Clinton’s new book is a set back for progressives

“What Happened” enforces toxic ideas for the Democratic Party


Written By Matt Petras, Co-Features Editor

The former presidential candidate has released a memoir covering the 2016 campaign called “What Happened.” In it, she runs the gamut on what there is to talk about following the election, including Russia, Bernie Sanders, The New York Times and even Goldfish crackers.

Unfortunately, Clinton used the book to articulate some ideas so bad as to be toxic for progressive politics.

There was clear contrast between the proposed policies of Sanders and Clinton during the primaries. In “What Happened,” Clinton emphasizes that contrast starkly. Clinton writes the following about the first debate during the Democratic primaries:

“I wanted to debunk the false charge that I wasn’t a true progressive and explain why I thought Socialism was wrong for America—and that those two propositions were in no way contradictory.”

The framing there is incredibly frustrating.

In principle, you can’t be an advocate for programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while also dunking on socialism. In her book, Clinton actually writes, with great pride, about announcing her candidacy at Four Freedoms Park, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial. His New Deal program, she writes, “saved capitalism from itself following the Great Depression.”

Embracing socialism clearly goes hand-in-hand with leftist economic policy. When democratic politicians like Clinton bash socialism, they erode the perception of leftist economics at large.

“Noting that his plans didn’t add up, that they would inevitably mean raising taxes on middle-class families, or that they were little more than a pipe dream—all of this could be used to reinforce his argument that I wasn’t a true progressive,” she wrote in her book.

With sentiments like that, Clinton helps the republicans and, yes, detracts from her progressive bonefides. In building a case against Sanders’ policies, Clinton warns of tax increases on the middle class, as if it isn’t demonstrably the case that beloved social programs like Social Security would not function without increased taxes on the middle class. Clinton presents these tax increases as intrinsically bad.

When democrats weaponize the term “socialism” and score easy political points by advocating for middle class tax cuts (or at least advocating against any and all increases), they hack away at essential arguments for progressive economics. If raising taxes on the middle class for government programs is indeed bad, then the republicans are correct in their attempts to erode programs like Social Security.

“I think we operate better when we’re kinda between center-right and center-left,” she said in an interview with Ezra Klein of Vox following the release of her book. That sounds pretty progressive, right? Right.

To be fair, Sanders certainly has his flaws as well. Alongside many groaners in the book are some valid critiques of Sanders. As she did many times in the primaries, Clinton hit Sanders hard for his bizarre support of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which gave special protection for gun manufacturers against lawsuits. This is an annoying blind-spot for a candidate who is otherwise consistent in the fight against corporate power. 

She also used the book to again deride him for derisively referring to Planned Parenthood as part of the establishment after the group endorsed her, a point I think is well-taken. When a group as valuable as Planned Parenthood receives the kind of vicious smears it weathered during the campaign, negatively framing it as “establishment” is dumb.

Ultimately, though, the reality is that right now, Clinton is relitigating the campaign while Sanders is pushing for bold, progressive policy.

“My response is that right now it’s appropriate to look forward and not backward,” Sanders said in an interview with The Hill, responding to the disparaging comments from the book. His focus, he also told The Hill, was on pursuing policies like Medicare-For-All.

His response reminds me of that quote from Michelle Obama:

“When they go low, we go high.”