Doug Henwood has replied in Jacobin to my column in which I reviewed his new book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency. As he notes, it’s a little unusual for a writer to respond to a review—my friends have talked me out of it several times. Mostly a writer’s reply provides an opportunity for the reviewer to repeat all the negative points from the original review, and then some. In any case, here goes.
Doug notes that I “begin with confessing a soft spot for Bernie Sanders,” but he thinks it’s just rhetorical. Not true. Bernie definitely seems like one of the good guys to me and, of course, I’m much closer to him than to Hillary politically. Like my Nation colleagues, I think it’s great that he’s running. It’s true that electing a pro-choice Democratic woman president is important to me—I explained why here—but that is not the only thing I care about. I supported Obama in 2008, after all. However, Doug is right to suggest that I think Hillary is the stronger candidate, by which I mean I think she is more likely to defeat any Republican nominee. Ultimately, that is why I support her, and why I would support her even if she had as little to recommend her as Doug argues in his book. If Bernie wins the primary, I will work my fingers and my bank account to the bone for him. But the stakes are too high to support in the primary a candidate who if he wins looks likely, at least as of now, to go down to honorable and virtuous defeat in November.
Doug says I make no serious effort to contradict his damning account of Hillary’s record. It is hardly news that Hillary is no populist insurgent: She is a technocrat, friendly to banks and Wall Street, has favored on “humanitarian grounds” military interventions that have not worked out well at all. Her excellent record on women’s issues is marred by her husband’s signing of the 1996 welfare-reform bill, which she endorsed. The Clinton Foundation’s record in Haiti—first reported, by the way in The Nation—is not good. And yes, both she and Bill have made a ton of money since they left the White House. But even if every word he writes is completely accurate, it’s not the whole story. If he’s going to attack her for botching healthcare reform, Doug should at least have mentioned her role in establishing the SCHIP program, which gave healthcare to millions of low-income children. If he’s going to dismiss her as a “carpetbagger” and a “mediocre” “seat warmer” in the Senate, he should have noted that her voting record made her one of the more liberal Senate Democrats—70 percent more liberal than her fellow Senate Dems in her final term. And isn’t it relevant that Republicans controlled the Senate from 2001 to 2007? What Doug gives us is so partial—he mentions every negative (even her supposed breaking of a lamp in a fight with Bill)—he turns her into a cartoon.