Last week, Senator Kristen Gillibrand told the New York Times that Bill Clinton should have resigned in the wake of his affair with then-22 year old White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Bill Clinton’s legacy has been questioned recently given the various accusations of sexual harassment and assault he’s faced during his political career — which is viewed in particularly harsh light by the recent spotlight on prominent perpetrators of sexual misconduct.
Longtime Clinton Aide Philippe Reines lashed out at Gillibrand for the remark and Politico reported several Democratic figures were uncomfortable with her criticism of a “beloved figure.” Hillary Clinton swiftly pushed back in an interview on WABC radio. “That was a painful time not only in our marriage but in our country,” she said. “But it was investigated fully, it was addressed at the time, he was held accountable. That is very different than what people seem to be remembering from that period.”
This historical revisionism afforded to the Clintons, from ignoring Bill Clinton’s own improprieties and failed neoliberal policies, to the constant excuses and scapegoats pushed under the bus by Hillary Clinton in regards to the 2016 election loss, frame the Clintons as celebrities rather than politicians. This shielding from criticism continues to serve as political ammunition for Republicans, who pivot to the Clintons to distract from their own transgressions.
The Clintons are no longer in political office, but Trump and Republicans continue to use Bill and Hillary as political punching bags to represent the Democratic Party and the left. Democrats need to stop wading into the battle by blindly defending the Clintons. That only serves the party establishment in its efforts to deflect calls for reform and its attempt to conflate criticism from progressives with that from the Republican Party.
Bill Clinton was not a good president for working class, middle class, and low income Americans. He presided over expanded mass incarceration through the 1994 crime bill, and increased poverty through welfare reform. He exploited the death penalty as a campaign tactic and sanctioned bribery in his post-presidency through exorbitant corporate speaking fees. His administration helped catalyze the opioid epidemic, he deregulated Wall Street by repealing Glass-Steagall and signing the Commodities Futures Modernization Act.
Hillary Clinton was not a good presidential candidate—a fact that should be obvious by her loss to the seemingly unelectable Donald Trump. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are disproportionately focused on in Clinton’s election autopsy because these states are her closest losses, but this framing is misleading because it misses just how many voters and states the Democratic Party lost in the 2016 election.
Clinton lost six states that Obama won in 2012: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and Iowa — and add North Carolina if you look at what Obama won in 2008.
Criticism of the electoral college, voter suppression and undemocratic voting laws are worthy of discussion, but they should be dealt with in the context of expanding democracy around the country, not as a way of explaining a big loss. Yet the Democratic Party has obstructed calls to enact such reforms in its own primaries and in many states where they hold the political power to do so.
The books “Shattered” and “Hacks” — the latter ex-DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile’s memoir — document the Clinton campaign’s arrogance and ineptitude from an insider perspective. But blind idolization of the Clintons remains prevalent in the Democratic Party.
The Clintons are the political opponents that Trump and Republicans dream of. On November 18, the president mocked Hillary by urging her to run again in 2020. This tactic helps him maintain core support even as his overall approval ratings continue to slip — and it works because the Clintons’ popularity is just as low. Their brand of politics is toxic with millions of voters across the country and helps the GOP keep its own approval rating from dropping off a cliff.
Establishment politics are increasingly being rejected by voters. The unpopularity of Trump and Republicans may translate to a blue wave of Democratic wins, but if the party fails to genuinely fight to improve the lives of Americans, another Trump victory, or something worse, is inevitable.