But … doesn’t that mean she did? In a speech to Oxford that has raised some eyebrows on this side of the pond, Hillary Clinton transformed an interesting argument about the rise of “illiberalism” by making it all about herself and her 2016 loss. The erstwhile presidential candidate bemoaned the fact that she lost the election while still winning three million more votes while making an argument about toxic populism.
Er … what?
In a speech to Oxford University on Monday, Clinton again bemoaned the American electoral college system that saw her win the popular vote in 2016 but lose the presidency.
‘Populists can stay in power by mobilizing a fervent base. Now, there are many other lessons like this, she said, adding that she had ‘my personal experience with winning three million more votes but still losing.’
‘And we will leave discussions of American Electoral College for another day,’ Hillary noted during her Oxford University’s Romanes Lecture.
This one’s making the rounds as “Hillary disses the Electoral College,” but that’s not really the story here. For one thing, she’s made much more direct attacks on the Electoral College and the Constitution before this. In her memoirs, Hillary called it “the godforsaken Electoral College,” as though it was put in her specific path to the coronation — er, excuse me, inauguration — as an obstacle to success. A sneering reference abroad is one of Hillary’s lighter moments in a continuing series of gripes about the system she wanted to run.
What really makes this amusing is that Hillary’s speech was intended to warn against the erosion of “democratic institutions” by populism and the attraction of strongman rule. She compares Donald Trump to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for instance, and warns that the struggle against “a rising tide of illiberalism” now includes the US … presumably because she lost:
Hillary Clinton compared President Donald Trump to the president of Turkey – a controversial figure who returned to office with broad new powers that lack checks and balances. …
‘But Mounk concludes by saying, ‘Turkey also shows that political and intellectual elites, both inside the country and around the world, persistently underestimate the threat which these kinds of leaders pose to the survival of democratic institutions,” Clinton said.
Ahem. Among those democratic institutions in the US happens to be the Electoral College. And why did the framers of the Constitution create it? To act as a buffer against populism, at least in form. The Electoral College reflects the popular vote on a state-by-state basis to prevent a handful of the most populous states from controlling the executive through the nationwide popular vote, which creates a buffer against the very impulse Hillary decries in this speech.
It’s true that Donald Trump’s brand of populism prevailed anyway, but what was the other option? Hillary was the kind of pass-to-the-family candidate that could be seen as a symptom of an illiberal government too, especially when the party supporting her corrupted itself to ensure a Clinton won the nomination.
And besides, Trump has been president for less than 18 months. How long as Erdogan been in power? He’s been Prime Minister or President since 2003. His transition from PM to a more muscular presidency didn’t take place in 2017 — it took place years before that, while Barack Obama was president, based on political machinations undertaken in large part while Hillary was Secretary of State. By 2013, as Hillary was exiting that office, protests had broken out across Turkey over Erdogan’s authoritarianism. Where was Hillary then? And where was Hillary when it came time to get tough with Vladimir Putin? Oh, yes, we recall — she was laughingly handing Sergei Lavrov a “reset button” and blaming Putin’s “illiberalism” on the Bush administration.
The point of this speech seemed also to warn Europe about rising populism, but what’s fueling that? What fueled Brexit, perhaps the most striking example of effective nationalism in the West? It started with a massive wave of refugees that began sweeping through Europe after the beginning of the Syrian civil war and the collapse of Libya into a failed state following the fall of Moammar Gaddafi. Obama and Clinton didn’t do a thing to prevent the former, and they actively caused the latter with their bombing campaign that destabilized Libya and gave terror networks free rein throughout the country. Nationalism and populism were the predictable result of the actions of the woman decrying them from Oxford.
Hillary’s not entirely wrong in her warnings, but she has no credibility to speak out against them — especially not when she uses them to make herself the center of the issue.