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On entitlement, and the consequences of picking the wrong candidate

October 22nd, 2016

One charge that Donald Trump has leveled against Hillary Clinton with some validity is that she is a Washington insider. Much as it galls me to agree with Trump — I feel the need to go and shower, and possibly clean my brain out with bleach — it is true that she has a sense of entitlement to the Oval Office. Hillary Clinton is the product of a political system that promotes from within its own elite. Here in New Zealand, I know people who have been members of Parliament. While I don’t think I necessarily would want to become one myself, I don’t believe it’s beyond the realms of possibility that, were I to set my sights on the Beehive, I could one day find myself in Parliament. It’s at the very least possible, if not terribly likely. But when I lived in America, I had no sense that politics could ever be open to me. Anyone can grow up to be president, American children are told, but this is of course utter bollocks. American politics is elitist, and more worryingly it’s dynastic. From the Adams family to the Roosevelts and the Kennedys, and more recently and disastrously the family Bush, père et deux fils, politics in America has been a family matter, and with the prospect of the first husband-and-wife tag-presidency, it’s looking more and more incestuous. I struggle to respect someone who only started seeking public office once she’d been married to the president, and then rather than working her way up the ranks parachuted herself straight into the US Senate and then got herself made up to Secretary of State. She’s by no means the first person to parlay her fame into an accelerated entry into politics: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura all stepped straight up to the top slots. Why pay dues when you have name recognition?

But there’s a more significant reason to be troubled by the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Think back to the Democratic primaries — cast your mind back to the energy, the buzz, the vitality surrounding the campaign of Bernie Sanders. Here was a man who had some genuinely interesting ideas, a man who was willing to be labelled a “socialist” (he was, of course, no such thing), a man who had something worthwhile to say. And he wasn’t really meant to be there. Clinton was the anointed candidate, the candidate the Democratic Party’s higher-ups had designated, the candidate favoured by the large majority of super delegates. There were, of course, other prospects — four, to be exact — but how many names can you remember of men (of course they were men) who put their hands up for the Democratic nomination? By the time the dust had settled after the first primary in New Hampshire, they’d all dropped out, leaving only Clinton, the Chosen One of the party, and Sanders, who clearly hadn’t read the memo and didn’t know that he was supposed to do the same.

And so Sanders campaigned against Hillary Clinton. And he energised young voters in a way that has rarely been seen before. My daughter, newly eligible and voting in her first election, was genuinely excited to vote for a candidate who meant something, who actually created passion for his campaign. Yes, Feel The Bern was a little trite, but there was some heat, some fire in his campaign, fire that was lacking in Clinton’s. I don’t recall hearing many voices filled with the same excitement at the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton But she won the nomination regardless, because she’s a political machine, and she’s run a very slick, very professional, very political campaign that’s been ruthlessly effective in building momentum and wiping the floor with the buffoon she’s challenging. But it’s hard, so very, very hard, to find any enthusiasm for her. Yes, Democrats and those Republicans who have evolved their way a little further up the food chain will vote for her, and yes, she’ll win. And yes, it’ll be a very big deal that the United States will have its first female president, but little will change.

Just imagine what things would look like had Sanders won. It’s likely that he lost the nomination to Clinton because a significant number of Democratic voters were tempted by him, but simply didn’t see him as a viable presidential candidate: yes, we’d vote for him, but we just don’t see him winning the general election, many seem to have thought, and so we’ll put Clinton up; better her than a Republican president. She wasn’t the better candidate; she was the more electable. But look at what the Republican Party have tossed up onto the podium. It’s hard to imagine a more crass, blundering, imbecilic, offensive, arrogant tosser of a candidate; Clinton’s probably already started packing for her move back into the White House. But beating Donald Trump won’t be the most resounding endorsement of her candidacy — I suspect even Biscuit, my Dog of Very Little Brain, would be able to beat Donald Trump in both a presidential debate and an election. She’d be eligible, too — she was born in the US, and she lived there long enough, in dog years. There’s absolutely no doubt that Bernie Sanders would have wiped the floor with Trump every bit as effectively as Clinton has been able to do.

So again, imagine what things would look like had Sanders won. Instead of yet another presidential dynasty, with Barack Obama’s two terms the only thing breaking up a six-term streak of Bushes and Clintons in the White House, we’d be looking at the possibility of real, meaningful change, of an actual, serious progressive presidency, instead of a president who, despite alleged left-leaning tendencies, wouldn’t be out of place in the soft-right wing of the British Conservative Party.

American politics has once again embraced the entitled, the political celebrity, the known name, when it had the chance to do something remarkable and historic. If — it could happen; it’s astonishingly unlikely, but it could happen — Trump somehow manages to get himself elected, America could well implode. That would be painful, but at least it might bring about the change that America so desperately needs. But he won’t. Hillary Clinton will be the next president. Being the first female president will be the one interesting thing about her. And a wonderful chance will have been squandered.

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