Hillary Clinton apologizes at least 35 times in What Happened. She apologizes for her failings as a candidate, she apologizes for not apologising enough, and she apologizes for being the wrong messenger her campaign message. Clinton’s book offers a reasonable postmortem, perhaps the most accurate one written so far, of why Trump won.
It’s not in doubt, for instance, that Russia waged an unprecedented information war against Clinton’s campaign. Polls clearly show that the intervention of James Comey, the director of the FBI, a week before polling day, did help to swing the result. The issue of Hillary’s emails was given a disproportionate level of attention. Trump did receive free wall-to-wall coverage.
Studies have shown clearly that Trump’s explicit appeals to gender and race played a key role in winning over white working class voters. Throughout the campaign, Trump used language that was explicitly hostile toward women, calling Clinton a “nasty woman,” making comments about Carly Fiorina’s looks, and promoted tweets that referred to Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly as a “bimbo.” Trump also called her “overrated” and “lightweight,” and “average in every way.”
Clinton’s candidacy ran up against assumptions that Americans have on the role of women in public life. As Malcolm Gladwell put it on the eve of the election, “people had a preexisting mental notion of what a female candidate would look like, and she doesn’t look like it. She is being penalized for having a series of traits that people find unacceptable in a woman.” Clinton didn’t make a secret of her desire for power, and refused to hide that. Men simply don’t get criticised for being ambitious.
If you’re talking about What Happened during the election campaign, you can’t simply ignore these facts. They are literally what happened. It’s not as though Comey’s intervention didn’t make a difference, or Russia wasn’t waging information war via Facebook, that Trump wasn’t explicitly sexist, nor that Clinton didn’t face obstacles a man would not have faced. If it wasn’t for any one of these factors, Hillary Clinton would have won the Electoral College. Even despite these factors, thrown in with the failings she herself admits to.
The charge being levelled against Clinton then, is that she doesn’t have the right to make this argument. That by pointing out that there were other factors involved in her not winning, she is somehow diminishing her own role in the defeat (even though she fulsomely acknowledges her own failings. That it’s a less than perfect apology, even though Trump’s apology for his “grab them by the p**sy remarks was suffixed by “Hillary Clinton, and her kind, have run our country into the ground.”
Hillary has every right to tell her side of the story. We don’t demand other politicians disappear from public life when their front line careers end, nor do we try to silence their contributions. For a right-wing media so keen on protecting free speech, there does seem to be a lot of anger that Hillary Clinton has dared to write a book.
So why does the media have such a blind spot on Clinton? Why are they arguing that Clinton is blaming everyone but herself, when she clearly blames herself quite a lot? Why are they demanding that she disappear from public life, when they don’t make that demand of John McCain, Al Gore or Barack Obama?
The reason the media has such a blind spot on Hillary – why it has to paint Hillary as “she blames everyone but herself” – is because to admit that Hillary got some things right in her book is to admit that they got a lot of things wrong. It would have to take responsibility for giving Trump’s campaign the wall-to-wall coverage it did, for the disproportionate coverage of Hillary’s email server, and for not fact-checking Trump’s claims more aggressively.
Instead the media has leaned on a false narrative that Hillary fails to take responsibility for her own campaign – compounding their own errors in the campaign with yet more now. Meanwhile, the right continues to wage information warfare, aided and abetted by the Times and the Washington Post. Clinton is right about why she lost. When will the media take their share of the blame?