Someday, Hillary Clinton will be remembered with respect as a smart, driven, and remarkably resilient woman who made history — but not as much as she wanted to make.
That time hasn’t come. She’s still a polarizing loser, who can’t get any more love in defeat than she did as the winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.
So don’t love her. But don’t settle for a less than full reckoning of what happened to her either. Like all candidates, she made mistakes. But she also lost because of Russian interference; because of how James Comey handled the FBI investigation into her use of a private e-mail server; and because a dishonest and unscrupulous opponent, bolstered by a click-hungry media, painted a picture of “Crooked Hillary” that played on the fears and biases of an angry electorate.
Clinton’s “Sunday Morning” interview with anchor Jane Pauley reinforces her dilemma. No matter what she says about her own responsibility for the devastating loss to Donald Trump, nuggets like this get all the attention: She was so confident of victory, she and Bill Clinton bought a second home in Chappaqua, N.Y., in September 2016, to accommodate a White House staff during presidential retreats. Instead, it’s where she retreated to write her memoir, “What Happened.”
Clinton, of course, gets no credit for candor for disclosing this painful testament to presumption and hubris, just scorn for counting her Electoral College chickens before they were hatched. Meanwhile, unchained bluster, among other unsavory characteristics, propelled Trump to the White House. And narcissism rooted in disturbing ignorance continues to define his presidency. But pointing out that double standard when it comes to judging them isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about Clinton.
Her book was mocked before its official release, naturally by Trump. Just hours after returning to Washington from Hurricane Harvey-ravaged Texas, the president retweeted a meme showing the cover of Clinton’s book and, next to it, a book with the same design, with the words “I Happened” over his picture.
Democrats want her to disappear. That’s not uncommon for the alleged party of empathy for the people. When Michael Dukakis lost to George H.W. Bush, in 1988, he was also pilloried. Then, he was ignored, as if that would erase the story of his candidacy. Actually, the seeds of Trump’s cruel and relentless attack on Clinton were nurtured in that 1988 race, when the elder Bush went along with a plan to smear Dukakis as the squishy, liberal “Willie Horton” candidate. From the start, Dukakis took the blame for his decision not to fire back. Even so, it has taken nearly three decades for him to get the recognition he deserves as a smart, decent, and committed man who traveled, as the Globe’s Thomas Farragher describes it, from the brink of the presidency “to a quiet life of significance.” On election day, Dukakis lost to Bush by 7 million votes. How did he feel? “Bad. Bad,” he told Farragher, noting how “you’ve disappointed literally thousands of people who worked for you.”
Clinton has also acknowledged the pain of losing and the empty feeling that comes with letting supporters down. And she lost to a candidate who was written off as unelectable.
Imagine being the Democrat — and the woman — who helped elect Trump. There’s a lot of angst attached to that epitaph. Clinton told Pauley, “I am done with being a candidate. But I am not done with politics, because I literally believe that our country’s future is at stake.” She’s right about the country’s future. So go ahead, mock her for years of pragmatic politics and episodes of disingenuousness. Refuse to like her, let alone love her. But understand that forces larger and darker than Hillary Clinton conspired to elect the despicable and deceitful rival who now occupies the Oval Office.
Someday, she will get her due. Given these harsh and unforgiving times, perhaps not while she’s still a part of living history.