(This article originally appeared in the Canandaigua Daily Messenger)
Let’s talk about Hillary Clinton.
It’s not uncommon for progressive enclaves to hold that someone who agrees with them 85 percent of the time is so much worse than someone who never agrees with them, much in the same way that many conservative Republicans are far more angry at Republicans In Name Only than they are at Democrats. Even so, the level of sheer loathing and contempt that young progressives hold for Hillary Clinton goes above and beyond the call of either duty or sense. The idea that it is better not to vote at all than to vote for Clinton against Donald Trump, it’s a kind of lunacy.
Regular readers of this column know I have a lot of issues with Clinton, and my personal dislike of her at least has the honesty of having met her. But even if the vicious images of Clinton held by so many people weren’t absurdly over the top in the first place, they are completely incompatible with her time as a U.S. senator from New York (her only time actually in an elected office), where she excelled in almost every possible way.
The same conservatives who now see her as an incarnation of evil never bothered to rally against her when she ran for re-election in 2006. That’s because she won their communities over. She went around to every town, village and hamlet in Upstate New York, whether run by Democrats or Republicans, met every municipal official and sat through their all-day presentations on Erie Canal economic development and agricultural policy. And took notes. And asked intelligent questions. And then got back to them, in the weeks and months that followed, with concrete ideas about what her office could do to help.
Many of these Upstate Republican officials disagreed with her on matters of ideology, but nobody had ever given their bread-and-butter issues so much time and attention. Not even other Upstate Republican officials. Sure they theoretically supported her opponent, but only theoretically. They liked working with Clinton because she made their issues her own, and she never stopped working on them.
That woman would make a great president.
A lot of it is Clinton’s own fault, and she doesn’t deserve any passes. Enormous speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and soliciting contributions from foreign potentates for the Clinton Global Foundation couldn’t be more obvious conflicts of interest if the words “corruption” were written in giant neon letters. But — let’s be honest here — for all that the Clintons are a botanical garden of self-interest, they’re actually no more corrupt than the average New York county executive, Alabama mayor, Louisiana state senator or California voter.
Clinton is a poster child for political corruption because she’s a poster child — she’s in the public eye. But as politicians go, she’s really not so bad.
For a long time, the American public was content with a level of basic corruption from its politicians. It was understood that this is how business gets done, and that it was a small price to pay for an otherwise (mostly) functional democracy. Roads were built; jobs were created.
Clinton did nothing more than decide to play the political game the way she knew everyone had to play it, and she probably did so because she wanted to get things done and make a difference. Feathering her nest was likely incidental.
But the public has decided that it doesn’t like the old bargain anymore. The perfectly normal, run-of-the-mill corruption that Clinton engaged in is no longer acceptable because the system is no longer fulfilling its end of the bargain. We no longer build, or even maintain, infrastructure. The economy is rigged. And the normal route of electing the usual people to do the usual things isn’t fixing it.
If the political class is getting things done for ordinary Americans, nobody minds if they abuse the system a little. But if they are turning into an oligarchy, getting rich off our backs while our world gets less forgiving and more frightening, then we clamp down. We demand higher standards. We want to know before we vote: Are you one of them? Or are you one of us?
It’s really not Clinton’s fault, and she doesn’t deserve this scorn. But the rules that she lived by are the rules that got us into this mess. The public no longer accepts them.