You can’t spend more than 40 years in American politics without earning some baggage.
Exhibit A: Hillary Clinton.
The former Secretary of State is expected to announce her second bid for the presidency later this spring. Clinton, also a former U.S. Senator and First Lady, first ran for president back in 2008, when she enjoyed front-runner status before placing third in the Iowa caucuses and eventually losing the nomination to then-relative-newcomer Barack Obama.
The media and political elites are once again painting Clinton, who’s been mired in a controversy over her use of ‘private’ email, as the comfortable (if not inevitable) front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Yet Clinton’s decades in D.C. politics are both her blessing and her curse—she’s got a political pedigree to rival any candidate in modern history, but also a laundry list of potential pitfalls.
Clinton’s boss while she was Secretary of State, President Obama, won the 2008 election in part because of his opposition to the Iraq War. However, as president, Obama dragged out the Iraq War and has now started another conflict there to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He also ramped up the Afghanistan War, kept the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open, repeatedly defended the use of mass surveillance for national security, approved the targeted killing of an American citizen abroad and expanded drone strikes into additional countries.
In short, Obama has not only continued George W. Bush’s War on Terror, he’s expanded it in some ways. But Clinton has criticized the president for not being more militarily involved in conflicts in Syria and Libya, for instance.
In an interview with the Atlantic last year, Clinton criticized the Obama administration’s foreign policy mantra of “don’t do stupid stuff,” and went on to call for stronger support for Israel, more opposition to Iran and a more aggressive campaign against so-called jihadists. Her foreign policy positions oftentimes overlap with Republican hawks.
Clinton also could be haunted by one key vote she cast as a New York Senator more than a dozen years ago—the Iraq War Resolution. She said just before the vote in 2002 that “the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt.” While it’s been clear for a while that those facts, in fact, should have been in doubt, Clinton didn’t outright say she was wrong for voting that way until just last year.
Clinton’s formal campaign and the supporting organizations—like super PACs—will be extraordinarily well-funded thanks to her connections to the wealthy. Cash is a big asset in politics, of course, but it comes at the cost of associating with some sometimes-unpopular allies.
Consider, for example, our nation’s richest investment bank—Goldman Sachs. The executives are well-connected and willing to write checks for political causes and candidates. The firm is also a training ground for future government staff, regulators and lobbyists—both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush appointed Goldman Sachs alumni to lead the U.S. Treasury.
Clinton has been paid to deliver speeches to Goldman Sachs employees, and she’s said to be familiar with the current leadership, though Politico’s top economic reporter recently wrote that the bankers “would be fine with either a [former Florida Governor Jeb] Bush or Clinton presidency.” Goldman Sachs and other financial players are known to play both sides in presidential politics—funding both the Republican and the Democrat in return for a sympathetic ear and favorable regulations, no matter who wins.
Recent disclosures from Clinton’s family philanthropic foundation showed the organization is getting donations from oppressive foreign governments like Suadia Arabia and Oman as well as some controversial international financial firms in Europe, like Barclays and Duetsche Bank, which are under investigation for gaming exchange rates.
“We reject artificial boundaries between business, government and nonprofits because in our experience, the best way to unlock human potential is through the power of creative collaboration,” the narrator says in a Clinton Foundation video titled, “We’re All In This Together.”
But aren’t there some appropriate boundaries between government and business? Maybe that’s a question Iowa caucus-goers will bring to her during our famously intimate campaign season.
Iowans haven’t gotten many chances lately to ask Clinton questions.
She spent plenty of time in the cornfields when she made an effort to win the Iowa caucuses back in 2008, back when she was the favorite for the Democrat nomination. She would end up an underwhelming third place on caucus night, though, and losing Iowa was the first big step to unraveling Clinton’s front-runner status. Obama, of course, would go on to win the nomination and bring Clinton into his cabinet.
Since leaving a loser back in 2008, Clinton and Iowa have had a strange relationship. Some activists in Iowa—sometimes Democrats, sometimes openly—have complained that Clinton didn’t seem to enjoy visiting Iowa or connecting with Iowans. She nearly left us out of her 2014 memoir Hard Choices mentioning only that caucus night was “excruciating.”
She also took her time in coming back to see us: Iowa City activist and the dean of Iowa’s left-wing blogosphere John Deeth kept a tally of Clinton’s Iowa presence—it reached nearly 2,500 days before she came back for the Harkin Steak Fry this past summer.
While Clinton is still polling above 50 percent among Iowa Democrats, progressives are grumbling.
“It’s important to do something and put up someone who stands against ‘Wal-Mart, War and Wall Street’—those are the three W’s,” said Jeff Cox, an Iowa City Democrat. “Senator Clinton is not going to address these issues—she will make it worse.”
A few names have come up as possible left-wing challengers to Clinton. Cox and a handful of other Iowa activists are rallying behind U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a no-party politician who describes himself as a socialist. Sanders has visited Iowa over the past year and some Democrats would like him to run on their team.
Deeth, the local Democrat and blogger, writes that Sanders is one of just a few “rock star level potential rivals”—along with Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Disillusioned Democrats launched an effort back in 2012 to encourage Iowans at the Democratic caucuses to go “uncommitted,” rather than support Obama. That didn’t win over a huge share of people, but Cox is hopeful the last few years have given concerned citizens even more reason to explore alternative candidates.
“When you get Senator Sanders in front of people, there’s a huge enthusiastic response,” Cox said.
“Somebody’s got to do it.”
This article was originally published in LV issue 173