From the Left, Sonya Huber soberly endorses Hillary Clinton.
The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Sonya Huber. Eyewear Publishing, 188 pp.
Puzzled by her aversion toward Hillary Clinton, former Bernie Sanders supporter Sonya Huber accepted an offer to quickly write a short book exploring why. In The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Huber assesses fair and unfair criticisms of Clinton. I found Huber’s look from the Left balanced and interesting—and, more to the point, useful. With her historical overview, Huber clarified my own mixed feelings as a moderate progressive. The bottom line, however, is that we’ll both be voting for Clinton. I’ll be doing so with more confidence after Huber’s inquiry, which convinces me that the false narratives that dog Clinton do cloud our view of her.
Huber teaches creative writing at Fairfield University and in the low-residency MFA program at Ashland University. Her books include: Opa Nobody, about her German grandfather; Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir; and the forthcoming Pain Woman Takes Your Keys: Essays from a Nervous System. She has worked as a reporter, but also, in her long journey toward writing and teaching writing—and obtaining health care—in a range of jobs including working as a waitress, trash collector, gardener, nanny, dishwasher, video store clerk, canvasser for an environmental organization, labor-community coalition organizer, receptionist, and mental health counselor. She blogs about a range of topics, including her struggles with autoimmune diseases, and recently about the Clinton book in “How to Write a Book in Two Weeks.”
I’d forgotten so much that Huber reminds me of, including Bill Clinton’s conservatism as a “New Democrat.” In the wake of Ronald Reagan and under pressure from a new breed of militant conservatives, Bill sought to out-Republican the Right. As Huber puts it,
This was Jimmy Carter with brass knuckles, a party that had to get tough to rescue the southern white male vote by promising to enforce a series of belt-tightening bootstrap policies that would end up glorifying the Republican ideals of free trade agreements, destroying welfare, and enacting an era of mass incarceration in the name of a War on Drugs.
Bill appointed Hillary as chair of the Task Force on National Healthcare Reform, making her the public face of the effort. This was an unusual move, and Huber’s research indicates that Hillary was far from the plan’s architect though she was demonized by the GOP and left holding the bag for the initiative’s failure: “It’s amazing, really—the evil power that this narrative has given her. It wasn’t profit interests that derailed healthcare reform: it was a woman.” Afterward, Hillary worked with Bill, Teddy Kennedy, and Orrin Hatch on a successful bipartisan effort to expand healthcare coverage for low-income children.
Republicans took the House in 1994, and Newt Gingrich became their angry spokesman. They briefly shut down the government to force President Clinton to agree to cuts in basic social programs. Soon Clinton signed a bill enacting harsher penalties on violent crime and another to reform welfare. The crime bill is blamed for today’s high level of incarceration, and in supporting it, Hillary used the “super predator” phrase she has apologized for. She does have a long track record in public service, which seems to get used against her more than for most politicians.
On welfare, Bill Clinton was under pressure but also had promised reform. While he vetoed even harsher Republican welfare bills, the president’s own reform replaced a coordinated federal program, Aid for Families with Dependents and Children, with an easily cut block-grant system to states. Hillary supported but helped buffer it. But this, Huber writes, “effectively destroyed the New Deal-era safety net of welfare in 1996.” In Huber’s view, Bill’s initiative and Hillary’s subsequent cooperation with GOP welfare reforms continue to hurt her with the Left; her current positions would roll back “pernicious elements” of her husband’s initiatives:
Part of the greater concern among progressives is the extent to which Clinton is willing to use right-wing language to make incremental changes in bad legislation and the extent to which she believes New Democrat neoliberal rhetoric that imposes punitive restrictions on the poor without investigating full implications.
Her moderately progressive inclinations or her political pragmatism haven’t lessened the Right’s visceral hatred for her, much of which Huber and the sources she quotes in The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton attribute to sexism—on the Right and the Left. Her “continued involvement in politics is astounding,” writes Huber, considering she has lived with concocted scandals and intense scrutiny and criticism for decades. “At a personal level,” Huber adds, “delving into her substantial backstory has convinced me that she will be a competent leader who will not be embittered or stunned at any point by the horrible game of politics in Washington or on the international stage, and I think that’s a necessary qualification for the position of president.”Hillary Clinton is inclined to be an interventionist, a hawk, Huber concludes, perhaps influenced by mass killings in Rwanda and the Bosnian war during her husband’s presidency. While this concerns Huber, as it does me, my sense is that plenty of voters fear she won’t be tough enough because of her gender. As I write this, polls and pundits seem unsure of the presidential race’s outcome. Partly is this uncertainty the media’s interest in a close horse race? Mostly, I sense, with Huber, that along with the retrograde and unexamined sexism toward Clinton is “anti-establishment resistance to her domestic and international connections.” This is much of what fueled Bernie Sanders’s support on the Left, of course.
For a wider perspective, Huber consulted books, including Hillary’s, and read many articles in researching The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton. With Sanders gone, her book makes clear, populist backlash could still find expression through a Trump vote. I hope some of his angry supporters will melt away, and hopefully Clinton’s base will turn out. I’ve been telling my wife that the “sweet little old ladies” we know—Republican and Democrat—represent a nationwide bloc that’s going to see its way through the murk and throw the election to Clinton. They vote, and they’re not single-issue voters. They do, however, possess the wisdom to shun a man who isn’t a gentleman, knowing such bad character is indicative.
I’ll give Huber the last word regarding what to expect if and when Hillary Clinton is elected:
She doesn’t go in for grandstanding. In fact, she’s controlled because we’ve made her that way. We think we know what we get with Hillary because she has been tested on the national and international stage. At the same time, the presidency itself might allow her a new latitude to be open about the agendas she cares about. The big show for Hillary might be very different than we have imagined it to be.