Friday, April 01, 2016

Why I Don’t Want to Vote for Hillary Clinton

I’m a life-long Democrat – what my father (who was one too) used to call a “yellow dog Democrat,” meaning I’d vote for a yellow dog before I’d vote for a Republican. I worked in Jack Kennedy’s campaign (being then too young to vote), voted for Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, and – though rather dubious of his “New Democrat” realpolitik – Bill Clinton, as well as Gore and Obama.

I was working as a contractor for the U.S. General Services Administration in Washington DC when Bill’s First Lady, Hillary, undertook her laudable efforts to reform the nation’s health care system. It happened that I’d had occasion to become familiar with the Federal Advisory Commissions Act (FACA), for which GSA is the rulemaking authority.

As news reports began to appear about the First Lady’s efforts, it became apparent that the health care task force she headed comprised a hand-picked group that operated pretty much behind closed doors. It may very well have been an excellent hand-picked group, and health care certainly needed (and still needs) reforming, but I couldn’t help thinking that what she was doing violated the FACA – which requires that outside advisory committees be formed and managed in accordance with specific procedures designed to ensure openness, transparency, and the like. I asked a FACA specialist or two about it, and they kind of rolled their eyes.

Eventually the matter was litigated, and the White House narrowly prevailed, but it certainly left the impression – with me, at least – that Ms. Clinton was rather scornful of laws like FACA and felt that she and her cronies, by damn, could decide what was Right For The Country. Whatever its legality, her approach turned out to have been politically naïve; she and her husband got hammered by conservatives (among others) and her program went nowhere – until Barack Obama picked it up, reworked it, and got it into law as the Affordable Care Act.

So I was left thinking of Ms. Clinton as a pretty smart person – I’d enjoyed the jokes about how much more qualified for the presidency she was then her husband – who suffered from something of a political tin ear and an overdose of self-confidence.

Years went by in which I had no occasion to think much about Ms. Clinton, other than to be sad about her husband’s peccadillos and to wonder why she put up with them. Then in 2012 TIGHAR, the little non-profit with which I indulge in the archaeology of Amelia Earhart, found itself in conversations with the U.S. State Department; Ms. Clinton was then Secretary of State. The result was a sort of moral support by the Department for a deep-water search for Earhart’s plane on the reef at Nikumaroro Atoll in Kiribati ( – announced at a press conference to which I was honored with an invitation.

And there was Ms. Clinton up at the podium, telling us what an inspiration Earhart had been to her in her youth, and how TIGHAR’s search for her exemplified what was great about America, and how her support for the 2012 search represented part of President Obama’s “pivot to the Pacific” – putting the complexities of the Middle East behind him and focusing on the Orient. And I couldn’t help thinking: “What a crock!”

Now, I don’t doubt that Earhart was an inspiration to Ms. Clinton; Earhart was and continues to be an inspiration to lots of young and not-so-young women – and men, including me. And while I thought it was a bit over the top to say that TIGHAR represented what’s wonderful about America – hey, we need all the support we can get, and who’s going to reject the helping hand of the U.S. Government? But part of the pivot to the Pacific? I kept looking at Tessie Lambourne, Kiribati Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who was also up on stage, holding what I thought was a rather forced smile. I couldn’t help imagining what must be going through her head. Here is her country, damn near destitute and going underwater as climate change drives the sea to flood its low-lying islands (They’re all low-lying), and what does the U.S. Secretary of State want to publicize and support and represent as a piece of U.S. foreign policy? A bunch of Americans going out to Kiribati to look for one of their own. I felt mildly sick, despite the State Department’s excellent hors d’oeuvres.

I know, Washington does this sort of thing all the time, and it was a very little thing, and certainly the Secretary’s support was appreciated. And maybe it would have been fine if she hadn’t done the “pivot” business. But having her represent the Earhart search as somehow relevant to U.S. foreign policy struck me as very, very strange. It left me wondering just how she even defined foreign policy.

So, we arrive at the 2016 primary elections and caucuses, pitting Ms. Clinton as the darling of the Democratic establishment against the insurgent Bernie Sanders.  I support Mr. Sanders for a number of reasons having little or nothing to do with Ms. Clinton – notably that I think the country is due and overdue for some fundamental rethinking of its social, political, and economic priorities, and I can imagine Mr. Sanders, with a lot of help, making some of that happen.

But a lot of my Democratic friends want me to pledge to support Ms. Clinton if she becomes the party’s nominee, and I just can’t bring myself to do that. I look at the reports of her quarter-million-dollar speaking engagements whose transcripts she won’t release, and I’m reminded of her closed-door health care deliberations. I can’t help but think, “did she learn nothing from that experience?” And, of course, “what DID she say to those oil company executives?” I see her manifest irritation at Mr. Sanders’ unwillingness to get out of the way and let her be coronated, and I see the same sense of entitlement that permitted her to set up the health care task force without much evident respect for the law, and to mix up the desirability of solving the Earhart mystery with U.S. international policy. I read of her seemingly peculiar handling of official emails and again see evidence of arrogance and a sense of entitlement. I can’t think that she’d make a strong candidate, or a very good president.

Of course, it’s the Republicans who seem intent on running a yellow dog…

1 comment:

Giovanna peebles said...

Fascinating tidbits about Hilary. But sadly non of it surprising.... The most misplaced Arrogance and entitlement. I dont know what I'll do if she wins the nomination. I am not voting for the OTHER people. But as they say, it's not over till it's over!
Thanks Tom for your as always delightful piece of writing! G