Paul Waldman, a senior writer for the American Prospect and a contributor to the Washington Post’s Plum Line column, is out with a melodramatic performance piece tied to excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming book. It was headlined: “Has Hillary Clinton abased herself sufficiently to satisfy her critics?”
The column instantly received praise from Democratic strategists and commentators for its unsubtle attack on people, whom Neera Tanden, Joan Walsh, or Mark Moulitsas might have labeled “alt-left” (except now that President Donald Trump used it to draw a false equivalency with white supremacists in Charlottesville, they’re a bit more careful when it comes to deploying it).
The central argument is that Clinton is repeatedly asked to “apologize” for failing to defeat Trump because she is a woman. Presidential candidates Mitt Romney, John McCain, John Kerry, or Al Gore never had to “get down on their knees and beg forgiveness for their failures every time they appeared in public after losing their presidential elections.”
He also argues Clinton has taken responsibility for her failure, and yet, it is not good enough for reporters. Much of the piece is spent on the “mainstream media” and how cable news spent time on a book by Peter Schweitzer called “Clinton Cash,” which made Clinton look corrupt. And of course, there were the damn emails—an “orgy of coverage of Clinton’s emails.”
Waldman’s performance piece is undermined by the fact that he is not specific at all when claiming that there are people demanding a ritual begging of forgiveness from Hillary Clinton.
One can gather that people who share Waldman’s perspective are upset about the media and how they covered Clinton, and they believe this played a significant role in the outcome of the 2016 Election. But then the column should be headlined: “Has Hillary Clinton abased herself sufficiently to satisfy the media?” Instead, it is abstractly aimed at “critics.”
Are these Trump supporters? Progressives or Democratic socialists who still fervently back Senator Bernie Sanders? Communists or full-blooded socialists? Is this a left-wing problem or a right-wing problem or both?
Maybe, Waldman and others are convinced the problem is so pervasive that it does not matter who is doing it. However, there are next to no critics named, and the only example offered is “Clinton Cash,” which the New York Times and Washington Post “struck a deal” to cover, even though it contained several falsehoods about the extent of the Bill and Hillary Clinton’s corruption.
This would not be a topic of discussion currently if Clinton was not in the early stages of hyping her book, “What Happened,” on her election campaign. She wants the public to see her campaign from her perspective, but consequently, that is going to result in “critics” questioning her assertions because that is what people do with politicians.
Waldman would have Sanders progressives and others with valid critiques silence themselves because apparently there is some need to guard Clinton from being perpetually vulnerable. Waldman’s framing implies she is not a strong enough woman to stand up for herself, even though she was one of the most powerful Democratic politicians in the recent United States history.
This argument is born from the same detestable and intellectually dishonest place that birthed the “Bernie Bro” label used to smear those who challenged Clinton from the left during the election. In fact, Waldman wrote a piece for the American Prospect on June 27, 2016, called “The Last Bernie Bro?”
Waldman invoked the reports of Sanders supporters willing to vote for Trump. He also added, “How many Sanders supporters are there who won’t decide to vote for Clinton until Bernie says it’s OK to do so? The number gets smaller every day. And if he waits long enough, he could find that almost none of them are still waiting with him.”
He ostentatiously quotes an excerpt (that is new) from her forthcoming book: “Every day that I was a candidate for president, I knew that millions of people were counting on me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them down — but I did. I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
Waldman jibes, “Is that abject enough for you?”
It is as if all the statements people made that Waldman and other Democrats despise must be apologized for retroactively because the public now has a truly clear-cut statement from Clinton that she had a job to do and did not succeed.
On top of that, Waldman neglects to include statements like, “I take responsibility for every decision I made, but that’s not why I lost,” which she uttered at the Code Conference in June. She blamed the Russian government, WikiLeaks, and Trump for weaponizing information, and concocted a kooky unsubstantiated theory about voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania doing Google searches for WikiLeaks to find “fake news” on the released emails.
Clinton contended the Democratic National Committee’s data operation was “mediocre to poor, nonexistent, [and] wrong.” She maintained she had to fund the operation to keep it from dying.
Andrew Therriault, the former DNC director of data science, reacted, “Irony of her bashing DNC data: our models never had MI/WI/PA looking even close to safe. Her team thought they knew better.”
He added, “Also, that’s pretty precious when she couldn’t have raised all [her money for campaigning] without the DNC’s higher limits as a laundering vehicle.”
Why must anyone engage in a crass form of paternalism, this pseudo-feminist thinking that cheapens feminism, and ignore this aspect of Clinton’s responses to critics?
“Every candidate, even those who win, makes lots of mistakes. There are no perfect campaigns,” Waldman rationalizes. He concludes with a sentence that suggests “the last thing we should care about is whether Clinton apologizes sufficiently for losing.”
This really is not about Clinton. She can write a book, go on tour, and tell all the world about why she thinks she lost. She has nothing meaningful to offer anyone struggling to resist Trump nor does she have a meaningful alternative to his insidious agenda.
Clinton has crawled out from her cabin in the woods every couple of months to collect a hefty check for a speaking engagement and rekindle another round of arguments over the 2016 Election. That does not help anyone, but certainly, there are people like Waldman, who are far more comfortable debating the past than imagining and contemplating what to do for the future.
Democrats may think Waldman is performing some kind of meaningful service by fending off villainous critics. But what Waldman is doing is ensuring a comments thread at Plum Line remains populated with liberal Democrats, who bicker with Trump supporters and Sanders progressives so the Washington Post can keep up clicks and ad revenue. What he is really doing is ensuring that people squabble on social media and generate interest in his piece so the Post can justify keeping Waldman employed as a regular contributor.
And the effect is that the spectrum of permissible debate about the Democratic Party’s neoliberal politics, and the politicians it promotes, remains narrow so that pundits who cheer this piece are not forced out of their establishment comfort zone.