to the use of profiling and indiscriminate violence by police in the U.S., she supports a far more lethal and egregious form of the same practice abroad by backing a drone program that murders large numbers of people without a visible legal process using disposition matrices and profiling.
Clinton has demonstrated great fluency in talking about international policy, a testament to her tenure as Secretary of State. But that record is deeply compromised by her neoconservatism, and she has been chronically unable to translate that fluency into any real depth of thought about how to escape the violent and self-destructive cycles of thought and action in which the U.S. finds itself locked today. Sanders has also failed to develop any coherent foreign policy outlook, but Clinton promises to actively pursue a whole package of self-evidently immoral, flawed, and failed policy agendas in the wider world.
So while I think that Clinton supporters--and Sanders supporters--should push back at every opportunity when the Republican Party launches malicious, sexist, and ill-founded attacks on Clinton's person and record, I think those same supporters need to stop their contemptible mischaracterization of substantive critics of their candidate. If those individuals actually believe that concerns about credibility and worries about a candidate who has openly embraced the neoconservatism and terror of the Bush administration are stupid, ill-founded, and the stuff of right-wing propaganda, they are kidding themselves and doing a disservice to the public and all of the victims, past, present and future, of the imperial foreign policy of Clinton and her fellow neocons.