For God’s sake, she is the wife of a former president.
That is the problem at the heart of the four-part series “Hillary” on Netflix, a carefully crafted and manipulated portrait of the woman who lost the 2016 presidential election to the most ridiculous candidate in the history of the U.S. The astute observer will immediately detect the subtle direction of the edits, the selectivity, the omissions, all intended to convince you that Hillary Clinton did not ride to prominence on the coattails of her husband, and that her influence and power within the Clinton Administration and her subsequent career as Senator and Secretary of State and presidential candidate were the fruits of some kind of legitimate mandate, and not the product of opportunism or privilege, and that the only reason she lost to Donald Trump was the embedded misogyny of American political culture, and the unmitigated gall of Bernie Sander’s fanatical followers to not turn up and vote for her.
What must not be displayed is the obvious: her entire career in politics was founded upon the success of her husband, Bill Clinton, who assembled a team of political operatives and ran for election as Attorney-General, and then Governor of Arkansas, and then President of the United States. This is not to say that she was not a talented lawyer, or political manager. This is to say that she would never have served as Secretary of State, or run for the Senate, or for President, if it had not been for the fact that her husband ran and won first.
“Hillary” tries– too hard– to convince you that Hillary Clinton was so remarkable, so amazing, and so diligent and perceptive and astute, that she earned her way into the White House, and to the Senate, and into Obama’s cabinet, and then as the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party in 2016.
So we are shown clips from the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign in which we offered two contradictory narratives, simultaneously true and not true. One, that she was a liberated feminist who contributed mightily to the campaign on both a strategic and policy level, and, two, that she became a substantial liability after insisting that she had no intention of staying home and baking cookies. While insisting that she did not compromise her principles, we are shown the new haircut, the demur stage presence, the tailored outfits, the girlish exuberance– bouncing on the stage with Tipper Gore– but told to believe that through some magical osmosis, America elected her to be an active and involved First Lady.
The right comment from a reporter or columnist at that moment would have been to point out that this established something about her character, a suspicion, that never went away.
Let’s go back further. Bill Clinton won his first election as governor of Arkansas and then lost his second attempt, then won his third attempt. “Hillary” would have you believe that it was because she became a better governor’s wife. Every other political analyst knows it was because Bill Clinton reversed his position on capital punishment, purely out of political calculation. What was that again about authenticity? “Hillary” itself begins to raise suspicions about their interest in the truth.
That’s the seed of America’s disaffection with Hillary Clinton: the “documentary” (it is not a documentary: it’s a flattering piece of Hillary advocacy) shows us Hillary scoffing at the idea that she presented a calculated image to the American people and subtly affirms her view. Why did people ever think she was not authentic or genuine? It’s a mystery! And then she proceeds to claim to be baffled as to why, after the scandalous bail-out of the banks after the 2008 crisis, people would want to know what she said to Goldman-Sachs for $200,000. Why didn’t she just release the text of the speech she gave to them? She says, because she was using it as leverage to force Bernie Sanders to release his tax returns.
“Hillary” would have you believe that all Bernie Sanders talked about during the 2016 campaign was her corrupt ties to the banking and investment industries. No mention of Vince Foster’s suicide on July 20, 1993. (as of the first episode and 1/2) and the travel office scandal. We’ll see…
I watched the episode (3) which covered the infamous Vince Foster suicide. And no surprise: not a word about “travel-gate”. In summary, the Clinton’s became convinced that the travel office, headed by one Billy Ray Dale (who had served under two previous presidents) which organizes flights for members of the press corps when the president travels, was disorganized and unaccountable and possibly even corrupt. They wanted to replace the staff with some of the their friends from Arkansas. It was also believed that staff members in the White House travel office were leaking gossip about the Clintons’ marriage to the press. So the Clintons had seven members of the staff fired and replaced with Arkansas associates. And then were very surprised to learn that the media– which was quite friendly to the staff of the travel office– thought the firings unjustified and driven by ulterior motives. Republicans sensed an opportunity and cried foul. The whole thing blew up and became the Clintons’ first unpleasant public scandal.
There were rumours that Hillary had been pushing the firings which she categorically, publicly denied, even to investigators.
A two-year-old memo from White House director of administration David Watkins surfaced that identified First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as the motivating force behind the firings, with the additional involvement of Vince Foster and Harry Thomason. “Foster regularly informed me that the First Lady was concerned and desired action. The action desired was the firing of the Travel Office staff. Wikipedia
It is important to note here that there is evidence that the travel office really was somewhat corrupt and that it did favors for the press, which may be one of the reasons the press seized on the story. There were investigations before the Clintons but nobody had proceeded with charges or disciplinary actions.
During the investigation, Hillary Clinton was question by investigators and she vehemently denied that she had anything at all to do with the firings. This was a lie.
Hillary Clinton lied to the press and to investigators about her role in the affair. And, in “Hillary”, she lies again, pretty shamelessly, mocking those who thought there was anything to the scandal.
“Hillary” wants you to believe it is honest and truthful by carefully choosing the scandals we all already know about to relate to us (look– they even talk about Genifer Flowers!) while conspicuously ignoring the ones that will never play well. “Hillary” proffers lots of straw men to knock down and badly wants you to believe that people didn’t like Hillary Clinton because she was strong or opinionated or a woman. How easy to believe she is really a wonderful, honest person who never deserved any of the vitriol directed her way. But the fact that they ignored the more unpleasant facts about her career (and the one overwhelming fact I stated in the first line of this piece) just confirms what people have always thought about the Clintons: they are not authentic or honest or straight, and a good deal of the misfortunes they encountered in their careers– including losing the 2016 election– were deserved.
But life is endlessly ironic. The Republicans, without a doubt, harbored a vicious, vindictive, irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton, and, yes, there really was a conspiracy to destroy their political careers, funded by wealthy right-wing investors in cooperation with Republican operatives and ultra-conservative media personalities, and, eventually Vladimir Putin and the Russians. Mr. Comey became an accidental accessory when he announced that he was re investigating her “missing” emails just days before the vote in 2016.
Hillary Clinton should have been elected in 2016 not because she was a good candidate for president but because her opponent was incredibly awful. The truth is that Bernie Sanders would probably have won that election had he been the Democratic nominee. Clinton was a bad choice, given her long history in Washington, the way she polarized voters, and her privileged access to Washington politics as the wife of the former president.
And, yes, her fundamental dishonesty.