Candidate Evaluations: Hillary Clinton
by Benjamin Studebaker
The inevitable has happened–Hillary Clinton has announced that she’s running for president. And so it’s once again time to continue my Candidate Evaluations series, where we examine a candidate’s background, policy history, and explicit statements in an attempt to figure out whether the candidate would actually be any good at being president. Too often, no one bothers to ask these question, focusing instead on electability or likability. So far, we’ve covered Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, neither of which did especially well. Will Hillary Clinton fare any better?
This is Hillary Clinton:
Clinton’s background is pretty well known to us–a political science major in undergrad, Clinton got a law degree at Yale and worked on child law. She also has the bizarre distinction of having worked on the campaigns of both Barry Goldwater and George McGovern. Her formal training is not all that different from Ted Cruz’s, though the focus on child law as opposed to constitutional law stands out. On matters of economics or international relations, Clinton is not an expert by training.
Unlike Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, Clinton has a really extensive record of having done things, and in many cases enough time has passed that the things Clinton has done can actually be evaluated. So instead of doing what I’ve done in the past–picking apart the candidate’s background to get a feel for how they think–we’re going to spend some time looking at what Clinton has done and tried to do as First Lady, senator, and Secretary of State.
This is important, because Hillary Clinton usually gets a pass. The 90’s are remembered fondly, and regardless of whether Clinton’s decisions have been good or bad, she has always projected strength. Many commentators on the left–particularly those who would especially like to see a female president–have taken a remarkable disinterest in evaluating any of the things Clinton has done. So we’re going to take this in three parts:
- The 90’s
- Secretary of State
People remember the 90’s fondly because the headline numbers were pretty great–there were no recessions during the first Clinton administration and annual GDP growth rates sometimes exceeded 4 or even 5%:
The unemployment rate also fell almost continuously during the 90’s:
And the Clintons ran a budget surplus and reduced the size of the debt as a share of GDP:
But there are a few things about the 90’s that are commonly overlooked that mar the legacy. For one, Clinton’s Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993–frequently credited with creating the surplus–renewed a framework created by the first Bush administration in 1990. Because the surplus did not come about until many years later, George H.W. Bush is denied his share of the credit in reducing budget deficits. Additionally, the collapse of the Soviet Union helped both Bush and Clinton shrink the defense budget significantly in the late 80’s and 90’s–arguably half the work was done by the first Bush:
The Clintons also enacted welfare reform. This ended welfare as an entitlement program, restricting the benefits poor American families could receive and requiring them to demonstrate evidence of having looked for employment. This drastically reduced the number of people receiving welfare payments:
This helped the Clintons achieve the famous budget surplus, but the consequences for poor American families and children were severe. Here’s a short list of some of welfare reform’s lesser known effects:
- Mortality rates among welfare recipients likely rose by at least 16%.
- By keeping single parents in work and away from their children, welfare reform adversely affected the development of adolescents, particularly those who were pushed to care for younger siblings, significantly decreasing academic performance.
- The percentage of poor children receiving food stamps fell from 88% to 70%, and the number receiving cash assistance fell from 57% to 40%.
- By making payments contingent on seeking employment, it reduced the probability that women will go back to school by 20-25%.
- The percent of deeply poor households with children who report having insufficient funds to cover essential expenses rose from 37% in 1995 to 48% in 2005.
Extreme poverty has been growing more or less continuously since welfare reform was passed:
This was part of a larger trend under the Clintons where the fantastic headline growth figures obscured a darker reality in which nearly all the benefits of the 90’s boom went to the very richest Americans:
The Clintons did nothing about this–the tax system was no more progressive when they left office than it was when they entered:
But that isn’t the most troubling thing about the Clinton years–this is:
Here we can see that the Clinton years played the most definitive role in the financialization of the American economy–even moreso than the Reagan/Bush years. By contrast, George W. Bush’s effect is negligible. This increasing dependence on finance has driven more and more money into the hands of shareholders and less and less money into the hands of workers and consumers, leading to bubbles. Immediately after the Clintons left office, the stock market bubble burst. Behold, the vainglorious fall of the NASDAQ:
Clinton attempted to sustain the bubble with two laws deregulating the financial sector passed in 1999 and 2000. These laws facilitated the creation of “too big to fail” firms and derivatives, including the infamous “credit default swaps”. This set the stage for the global economic crisis of 2008. While George W. Bush did not anticipate the housing bubble or pass subsequent legislation to avert that crisis, it cannot be denied that the crisis has its roots primarily in Clinton financialization, Clinton deregulation, and Clinton inequality. This is not a record that any democrat ought to be proud of, and these are not policies we should desire to see further implemented.
