There are a few things that I feel I should get out of the way before I start this post. We, nationally, need to stop talking about Clinton’s “likeability”. “Likeability” is not an attribute that I care about when picking a commander-in-chief. Also, she’s a woman, and talking about her likeability is basically a proxy method of calling her “a bitch”, which is a way we silence women in many areas of discourse. The relevant issues are her policy positions, accordingly, this post will focus on those. By the way, also, it’s “Hillary Clinton”, “Clinton” or variations, or “former Secretary Clinton”. She’s not the current Secretary of State, and one does not retain the title upon leaving the office which is held by only one specific person at a time. For the love of god, stop calling her Secretary Clinton.
Secondly, Donald Trump is dangerous, inconsistent, a bigot and a liar, and a Bad Person. That he is the GOP nominee for President of the United States is unbelievable. I would never, ever vote for him, and anybody who knows me should know this. The alternatives to Clinton are not what I’m talking about here, I don’t give TWO SHITS that there are only “two realistic choices”. This is a post about why Clinton is a terrible choice for president, that’s what my soapbox is for today.
Let me be clear about this: I do not care about “two realistic choices” arguments. Fuck. That. Shit.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, yes, I understand the reality of electoral politics in the United States. We unfortunately have to contend with the Electoral College. In my view, the Electoral College is wholly undemocratic, especially in that there is no federal law to bind electors to the candidates they’re pledged to, leading to a not-unheard-of issue of faithless electors. The politics, pros and cons of the Electoral College are outside the scope of this post, but suffice it to say I’m familiar with the arguments for and against and come out against. Regardless, we’re stuck with it for the time being. Another thing I won’t cover: first past the post voting and its alternatives. FPtP sucks, and Nicolas de Condorcet gets a shout-out here, but it’s a separate argument entirely. That said, I do not subscribe to the view that a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for the guy other than who you want. That’s just foolishness, and it makes some assumptions that are suspect. As my grandfather would have said, it ain’t necessarily so. Anyway, onto my thesis:
Hillary Clinton is not a good choice for president. She’s a warmonger, a liar, a dissembler, hostile to civil rights, chummy with the NSA and CIA, and shows a fundamental disdain for the fundamental principles of democracy.
I. TECHNOLOGY, PRIVACY, AND THE INTERNET
Those who know me know that technology is my life. I use the internet every day of my life, it’s absolutely essential to what I do as a lighting designer and as someone who lives my life joined at the hip with my laptop. The internet is possibly the greatest tool for learning and communication ever invented since Gutenberg had an idea for movable type. The ability of the population to converse and exchange ideas in a free and open way is essential for almost every aspect of life. The first and forth amendments to the Constitution of the United States enshrine a fundamental right to communicate, freely, and the founders – rightly – also felt so strongly about a free and independent press that they felt the need to talk about in in the very first amendment.
Hillary Clinton’s actions on privacy, and with particular regard to the state’s occasional need to keep secrets from its citizens, its reaction when those secrets that come to light are embarrassing, immoral, or illegal, and her disdain for personal privacy bear a particular need for close and critical scrutiny.
The events of September 11th, 2001, changed everything in the United States. “Terrorist” became our new favorite buzzword, our fear of The Other brought into crystalline focus by the deaths of the people in the towers. It was as if this was the moment that every General Ripper-like character who inhabits the Pentagon and the shadowy echelons of the military-surveillance community were waiting for: a reason to spy on every American, and we’d not only allow it, we’d welcome it.
