Well, Hillary Clinton isn’t going gently. That may be understandable, but it’s not smart — not for Clinton, not for her party and not for other female candidates.
Clinton has emerged in recent weeks, and this version is Hillary Unbound, no words minced, no target spared — except, for the most part, herself. So there was Clinton at a Recode conference, not merely relitigating the 2016 election but relitigating it like the relentless trial lawyer she once was.
For her electoral college loss, Clinton variously blamed: the Russians, probably in cahoots with the Trump campaign; the media, for turning her use of a private email server — “the biggest nothing-burger ever” — into “Pearl Harbor”; the James B. Comey letter; misogyny, as in the “unfairly used” fact of her six-figure speeches to Goldman Sachs when “men got paid for the speeches they made”; voter suppression; “unaccountable money flowing in against me”; inheriting a “bankrupt” Democratic National Committee, whose “data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong”; being “the victim of a very broad assumption I was going to win”; and misogyny, again, as in people who are “much more skeptical and critical of somebody who doesn’t look like and talk like and sound like everybody else who’s been president.”
Clinton incanted the ritual words of taking responsibility, if without much conviction. The private server “was a mistake,” even though it was “something that others had done before.” She “never said I was a perfect candidate, and I certainly have never said I ran perfect campaigns, but I don’t know who is or did.” In other words, sorry, not sorry.
Much of Clinton’s critique is well-founded — when it comes to Russia, alarming. Most complicated is the matter of misogyny. Yes, it played some role, but it’s difficult to tweeze apart voters’ hostility toward Clinton as a person and the degree to which that dislike was fueled by gender stereotypes. And if, as Clinton argues, she was on track to win the election on Oct. 27, before Comey issued his fateful letter, then maybe misogyny isn’t such a pernicious force after all.
Still, some venting is justifiable. Believing that the presidency was unfairly, even illegally, wrested from you is an unfathomable injury, a wound that takes years to heal, if ever. Al Gore experienced this with the Supreme Court’s intervention in 2000; John F. Kerry with the Swift Boaters and suspicions about the Ohio vote. Imagine how much harder to deal with the blow of losing to Donald Trump — after winning the popular vote.
And yet, Gore and Kerry demonstrated little appetite for rehashing their loss in public. Gore, The Post reported in August 2001, “has been practically invisible since conceding the election” to George W. Bush. Four years later, Kerry annoyed his Democratic Senate colleagues by twice canceling plans to examine lessons learned. “That’s going backwards,” he told the New York Times.
Yet Clinton can’t seem to stop looking in the rearview mirror, and publicly narrating what she sees, much to the dismay of some advisers. Not that she should stay silent. Speaking out against the actions of the Trump administration is warranted, even imperative. She should sound the alarm about the dangers of Russian intervention in future elections.
But enough, already, with the seemingly never-ending, ever-expanding postmortem. Sure, Clinton was responding to questions, but if anyone knows how to duck a line of inquiry, it’s her. Meanwhile, the excuses — really, bringing up the DNC? — make her look smaller. Clinton is always at her best when she perseveres, not when she lashes out. It’s essential to understand what went wrong in 2016 and to call out the bad actors. Clinton is just the wrong messenger.
What Democrats crave most is not wallowing in theories about the defeat; it’s a template for resisting Trump now, and a vision for 2018 and 2020. Clinton’s obsessive summoning of 2016 gives Trump an excuse to change the subject from his missteps. “Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody but herself,” he tweeted after the Recode interview.
And Clinton’s behavior doesn’t help would-be glass ceiling-crackers. Publicly calling out misogyny is probably not the best strategy for combating it, or for encouraging other women to run for office.
The day after her defeat, Clinton rose to the terrible occasion, reassuring “all the little girls who are watching” and predicting a female president, “hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”
At the darkest moment, Clinton sounded a note of grace and optimism. It ennobled her then and would serve her better now.