This election cycle has brought many surprising developments that we wouldn’t have thought possible less than two years ago. I personally would never have expected to find myself motivated to spring to the defense of Hillary Clinton, but this has been a very topsy-turvy year in politics. So, such as they are, I’d like to offer a few thoughts related to recent criticisms of the Democratic presidential nominee.
I must say that I’ve found much of the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s recent health problems both a bit puzzling and disappointing. Generally, I just don’t see “health-gate” as some sort of big scandal. People have cited the “failure” to promptly disclose her pneumonia diagnosis or the details of her unsteadiness following the 9/11 memorial event as further evidence of a tendency towards secrecy and a lack of openness, but I think that they should stick to other areas in seeking to make those points. Getting such a sickness is not a character flaw, nor does it render a person incapable of serving in high office. I don’t think that it’s particularly shocking that a candidate diagnosed with what she expects to be a short-term illness that she can work through would not see the need to broadcast the information, especially when it is likely to divert attention from the more substantive issues of the campaign. I also think it’s completely understandable for anyone actually feeling quite unwell and possibly faint at a particular moment to seek the opportunity for a couple of hours of rest away from the press or other outside attention. Hillary is still just a candidate, so we were not dealing with a situation where the public should feel a need to know whether a President’s health had become compromised to the point that the Vice President was now actually in charge. I realize that, not without some good reasons, many people, including Republican and conservative media figures, dislike Mrs. Clinton. Still, it seems to me that reacting to news that a person has pneumonia and nearly collapsed while leaving an event by attacking her for not sharing all of her health details with the press as they happen is more than a little uncharitable. Some brief comments wishing her a quick recovery would have seemed more appropriate, even if followed by discussion of issue-related reasons for opposition to her candidacy. Along these same lines, I find online headlines mocking Clinton as “old and sick Hillary” or commercials including her cough as a strike against her very unseemly. People have frequently characterized Hillary Clinton as robotic, but -- news flash -- she is a human being. Even if you don’t think she or other Democrats would return the favor, please try to treat her health problems with a little compassion, at least publicly.
Hillary Clinton’s remarks at a fundraiser a few weeks ago, in which she referred to some of Donald Trump’s supporters as “deplorable,” caused quite a controversy. To me, the outrage over her comments is overblown, as was the negative reaction to Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” statement four years ago. It is clearly not politically wise for a candidate to criticize any sizable groups of the American electorate, but perhaps those commenting on races from the outside could acknowledge that the American voting public is not comprised entirely of perfect people who are above reproach and that some critical assessments of voters may be true. There are some Trump backers who do hold the types of hateful views to which Clinton referred and who engage in terrible rhetoric to match on social media and in other places, and I don’t think it’s inappropriate to call these people “deplorable.” They are, of course, nowhere near half of Trump’s supporters, and Hillary did acknowledge that she had overgeneralized in her comments. I think it’s unfortunate that so many on Trump’s side (including those sending out Republican fund-raising appeals), rather than emphasizing that the individuals who would fit in Hillary’s basket are rejected by the vast majority of those in their camp, instead preferred to act as though she’d condemned everyone intending to vote for the Republican in November’s election. Many “regular” people also seem to have embraced the “deplorable” label (in online names, for example), which seems an odd response. Even if you somehow feel that being criticized by Hillary Clinton is some sort of badge of honor, why would you place yourself into a targeted group that doesn’t actually include you?
The second half of Clinton’s statements about Trump supporters at the above-mentioned event did not receive as much attention, but I think they were also interesting and seemed to be an attempt to express a more balanced attitude toward Republicans, including Trump enthusiasts. Mrs. Clinton described a second group of Trump supporters who feel hurt by economic developments, let down by the government, ignored, etc. and who are therefore mainly seeking change in backing Trump, and she said that it was necessary to understand and empathize with these people. Bill Kristol (noted anti-Trump editor of The Weekly Standard, but also no fan of Clinton) characterized Hillary’s remarks as treating the people about whom she was talking as a “pitiable other” and as no way to successfully reach out or win anyone over. I admire Mr. Kristol, but I don’t see it that way. Clinton’s comments actually seemed to me to reflect some “lessons” many on the Right have been saying Republicans should learn from Donald Trump’s campaign success ever since he took off in primary polling. I’ve never been at all convinced that there are any logical reasons for sensible American voters to believe Trump is a good presidential choice or that he’s the only one paying attention to their concerns, but perhaps Hillary Clinton should have gotten a little credit for showing some respect to many of Trump’s supporters instead of being accused of attacking all of them as racists, Islamophobes, etc.
I happen to disagree with Hillary Clinton about a great many things, and I’d say that she doesn’t have the most naturally engaging speaking style, so she is far from my ideal presidential candidate. However, especially as the race seems to have tightened in the last several weeks, there have been plenty of people suggesting that Trump only remains anywhere within striking distance because Hillary is such a terrible candidate. The implication is that basically any other Democrat would be convincingly defeating Donald Trump by now, and I’m not at all sure that that is the case. Does this mean that Trump would not have won the Republican nomination if only there had been at least one decent candidate in the field?? Please -- his opponents were a stellar group, but a plurality of voters wanted Trump. Although I can’t understand why anyone would make that choice, the same might hold true in the general election. Might a different Democrat nominee (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, etc.) attract more voters? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing. (I do wonder how tempted the party was during Hillary’s bout of pneumonia to use concern for her health as an opportunity to let someone else take over as nominee and test out the theory...)
One last point: many right-leaning commentators have complained that Hillary Clinton has gotten a “free pass” from the media regarding topics such as her e-mail server and the Clinton Foundation, but I wouldn’t describe it that way. The stories about these issues are in the news all the time. Even if they are only mentioned briefly and don’t include editorial conclusions that Hillary was not honest or broke laws regarding classified information, these developments are not being ignored, and it seems likely they have been damaging to her campaign. She may get friendlier treatment from the mainstream media than Trump does, but she hasn’t received a “free pass.”
Hillary Clinton has had a rough time lately in her run for the presidency, with criticism coming at her for everything from legitimate issues, such as the mishandling of classified e-mails, to things that would seem outside politics or her control, such as coming down with an illness. As Election Day approaches, I’d expect the scrutiny to continue and even intensify, and the way she handles it will likely have a big impact on her chances of prevailing in November. I’m willing to offer her a little sympathy, particularly when people “pile on” or kick her while she’s down. How many others, especially among swing voters, will also feel this way? This, too, may make a significant difference in determining who our next President will be.