The PATRIOT Act was signed into law on October 26th, 2001, barely a month after the attacks, and is the principal law that the NSA uses to justify its bulk collection of American’s communications. And Clinton, who was a senator in New York at the time, voted for the legislation. Not once, but every other time it came up for renewal in the Senate. And when the vast overreach committed by the NSA was revealed by Edward Snowden, a politician who – it seems – would like to be known for her careful consideration of the issues, took a fairly hard-line position calling for his punishment. Part of this is certainly what she views as the political necessity of supporting the Obama administration’s practically lying prostrate at the alter of “National Security”, prosecuting more people under the Espionage Act than every other administration…combined. Clinton has said that Snowden should be held “accountable”. Accountable for telling the truth that Clinton, as Secretary of State, helped conceal during her tenure? In an April speech at the University of Connecticut, Clinton said: “When he absconded with all of that material, I was puzzled, because we have all these protections for whistleblowers.” That is a lie. Snowden was a contractor and not covered by federal whistleblower protection laws, and Hillary Clinton undoubtedly knows this. Additionally, even were Snowden a federal employee with the protection ostensibly afforded whistleblowers, Clinton knows – or should – that these protections are next to worthless. Consider the cases of John Kiriakou, Thomas Drake, and Chelsea Manning, all of whom tried to do the right thing and bring to light brutal CIA torture, NSA domestic spying, and the indiscriminate killing of brown-skinned children, and had their lives ruined for the effort. (And at the same time choosing not to prosecute the people responsible for these things.)
The Washington Post reported many files “described as useless by the [NSA] analysts but nonetheless retained…have a voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.” They concluded after four months of reviewing the documents: “No government oversight body, including the Justice Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence committees in Congress or the President’s Privacy and Civil Oversight Board, has delved into a comparably large sample of what the NSA actually collects—not only from its targets but from people who may cross a target’s path.” Did Clinton know that such extensive spying was going on? If not, why isn’t she grateful to Snowden for bringing such violations to light? She is either a fool or a liar, and she’s not a fool.
Or consider her calls for a “Manhattan-like project” to help the state break encrypted communications…but only for Terrorists™. And while nobody who has heard Clinton’s rhetoric on privacy and the apparently vast and immediate needs of law enforcement for massive warrantless surveillance believes that she would in any sense attempt to reign in a domestic spying program run amok, the very idea that law enforcement agencies gifted with such power would willingly limit themselves is absurd. The revelations of Snowden make this clear, as have the revelations by every other whistleblower to come forward about abuses of this power in the past. Needless to say, inserting a backdoor into everyone’s iPhone or encryption programs is beyond stupid to anybody who understands the technology and understands that the most talented “hackers” in the world would find an exploit for it in months, weeks, or days. Consider that in our systems designed to be secure now, we hear of gnarly zero-day exploits every other month. Someone as smart as Hillary Clinton should understand this, and probably does. Finding other actual policy recommendations by Clinton on this issue are difficult, in part because she’s been extremely evasive on what her policies would be and what her views are. But if her past votes, and lack of regret for sweeping surveillance programs are any indication, the former Secretary never met a domestic surveillance program she didn’t like. At best, she’ll keep the invasive programs we already have. This is unacceptable.
II: DISDAIN FOR DEMOCRACY
Look, Clinton supporters can have it one of two ways: either she’s a brilliant, smart-as-a-whip politician, or she’s a doddy, fumbling old lady who just doesn’t get these gosh-durned computers and techmology. While I have a personal and semi-founded hunch that Clinton is probably three times as technologically sophisticated as most old white people come, the truth of whether she’s a tech wizard or a proverbial Aunt Tillie is completely irrelevant to the haunting, dogged question of her “damn e-mails”.
What is completely uninteresting (to me) is whether confidential information passed through her personal server, un-guarded by DoD polarized neutrino shielding or whatever else the DoD works on when it isn’t coming up with new and “technically legal” methods to bend, mutilate, and mangle
brown people Terrorists™. I don’t care if Russia “hacked” the server, if a secret file or two sat in an inbox passed over for more scrutinous review. Having been in a few positions that get a volume of e-mail that I find it difficult to deal with (my current one included), I cannot imagine the volume of e-mail a Secretary of State has to deal with, aides and people to help notwithstanding, and sometimes shit slips through the cracks. Whatever. It’s not even about the fact that she used a private e-mail address or even a private server per se. No, what angers me is that she – or those working on her behalf1 lied, dissembled, and destroyed records about it at every damn turn.
