Al Franken said it well last spring: “I love Hillary … and I think she has a right to analyze what happened. But we do have to move on.”
The very last thing that Democrats need right now — but what they’re going to get anyway — is Hillary Clinton touring North America, turning back the clock to last year’s debacle, and sucking up the party’s finite supply of oxygen. Unfortunately for a party that desperately yearns to turn the page and point forward, it’s a law of political physics that a Clinton never fades away.
Yeah, I know all the arguments for Hillary’s “What Happened” book, the grudge-indulging postmortem that hits the shelves today. Her defenders say that the first female candidate and popular vote victor is perfectly entitled to say whatever she wants on whatever timetable she chooses; and that her nuanced diagnosis of her defeat – her list of contributing factors – is impossible to refute.
Granted, she’s right about those factors. She cites James Comey’s late-October letter, announcing that the email probe had been reopened. (Can’t argue with that.) She cites the dark partnership of Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin. (Can’t argue with that.) She cites misogyny. (Can’t argue with that.) She cites Bernie Sanders, whose relentless intramural attacks were gifts to Donald Trump. (Can’t argue with that.) She faults mainstream media for overemphasizing her emails. (Can’t argue with that.) She faults President Obama for soft-peddling the Russian hack evidence during the autumn campaign. (Can’t argue with that.)
But she still should’ve been able to beat her ignorant unqualified opponent. Fact is, she wasn’t a good candidate. She seems to sort of recognize that.
She faults her failure to recognize the anti-establishment vibe that gave us Trump (“I didn’t realize how quickly the ground was shifting under our feet.”) Early on, it was clear she couldn’t connect with blue-collar voters in Democratic Rustbelt states like Michigan. When Bernie cleaned her clock among those voters in the spring Michigan primary, I warned in a column: “If you believe, as I do, that Donald Trump could defeat Hillary Clinton this fall and become America’s first certified autocrat, you need look no further for evidence than Michigan’s primary … [which reminds] us that Hillary’s standing with blue-collar voters is dangerously soft.” If I could see it, why couldn’t she?
Anyway, the point is, virtually nothing in her diagnosis is new. We’ve heard it all before, ad nauseum.
She buttresses some of her points by citing Nate Silver’s polling analyses, but his work has been online for nearly a year now, for anyone wishing to crunch his numbers. This book is just Hillary putting her imprimatur on what we already know, venting for 500 pages (unlike Al Gore, who didn’t write a book after losing a rough one in ’00, or John Kerry, after losing in ’04, or John McCain after losing in ’08, or Mitt Romney after losing in ’12), and unleashing her authentic voice — at turns caustic, funny, anguished, shrewd — thus prompting me to wonder, not for the first time, why she didn’t or couldn’t sound like a real person while on the trail.
But I don’t want to wonder. She lost. It’s over. “Move on.” And Al Franken has plenty of company: fellow Democrats who dearly wish that Hillary she wasn’t storming the news cycle to scratch the old scabs. To paraphrase Michael Corleone in “Godfather III”: Just when they thought they were out of ’16, Hillary pulls them back in.
And the stuff they’re saying about her…even on the record, it ain’t pretty. Senator Ron Wyden said, “I’ve always been a looking-forward kind of guy. I think I’ll leave it at that.” Senator Claire McCaskill, when asked if she was excited about Hillary’s book tour, pointedly replied, “Beg your pardon?” — before she shook her head and walked away. Democratic strategist Steve Schale said, “The sooner we stop talking about 2016 … the better off we will be.”
Democrats who won’t talk for attribution are freer with their disdain. A former Obama aide said, “None of this is good for the party. It’s the Hillary Show, 100 percent.” A former Hillary fundraiser and ’16 surrogate said, “She’s doing harm to all of us because of her own selfishness. Honestly, I wish she’d just shut the f— up and go away.” Hillary knows that sentiment is out there. In her book she acknowledges that “plenty of people” want her to “just disappear. But here I am.”
Actually, a lot of Democratic critics would be fine with Hillary going public if she’d simply help the party brand itself for 2018. She has birthed a new group, Onward Together, to spotlight progressive issues — that’s fine. But every day that she’s out there looking backward, settling scores and spreading blame, is a gift-wrapped toy for Trump, who thrives on having an enemy, who relishes the prospect of tying the Democrats to a defeated candidate whose poll numbers are even worse than his.
Is she “entitled” to express herself? Absolutely. But so is the motorist who blasts his music and drives pedestrians nuts. He’s entitled to crank it up, but we on the sidewalk can still wish he’d mute it.
When Hillary surfaced last April, taking the stage at a Women in the World Summit, I wrote that even though she was briefly back in the news, “she not likely to linger there for long.” I got it wrong. I wish I had been right.