Hillary Clinton and the decline and decline of liberal democracy

In the end, all that was left was sex. And its hinterland. It was November 1998 and after six years of investigation, Kenneth Starr had a mushy, but not ashamed face, that Bill Clinton had been exonerated from wrongdoing in the Whitewater real estate scandal and the suicide of Vince Foster. There was no evidence of a “pattern of corruption”. All they had to do to get impeached was the Monica Lewinsky affair.

They did it. It was sordid. In the tumultuous twenty years that followed, Hillary Clinton twice failed to renew the patent for the Presidential Clinton brand. Kenneth Starr regretted that his investigation “caused so much pain to so many people” – not more than Monica Lewinsky, whose life was destroyed. And the American political landscape has taken a whirlwind.

A new documentary shows where the wind has been sown. Hillary – a four-part documentary by Nanette Burstein on Sky – is a gibbonsque glimpse into the decline and decline of a liberal democracy as well as a poignant political swansong, it purges the soul of terror and pity.

“I loved, I was loved. The rest is background music, ”Clinton whispers. But to be loved or to be president, that was the question.

When Hillary Clinton first ran for president, she was, as a senator from New York, a political force and a feminist icon. In his bid for the Democratic nomination, his opponent was history itself: his accomplishments overshadowed by charismatic young Illinois lawyer Barack Obama. If there is a hierarchy of oppressions, race trumps gender: black women supported it against Hillary. Now white feminists know why.

In her second run, when she was ruthlessly intimidated by Trump, who tried to question her husband’s sexual offenses, her real nemesis was Bernie Sanders. During the long, hot primary season, he hammered home his ties to “Wall St” and awakened in American memory the idea – fading away with his century – that there was something unreliable about children. Clinton. Trump took it and ran with “Crooked Hillary” until it infected even the most sane of people. Like FBI chief James Comey who, on the eve of the election, reopened the infamous “e-mail” investigation. Despite his acquittal, the blow turned out to be fatal.

“This kind of aggression against the characters takes its toll.” Clinton knows the corrosive power of slander. “Even the supporters, the friends who don’t believe it – they always have a space in the back of their minds and then that space gets bigger – it’s the story of my public life.”

But this is not just the story of public life. It is the portrait of an extraordinary marriage. It is a unique story in the vast lexicon of love stories. He confronts many tropes about their relationship, even the paradox that despite her claim to not be “some sort of Tammy Wynette Stand By Your Man”, she actually was.

Their courtship display is the makings of an early-period enlightened chick. He pursued her. Although he didn’t expect to get married – “complicated childhood” is the rationale – he immediately recognized his deep need for her. She, excited by her career as a budding lawyer, was in no rush. Several proposals later, she said ‘Yes’ and, to the astonishment of her circle of feminist friends, moved to Arkansas to become the governor’s wife.

“She was a full partner in the governorship,” he says. And the images reveal a dynamic and beautiful couple, strong in their common mission, their passion for politics and their love. But they had counted without this toxic conservatism which flows like an underground river through American politics.

Her feminism cost her a second term as governor. She hadn’t taken her name and a reckless comment diverting criticism from her work – “Guess I should have stayed home and baked cakes and tea” – turned into a real hurricane: Hillary against the American housewife.

She changed her name to Hillary Rodham Clinton, he was re-elected governor and then president. Then the real problems started for her.

It became clear that the First Lady could never be a “full partnership”. They tried and were thwarted at every turn. Her 1995 speech in Beijing “Women’s rights are human rights and are for everyone” was a courageous blow to free speech. But storm clouds were piling up. And the storms had names; Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky.

The truism that a marriage survives infidelity if fidelity is not important is too easy. She sailed into Gennifer Flowers’ claim with the confidence of her own sexual power and a great sound clip. But Monica Lewinsky is in pain. She sublimated her rage by fighting her dismissal. And, above all, she supported him, a position that came to haunt his electoral campaign: he cheated but they blamed her.

By then, all of the “character assaults” had taken effect. The emotionally open woman who wanted to make a difference walked away; in its place an intellectual, who took up the emotional challenge with “politics”. This proved to be a fatal flaw in election campaigns, where populism provided the narrative for people who felt excluded.

That liberal democracy was falling short was baffling. “We weren’t perfect. But is there something left of everything we’ve tried to do? “

In the end, only their bond proved unbreakable. Proving, as always, that the heart has its reasons that reason cannot tell.


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