When I used the term “democracy” in the section title above, I had a specific meaning for that term in mind. I don’t mean the technical definition in an electoral sense; I mean it in a broader sense that encompasses the ideals of civic participation, government transparency, public service, and overall dealing in good faith with the electorate and with other sections of the government – a government that is incorrupt and sincerely tries to do the right thing. This, broadly, is the spirit of democracy, the way we’d like to think the government should work and the way it works most of the time on The West Wing2,3.
This is not the way Clinton functions. (This appears to apply equally to both former President Bill Clinton and his wife.) Rules are for the Little People, the ones who don’t have to put up with these pesky FOIA requests. Consider the rules regarding setting up a private server in one’s house and directing all State Department-related e-mails through your private address. This is not a trivial undertaking; from both a technological perspective or a national one. There are plenty of departments within the government of the United States that handle information that might be considered trivial or mundane. The State Department is not one of those, and the e-mails of the head of the State Department are definitely not, and someone as smart as Hillary Clinton would know this. Nevertheless, she made it happen anyway. As we know from Director Comey’s statements on the matter, if she had sought permission to do this, permission would have been denied, whatever Colin Powell or anybody else had done in the past.
More troubling is the deletion of e-mails which nobody ever had a chance to check out. Clinton appears to be able to offer only her assurances that these were nothing more than wedding plans, funny pictures of Socks the Cat and yoga class plans, an assertion which absolutely strains credulity. Regardless of the one’s feelings on personal information being in the public eye, the fact is that the non-classified e-mails of government officials using their government-provided e-mail addresses are subject to strict retention laws, for FOIA and other reasons, and someone as smart as Hillary Clinton would know this, and yet she – or someone working on her behalf – chose to ignore this. She could have easily used two devices.
And then some 32,000 e-mails were deleted, based on what some aide(s), with or without Clinton’s input, considered personal. There are reasons e-mails sent on government accounts are retained. They aren’t personal addresses, they belong to the office, not the person. It flies in the face of good stewardship, much less good sense, to knowingly mix your personal e-mails in with the e-mails that pertain to you discharging the duties of your government job. This shows, on the most charitable reading, disdain for the principles of government accountability and transparency, and on the most cynical and uncharitable reading, a deliberate attempt to hide embarrassing information. We simply will never be able to know what the truth of the matter was, because Clinton – or someone acting on her behalf – decided that we shouldn’t be allowed to know. We, the electorate, don’t get the opportunity to decide.
The continued cries of unfairness and mistreatment of the candidate by her supporters have only continued to sound more and more disingenuous as we learned that she in fact lied as to whether such practices were allowed, about how other politicians did the same thing, as though that were anything resembling a valid excuse. (Before you yell “Powell!” he used a private address, but not on a personal server.) She did all the things you do when you want to render FOIA requests impotent and toothless, which looks a whole hell of a lot like there was something worth concealing. And while the question of whether or not some random state secret was revealed doesn’t interest me in the slightest, the assertion by Clinton and Comey that the Secretary wasn’t “sophisticated” enough to understand the classification system utterly strains credulity. Sophistry, indeed. And I’m not even going to touch on the Clinton Foundation and the “pay-for-play” controversy, investigations of which are still ongoing.
It’s unfathomably stupid to have relied on a private email account to conduct official business. Her supporters should ask themselves what she was honestly attempting to accomplish with this, and whether her claims of “not being so technologically sophisticated” ring true.
This is not how someone running for the highest public office in the land should conduct themselves. Government officials, acting in pursuance of their duties should be absolutely as transparent and act with all integrity and forthrightness, behavior the former secretary seems to think is a petty and unreasonable demand.
III: FOREIGN POLICY
Clinton is a firm believer in American exceptionalism. I am not, and this underlies many of the misgivings I have about Clinton’s foreign policy. Let us not speak of Benghazi, a scandal as diaphanous and flimsy as wet tissue paper. That trumped-up partisan shitshow is nothing but a distraction from Clinton’s hawkish and warmongering views, ease with using military force, and her surrounding herself with people who are themselves part of the same military-industrial-complex4 that no less than former President Eisenhower warned us about.
