I have seen a lot of people, over the last few weeks, putting the blame on various different factors for Hillary Clinton’s loss. “It was the FBI!”, “It was BernieBros!”, “It was Putin!”, “It was Jill Stein!”, “it was fake news!”, “It was voter suppression in North Carolina!”
These are mostly being used to argue that Clinton “should” have won, and that she ran a good campaign. In fact, though, I’d suggest that they prove the opposite.
Before we go any further with this, to get something out of the way, I obviously wish Hillary Clinton had won. The set of possibilities for a Trump presidency, as far as I can tell, runs from “corrupt kleptocracy run by the worst President since the US Civil War” as the best option, through “installing a permanent fascist dictatorship”, all the way to “nuclear Armageddon and destruction of all life on the planet within a year”. There is no possible scenario left that doesn’t involve a lot of people, including people I love, dying.
Clinton, by contrast, would have been another Obama. People would still have died, but far fewer of them, and there might have been at least some improvements to the lives of at least some marginalised people.
So given the choice between Trump and Clinton, there’s no choice there.
But the thing is, it should never have *got* to a choice between Trump and Clinton.
See that list up at the top? It’s true. Every one of those things is “to blame” for Clinton losing, because the loss was narrow enough that had any one of those things been different, she would have scraped a win.
But almost every one of those things above could have been predicted before the start of the campaign. There are *always* sore losers who supported another primary candidate — Clinton had her own “Berniebro” equivalents in 2008, the PUMAs. There are *always* more ideologically pure third party candidates running — remember Nader? It was obvious that one of America’s enemies would try hacking both major parties’ data and to use that to influence the election — Russia and China are two of the biggest state sponsors of hacking, and neither are exactly known for their commitment to the sanctity of the electoral process. And “fake news” has been around as long as the Internet — Snopes has been around for twenty-one years now, and the reason for its existence has always been to combat the kind of bullshit that the media has suddenly woken up to in the last few weeks. The voting rights act was overturned three years ago, and plenty of us made a huge stink about it then.
The only one that *might* not have been predicted even four years ago is the FBI involvement. And even that should have been a possible factor taken into account, given that Clinton was already under investigation at the start of the campaign. And they should have been prepared for *something* like that, if not that exactly — there’s a reason “October surprise” is a phrase. *SOMETHING* was always going to come up just before the election that would make the front-runner look bad. Everything else should have been factored into the calculations *years before the primary campaigns even started*.
The fact is, Clinton was up against someone with no previous political experience, who personally insulted journalists for major newspapers, who had no idea of the basic requirements for the role of President or what the job entails, who is charmless, abrasive, physically repellent (shouldn’t be a factor but it is), a habitual liar, an open white supremacist, and a self-admitted multiple sexual abuser.
When *that’s* your opponent, it takes a special kind of incompetence to even let it get close enough that losing is a possibility. It should have made Reagan vs Mondale look like a close-run nailbiter.
The fact that it didn’t — that it got close enough that normal, expected, political events could cause her to lose — shows that the Clinton campaign was fundamentally flawed.
(And yes, I know, more people voted for her than for her opponent. The skewed Electoral College is something else everyone has known about for years).
And I think the reason it was flawed is that people have learned the wrong lessons from Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Obama. In all three cases the narrative seems to be “a preternaturally charismatic and charming figure, up against an unpopular, long-serving, corrupt and decaying government, and offering an ideologically bland programme of right-centrist managerialism, campaigning with a message of change and hope, managed to get the more leftwing of the two major parties into power — it must be the ideologically bland right-centrist managerialism that did it!”
The fact is, we have seen many other attempts to replicate Blair, Clinton, and Obama over the years. Having the same programme and an uncharismatic leader who was already in power led to abysmal defeats for Al Gore and Gordon Brown. Ed Miliband, David Cameron, and Nick Clegg all seem (rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly) like cargo-cult copies of Blair without the charisma, and none of them are exactly watchwords for political success.
On the other hand, Justin Trudeau kept the “going up against a really unpopular government” part, and the “being ludicrously charismatic” one, and the “change and hope” one, and added in an actually radical programme for government (compared to that party’s history and to Canadian politics right now) and moved his party from third to first place. And incidentally, while the Blair government was a right-centre-authoritarian one, the manifesto on which Blair was elected in 1997 was a radical one.
Put simply, centrist policies don’t appeal to the electorate. People will vote for them over obvious evil (again, Trump *did* lose the popular vote, as did Bush jr against Gore), but they won’t do so *enthusiastically*. They’ll vote, but won’t persuade five of their friends to vote too. They *will* turn out to get rid of a government that’s already harming them, if it’s bad enough and has had enough of a “chance”, and they will then vote for centrist policies if they’re packaged as a change from the norm, as “coming from a town called Hope”, as “things can only get better”.
But “the same thing you’ve already got, but certainly nothing much better, and run by a competent-but-dull administrator” has as far as I can remember only won for John Major in the UK in 1992, and he was from the party of the right, which has a different set of priorities from the left.
Put simply, there’s nothing less electable than “electability”, and the sooner the mainstream left realises this, the better for all of us.
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