During the Bush years, while the dire consequences of the Clintons’ economic policies were coming home to roost, Hillary Clinton cast her vote in favor of the Iraq War. She has since claimed that she did not fully understand the resolution and that she believed the administration would spend more time inspecting Iraq for weapons. If true, this would be indicative of tremendous incompetence. However, there’s significant evidence to suggest that Clinton is simply lying about this–she voted against the Levin Amendment, which would have required the Bush administration to spend the aforementioned time inspecting. She has also refused to apologize for the vote, claiming that it was the right decision given what she knew at the time. In 2007, long after it was clear to nearly everyone that the war had been a mistake, she said:
If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from.
The problem with this is that even if we took what the Bush administration was saying in 2002 as given–that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons–the decision to invade Iraq would nonetheless have been every bit as a big a blunder. As I’ve discussed on this blog throughout the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran, nuclear weapons cannot be used offensively against another country with a robust nuclear deterrent unless the user is suicidal, and there was no reason to think that Saddam Hussein was suicidal. If Iraq had nuked us, it would only be guaranteeing its own annihilation. If Iraq had given its nukes to terrorists or other third parties, there is no reason to think it would not have been blamed for the actions of those parties. It is even possible that the Hussein regime would have been the victim of said terrorists–Hussein was considered a secular dictator by Middle Eastern standards, and terrorists despised his regime for being insufficiently Islamic. Even if Iraq had several hundred nuclear weapons and the theoretical capacity to strike the United States, it would not have been a serious threat. This was pointed out at the time by dozens of extremely prominent international relations theorists from some of America’s most prestigious universities, including Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, Robert Art, Barry Posen, Stephen Walt, and others. They wrote an open letter. If you don’t believe me, here’s the link. Walt and Mearsheimer went so far as to co-author a paper about it.
Hillary Clinton could have reasonably been expected to know better. 23 senators did. 133 members of the house did. The wars cost thousands of lives and between $4 and $6 trillion. So much for the surplus. As a result, when the 2008 crisis–fueled by 90’s Clinton policies–arrived, the Obama administration struggled to generate the political will to respond effectively in the face of large deficits:
Secretary of State:
It would be one thing if the Iraq War were an aberration, but Clinton’s years as secretary of state exposed her as a reckless interventionist, on the wrong side of every internal administration dispute:
- In 2011, she successfully urged the administration to intervene in Libya against the Gaddafi regime–this has led to chaos in Libya, a horrific civil war in Mali, and turned Libya into a home for terrorists. To make matters worse, her argument for war contradicted existing US intelligence reports and damaged America’s ability to fight terrorism, according to US intelligence officials who spoke to the Washington Post on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
- Throughout the Syrian Civil, she tried and mostly failed to convince the administration to intervene in Syria against the Assad regime, which is now the only major force in that country capable of standing up against ISIS. Indeed, what weapons the US did choose to supply to the anti-Assad rebels quickly fell into the hands of terrorists. Clinton admits no error and continues to criticize Obama for staying out of Syria.
- She casually compared Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, misunderstanding and escalating the conflict in Ukraine. I wrote quite a bit about this issue at the time (as did many of the aforementioned academics who opposed the Iraq War).
So what we have here is a candidate with a foreign policy record that’s indistinguishable from Dick Cheney’s and an economic policy record that consists of hurting poor families, expanding inequality, financializing and destabilizing the economy, and generally creating dangerous economic conditions. Clinton’s only redeeming feature is her supposedly liberal record on social issues, and even here she has blemishes–the Clinton administration originally passed the Defense of Marriage Act, and she was against gay marriage until as late as 2013:
Yet we will continue to see people who claim to be democrats who will argue for Clinton on the basis of social issues, ignoring and making excuses for her foreign policy blunders, economic incompetence, and indifference to the fate of America’s poor. Call them what they are–DINOs (Democrats in Name Only), and like the dinosaurs, hopelessly out of date.
Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric and reputation will make her appear to be a much better candidate than she really is. Despite appearances, the Clintons are not substantively different from the Bushes on many of the most important issues. She may be marginally better than Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, particularly on feminist issues, but outside of that we can expect a new Clinton administration to continue us down a path we really shouldn’t want to be on. Here’s what really gets me–if you asked me to submit evidence to you showing that Hillary Clinton is more egalitarian or less of a hawk than Ted Cruz, I couldn’t do it. No such evidence exists, beyond the difference in rhetoric, and this says as much about the audience each plays to as it does about any real difference in policy. I feel that Hillary Clinton isn’t as bad as Ted Cruz in my gut, but I can’t prove this to you or to me. Clinton’s rhetoric on many issues is in total defiance of her record, and I feel we are all being taken for a ride. She should not be president.