In a speech before the American Legion in September, Clinton said ““If there’s one core belief that has guided and inspired me every step of the way, it is this: The United States is an exceptional nation. I believe we are still Lincoln’s last, best hope of Earth. We’re still Reagan’s shining city on a hill. We’re still Robert Kennedy’s great, unselfish, compassionate country.” Invoking the name of Lincoln and Kennedy immediately sets my teeth on edge when any politician does it, and especially for so brazen a political purpose. Whenever anyone refers to the United States as “exceptional”, they’re generally doing so in support of the idea that the United States should not only be the police of the world, but do so without the support of allies if we can’t get it, and no shy away from using force if convenient.
What Clinton really did with this speech was make sure that everyone knows America’s ridiculously bloated military budget will be safe from the axe under a Clinton administration, and it presented Clinton’s general approach to military policy in the most aggressive terms. She called for increased military readiness, modernization of weapons systems and advanced preparations for all sorts of conflict. “We cannot lose our military edge, and that means giving the Pentagon the stable, predictable funding it needs to make smart investments,” she said, denouncing the “sequester” caps on military spending imposed as part of a bipartisan budget-cutting deal. The US military had to be able to “operate on short notice across every domain, not just land, sea, air and space, but also cyberspace.”
Of course, it’s hard to judge a speech that contained no real policy objectives or goals. Are goals like modernizing weapons systems and making sure the nuclear codes aren’t sent to “00000000”5 laudable? Of course they are; when you’re messing around with weapons that have the potential to make the planet permanently uninhabitable, you want to be mindful of which peg you hang the keys on. On the other hand, what candidates choose to talk about during speeches like this are a way of telegraphing intentions upon assuming office, and it’s telling that Clinton didn’t choose to emphasize a commitment to peace at the same moment.
We also know from those who have worked with her in the past and from her memoir that she consistently came down on the side of using force during her tenure as Secretary of State, from Afghanistan to Libya and Syria. It’s telling that she largely avoided the whole Israel / Palestine debate, probably to avoid crossing the large pro-Israel lobby that exists in the United States. It’s also worth noting that she promoted education of women and girls in places where they have virtually no rights, and that is a Good Thing. And yet last Tuesday, at the inaptly-named Center for American Progress – founded by none other than John Podesta – a Clinton adviser and a Gulf state diplomat agreed that the next president should double down on support for the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, while ramping up against Iran. Yes, Saudia Arabia, that bastion of women’s (and human) rights: they can’t even fucking drive themselves.
Speaking of Saudi Arabia, let’s have a look at that little gem of a country and Clinton’s relationship to it: one could characterize it as “cozy”. (But not too cozy, let the Morality Police show up to physically beat some modesty into the dirty female temptresses.) In 2011, Clinton celebrated the sale of some eighty F-15 fighters to the Saudi government, which they have since used to bomb the ever-loving-shit out of civilians, journalists, Doctors Without Borders, and ambulance drivers. Just a few years earlier then-Secretary Clinton was making weapons transfers to the Saudi government a “top priority”. Despite the brutal attacks on Yemen and its absolutely egregious human rights violations, Saudi Arabia remains the number one U.S. ally in the Arab world. The United States is provided a truly obscene amount of money to provide some of our most advanced weaponry to a government who forces women to not be without a male guardian to perform the basic civic tasks. Meanwhile, the European Union took the extraordinary step of voting for an EU-wide arms embargo to Saudi Arabia. And it’s no secret that Saudi Arabia – among other repressive nations – have been huge contributors to the Clinton Foundation, both before and after she was Secretary of State. If she’s such a friend of women and girls and their empowerment, she might wish to rethink the kind of message that relationship sends to the women and girls living under those governments.
But back to Clinton the Hawk. Robert Gates’ memoir Duty: Memoir of a Secretary at War is useful here, as he was Secretary of Defense under both former President Bush and (puzzlingly) President Obama. For instance, he remembers that he and Clinton were allies in that they both held the same hard-line stance regarding the drawbacks in Afgahnistan: “The Obama foreign policy team was splintering. [Joe] Biden, his chief of staff, [Rahm] Emanuel, some of the National Security Council staff, and probably all of the president’s White House political advisers were on a different page with respect to Afghanistan than Clinton, [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs] Mullen, [Dennis] Blair, and me.” (p. 350). Or consider that the President in 2013 resisted urging from Clinton, Petraeus, Panetta, and General Dempsey to get the United States directly involved in the Syrian civil war, calling to arm and train the ragtag Syrian rebels.
