by Alex Knepper
Although Hillary Clinton’s historic primary victory has turned out to be decisive, there is undoubtedly a streak of joylessness to it. Her major victories were concentrated in the three ‘Super Tuesdays’ of the calendar, while losing constantly in the caucus-heavy lull periods, making the path to the nomination feel like a bit of a long slog at times. Between this, her seeming inability to escape the constant drip-drip-drip of harmful new information about her use of a private server while Secretary of State, and an unusually ideological and tenacious opponent, being a Clinton supporter has often felt like — how to put this? — less a reason to be excited than a responsibility.
Before we proceed, let us not forget that the final outcome of this race has been clear for some time; at least since the first Super Tuesday, in which Clinton swept the South — and that any candidate but Bernie, who, unusually, owes nothing to the Democratic Party and has hated it for decades, would be out by now. Ultimately, Clinton will have won over 55% of the popular vote, command a pledged-delegate lead in the 300-400 range, and hold the near-entirety of the Mid-Atlantic, Southwest, and Deep South, as well as most of the country’s major states, including NY, FL, TX, IL, PA, VA, and even MA. Her victory would have been even more decisive had it not been for Bernie’s string of non-representative caucus victories. Consider that Bernie won Washington state by 50 points but that Clinton actually won the state’s non-binding primary. Hillary also won Nebraska’s non-binding primary, despite losing the caucus and hence losing in the state’s delegate count. Who is really the candidate with the silent majority?
Clinton’s most excellent foreign-policy-centered speech last week, which of course was aimed at taking down Donald Trump, was a potent reminder of why I expressed support for her when she entered the race and again right before the voting began. She coolly lobbed bombs with a wink and a nod while hitting Trump where he bruises most: his ego. She made fun of his feuding, mocked the notion that he even has policy ideas, and got under his “very thin skin”: Trump flinched in his response, lashing out impotently that she is a “phony” who ought to be in jail and whining at her for reading from a script. After a year of witnessing Clinton treating Sanders with kid-gloves, it is timely to remember that she can cuttingly take down a Republican foe. Maybe it’s time to whip out the old Hillary nutcracker novelties.
Clinton is always at her best when she’s got a great Republican foil. She and her husband can always count on Republicans to overreach. It’s like an art: they bring out the worst in their opponents for all to see, from Newt Gingrich’s stunningly hypocritical marital behavior during the Lewinsky affair to the hyper-politicized insanity of the endless Benghazi circus. No doubt Trump will add some new entries to the canon.
Contrary to my colleague Cinzia’s recent criticisms, Clinton in fact did lay out a coherent foreign policy agenda, and demonstrated again why she is the only responsible choice in this race. First, she demonstrated that she understood the stakes:
And if America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum – and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void. Then they’ll be the ones making the decisions about your lives and jobs and safety – and trust me, the choices they make will not be to our benefit.
In an important sense, this is simply the triumph of the reality principle. If we don’t act when we can, where it counts, then Russia, China, Iran, or some other unfavorable ambitious entity will help determine the fate of world affairs instead. This is where liberal internationalists and so-called ‘neoconservatives’ meet: Samantha Power or Robert Kagan could have penned this line. We may fail sometimes, but we are not autocrats or authoritarians, and preventing regimes molded in that nature from spreading their influence is an inescapable dimension of our national interest.
Sounding more like Truman or Reagan than like Obama, she spoke of her vision for American foreign policy in big-picture, action-oriented terms:
I believe in strong alliances; clarity in dealing with our rivals; and a rock-solid commitment to the values that have always made America great. And I believe with all my heart that America is an exceptional country – that we’re still, in Lincoln’s words, the last, best hope of earth. We are not a country that cowers behind walls. We lead with purpose, and we prevail.
Clinton’s aim is twofold: reject the excesses of both the Bush and Obama years — and seek a synthesis of what they got right. In a repudiation of George W. Bush, Clinton insists we must honor our alliances and wield our power in a manner that elicits respect rather than fear or resignation — but in a repudiation of Barack Obama, she insists on treating our enemies unequivocally like enemies. She has explicitly accused Putin of tyranny, has vigorously condemned Hamas before progressive audiences, and laughed at the death of Moammar Qaddafi. This is the woman who insisted in 2008 that Obama was naive for thinking we could reason with theocratic radicals, the woman who famously insisted that ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is “not an organizing principle.” Indeed, the speech was her most unapologetic defense of her view of America as the ‘indispensable nation’ since her 2014 Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, still a must-read for understanding how Clinton ‘ticks.’ What is a proper organizing principle, though? She wants our foreign policy to be informed by morality, not simply by raw calculations of material interests:
In particular, Israel’s security is non-negotiable. They’re our closest ally in the region, and we have a moral obligation to defend them.
A moral obligation — we are loyal to the Israelis not because we cannot exist without them but because abandoning them would mean abandoning our values. Donald Trump wants us to be neutral in potential new rounds of peace negotiations; President Obama has a famously tense relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu. Clinton has promised to invite him to the White House in the first month of her administration and to “take our relationship to the next level.” Whatever our differences, she says, our true bottom line — one that is more important than economics or national identity, is this: we stand united against tyranny.
Besides treating Hamas and Israel as moral equals, Donald Trump’s foreign policy ideas include bombing the oilfields of Iraq — after looting what we can by making a big ring around them while letting our companies go to work there — handing over Syria to Vladimir Putin, shrugging our shoulders at the possible first domino in the disintegration of the European Union, slapping a 40% tariff on Chinese goods, and attempting to force Mexico to pay for a wall along our southern border. It is still a little surreal that we are even discussing this — and yet, this is the alternative the Republican Party has given us. Over 40% of the people want to elevate the man boosting those ‘ideas’ to the office of the presidency. Trump’s outrageous character ensures this election will be first of all about whether a man like him represents this nation.
Ultimately, I believe Clinton is worth electing on her policy merits, and that her key foreign policy interviews and speeches demonstrate this — but those who have been reluctant to demonstrate even tepid support must consider the last available alternative and ask whether it wouldn’t be an indictment against our republic to elevate such a man to the presidency. Even if her tenure turns out to be a crushing disappointment, the nation is guaranteed to survive relatively unscathed after four years of Clinton, who, on the domestic front, represents little beyond a continuation of the status quo under President Obama — which, we ought to remember, is broadly popular relative to the Republican agenda. But America — and the office of the presidency — would never be the same after a President Trump, whose campaign has seemingly-impossibly degenerated even further, this week into outright racist attacks — and the ugly decline in our civic culture he would represent would accelerate the splitting of our social fabric from a slow tearing to a piercing rip.