Hillary Clinton has kept a relatively low profile since her embarrassing 2016 election defeat, popping up only occasionally to make out-of-touch elitist comments that confirm why she lost. So it was somewhat surprising to hear her weigh in on the 2020 Democratic primary with a truly bizarre comment about (of all people) Tulsi Gabbard.
Clinton accused the Hawaii congresswoman of being groomed by outside forces, saying: “I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate … She’s the favorite of the Russians.” There is some dispute about whether Clinton meant it was the Russians or Republicans who were pushing a third-party Gabbard candidacy, but a Clinton spokesman asked about the comments replied “if the nesting doll fits”, clearly implying it was dastardly Russians.
Gabbard immediately hit back hard, calling Clinton (accurately) “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic party for so long”. While hosts of The View backed up Clinton, calling Gabbard a “useful idiot”, others such as the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and South Bend’s mayor, Pete Buttigieg, suggested that Clinton ought to have had some evidence before implying something so outrageous about a Democratic elected official.
But it was typical Clinton. Paranoia about Russian influence has been ubiquitous among the Clinton set since 2016, in part because it helps to explain how the loss to Donald Trump wasn’t really Clinton’s fault. Liberals in the media like Rachel Maddow openly admit to having an obsession with Russia, and end up seeing the hands of Vladimir Putin on everything. Clinton herself has had trouble coming to terms with her loss. Even though accounts from inside the campaign confirm that Clinton barely knew why she was running for president, couldn’t craft any kind of message, and made laughably overconfident decisions about where to campaign, her campaign memoir was less a mea culpa than a j’accuse. It pointed fingers at Sanders and James Comey, and ended up sounding a lot like the Onion’s parody title: We All Made Mistakes But You Made Most Of Them.
Years later, Clinton has learned seemingly nothing. Elsewhere on the podcast episode in which she made the accusations against Gabbard, Clinton blames fake news, foreign interference and voter suppression for undermining democracy and keeping Democrats out of power. Those are factors, but the big one is the one that Gabbard herself identified: the “rot that has sickened the Democratic party for so long”. Clinton practiced a corrupting and duplicitous form of politics that made many would-be Democratic voters feel completely unrepresented by the party. But instead of spending her time in the woods doing some soul-searching, Clinton has evidently spent it cooking up new conspiracy theories about the all-powerful Putin.
Tulsi Gabbard is completely right about what Clinton represents. Clinton was the Democratic party at its absolute worst: pro-war, pro-Wall Street, self-enriching, inept, devoid of any transformative vision and contemptuous of ordinary people. It’s very clear that Sanders would have been the smart choice in 2016, and Gabbard was one of the few Democratic officials to recognize that at the time and endorse him. Actually, that was courageous of her – most Democratic officials, even those whose politics should have aligned them more closely with Sanders than Clinton, were too timid to buck the establishment and risk their career by potentially getting on the wrong side of an incoming Clinton administration.
That’s not to say that Gabbard herself should be the future of the Democratic party. Far from it: while Gabbard has made a big deal of her anti-war stance, she has embraced the vicious Indian nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, and been far more hawkish and softer on torture than she would like progressive voters to believe. Her willingness to criticize the “rot” in her own party may make Gabbard a refreshing presence on the debate stage, but no serious leftist can support someone who spent the Obama years echoing Republican talking points about “radical Islam”. She’s still no “useful idiot”, and even with her flaws she is preferable to truly intolerable candidates like Buttigieg and Joe Biden. If we were (God forbid) somehow faced with the choice between Tulsi Gabbard and Amy Klobuchar, the country would be far better off in Gabbard’s hands.
Even though Gabbard may be a flawed messenger, the message itself is correct: we no longer need to hear what Hillary Clinton thinks about anything. Her kind of politics is, thankfully, a relic of history, and we have moved on. It’s sad that instead of doing something useful with her post-political career, Clinton has decided to lob ludicrous, borderline defamatory, accusations at younger Democratic women who were less wrong than Clinton was about dozens of issues. Fortunately, hardly anybody is listening any more.