More famously, Clinton and others pushed hard, and won, for the United States to take direct military action against Libya. Not only did that action inflame Russian nationalism, it created a power vacuum in Northern Africa. We got rid of Muammar Qaddafi but left hundreds of armed militias in his stead, creating chaos and anarchy. And while on the subject of human rights, let’s not forget Clinton’s unfortunate quip: “We came, we saw, he died.” (cue laugh track) Qaddafi was a Bad Person, responsible for much suffering and misery of his people, whom he tortured, killed, and terrorized. But regardless of how awful a person is, their deaths should never be celebrated, never mocked, never rejoiced. That’s the kind of emotional response to someone’s death I expect from a psychopath, not a presidential candidate, and the ease at which she jokes about a human dying is unsettling.
Finally, she surrounds herself with a who’s who of warfare state top dogs: her “National Security working group” includes Gen. David Petraeus, architect of the Iraq War troop surge, Michael Chertoff, a hardliner and advocate of torturing people who served as former President George W. Bush’s last secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and who since leaving government in 2009 has been with a corporate consulting firm called the Chertoff Group that promotes security-industry priorities. For example, in 2010, he gave dozens of media interviews touting full-body scanners at airports while his firm was employed by a company that produced body scanning machines. Mike Morell, who told Charlie Rose in a PBS interview that the CIA should actively assassinate Russians and Iranians in Syria. Michael Vickers, a former Pentagon official who the New York Times reported in 2011 led the use of drone strikes. He would grin and tell his colleagues at meetings, “I just want to kill those guys.”
This is not someone I want as President of the United States. Clinton is power-hungry, amoral, and manipulative, and from all appearances thinks it’s “her turn” to be President, and wishes everyone in the progressive camp would just sit down, shut up, and let her have the office of the most powerful person in the government for the next eight years. And since our only choice might as well be literally Hitler…well, there isn’t much of a choice to begin with. I voted for Sanders in the primary, but the myriad ways in which both the media and the Clinton campaign seriously fucked a politician with more integrity in his little finger than the entire Democratic establishment could be its own really long post, and I’ve already gone over my word limit.
We the people really don’t have a choice this election. Oh sure, we can vote for some third-party whackaloon who, butthurt that she got made fun of on John Oliver’s show, thinks that we need to police the “oppressive tactics of corporate comedians”, but I think most people are going to look at this election the same way we always do: as a vote between blue and red, dem or GOP, and with the other side putting forth an almost-literal clown with piss-colored hair for president, we are virtually deprived of even the choice to vote for a reasonably yet ideologically-opposed other. Almost makes me wish for the halcyon days of Mitt Romney. (All that said, I don’t blame anybody who votes for Stein, or Gary “What’s Aleppo?” Johnson, for that matter. It’s probably a braver choice than choosing between Trump or Clinton.)
So to the entire democratic establishment, the Democratic National Convention, every stupid idiot who didn’t vote their conscience in the primary because of “electability”, John Podesta, the RNC, Donald Trump personally, and to Hillary Clinton as a candidate:
Exit, slamming the door.
1. Make no mistake, nobody working for Clinton does things she doesn’t want them to and doesn’t get immediately. SHIT. CANNED.
2. The Daily Show hilariously, and tragically, got this exactly right when they informed us in a chapter heading that today we would learn “Everything you’ve ever seen on The West Wing is total fucking bullshit.
3. God, what I wouldn’t do for a President Bartlett or Santos.
4. I almost cringe just using this term because it’s mostly used by dreadlock-wearing hippies who need to take a step closer to a bar of soap when they shower, but Eisenhower was right.
5. I swear I am not making this up. “Keeping Presidents in the Nuclear Dark (Episode #1: The Case of the Missing “Permissive Action Links“) – Bruce G. Blair, Ph.D”. Cdi.org. February 11, 2004.