During the 2008 elections, when I was in that strange period of limbo where I was old enough to be interested in politics but still too young to do more than mimic the views of my parents, Hillary Clinton seemed like the perfect candidate for the Presidency. She was a Democrat, which at that point was more than enough for me, since they were the “good guys,” the people against wars, for gay marriage and equality. We were disappointed Clinton lost the primaries, but stood by Obama in the general election. Since then, Clinton has remained in the back of my mind as an exemplar of the “good Democrat,” despite the fact that she doesn’t actually believe in the very policies I associated with that imagined ideal.
So when Clinton’s campaign video surfaced along with her official campaign announcement, it felt like the return of a childhood hero. She was one of the first political figures of which I became aware. And so I was taken aback by the backlash online calling her an imperialist warmonger. But the more I looked into these claims, the more I realized that Clinton’s actual policy was far different from what I had imagined, and in many ways the very antithesis of my imagined ideal. She voted in favor of the Iraq war as a member of Congress, and defended this position long after the fact. Her aggressive foreign policy remained as an influence during her term as Secretary of State (such as the Obama administration’s drone strikes in Afghanistan and involvement in Libya), and has continued to be so after her term in comments of disapproval towards Obama’s negations with Iran. Her social policies, though generally progressive, are very flawed in many respects. Her position on abortions is that they should be “safe, legal, and rare,” which, though making abortions legal and safe is fantastic, insisting that they remain rare continues to stigmatize the notion that women should have control over what happens in their own bodies. She also served on the board of Walmart from 1986 to 1992 as the company fought against a labor union trying to advocate for the store chain’s workers. She has also received donations from CEO Sam Walker, along with funding from various individuals and groups attached to the corporate world. Clinton mentions in her announcement video that “the deck is still favored for those at the top,” but when those very people at the top are supporting her campaign, it seems unlikely she’d work against their interest, especially since her promotion of American corporations abroad is a significant part of her foreign policy.
But perhaps what was most shocking to me was that when Clinton was 27, she worked as a lawyer for a man who had raped a 12 year old girl. The man spent two months in jail and then was free. It will be argued that lawyers often don’t believe their clients are in the right and simply do their jobs. But an interview recording about the incident reveals that there was conclusive evidence that the man was guilty, but had been tampered with before being presented. Clinton knew this, and still used the faulty evidence as justification for her client’s innocence, all of which she refers to candidly and with humor in this interview.
So what does that mean for us as voters? It seems likely that Clinton will be the Democratic candidate, and eventually the Republican Party will settle on their nominee. Unless there is a radical shift in our current two-party system, the third party candidates will be largely ignored by the larger American public, though their policies may be more appealing. When presented with such a situation, where the ‘liberal’ candidate’s foreign policy would be more aggressive than our current administration, whose drone strikes alone have killed 2,400 people in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, do liberal voters support such a candidate? Because she supports marriage equality domestically, yet will still murder civilians of all genders and sexualities abroad? I have hope that another candidate will appear in the primaries, and think it is vital that registered Democrats vote in said primaries so we can present an alternative to Clinton. But if the probable comes to be, and we are faced with Clinton running against a more conservative Republican candidate (though there is the possibility of a moderate conservative candidate, however difficult), that will leave many liberals in a difficult position.
For voters who wish to end the killings of civilians abroad, justified by the war on terror; who want progressive social policies to leave the realm of rhetoric and translate into action; for voters who want things that Hillary Clinton can’t even promise, and who cannot trust even what she will offer, what are we to do? The options present seem to be to either vote for a third party candidate whose views we actually believe in, vote for Clinton, despite our objections, or to not vote at all. Each of these options I think are justifiable. To not vote is to refuse to participate in a political system that arguably makes pacifist leaders unelectable. To vote for a third party candidate recognizes the need to work within the electoral system, but one’s moral obligation to vote for the candidate one’s views align with most closely. And to vote for Clinton is to recognize the flaws within our system, and that voting for a third party candidate only makes a Republican candidate more likely to win. Essentially, this argues to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” Such an argument would propose that though Clinton would have an aggressive foreign policy, at least she would push for greater social equality domestically, whereas a more conservative candidate would also use aggressive policies abroad, while limiting social equality domestically. The counter to such an argument is that accepting the presidency of someone who would adopt a hostile and violent foreign policy abroad, specifically in the Middle East, would not be worth whatever comparatively minor social reforms may or may not be given, and to do so would be to value our notion of domestic social equality (one that only exists within the bounds allowed by capitalism and white supremacy) over that of black and brown lives abroad. However, someone could in turn argue that such murder would remain, and be furthered, with a Republican president, and therefore maintaining a perceived moral cleanliness by not voting or voting for a third party candidate would only increase the degree of such violence. Yet an advocate for a third party vote would argue that this binary of the Republican and Democratic parties condemns us to violent politicians in perpetuity, and that as long as we continue to believe that third party candidates aren’t worth voting for, they won’t, but if that perception is changed, we may shift away from our current two party system.
There is another, more radical, option, which is that of the revolution that overturns our current electoral system. This is an option that I have difficulty conceptualizing, but I believe that is due more to my own limitations than the impossibility of such a revolution. Regardless of whether it is a possibility I can imagine or not, it is still valid and worthy of consideration, along with whatever permutations I cannot conceive, either due to the blinding nature of my own biases or a subconscious unwillingness to do so.
I have no final conclusion to draw from this. At the moment, I feel the best option may be to vote for Clinton, though my opinion may change before next November. Each of the above mentioned options, and others, are defendable, and each have their flaws. What do you believe is the best course of action if voters are presented with such a situation? How do we either work towards the best outcome within our current two party system, or formulate a way to change, reform, or deconstruct it?