After their major loss in the 2016 presidential election, the Democratic Party’s torment continues: Hillary Clinton has set out on a three-month tour to promote her newly released book, What Happened, a memoir detailing how her latest bid for the White House went wrong. While many loyal supporters of the Democratic stateswoman are anticipated to eagerly flock to book-signings and live speaking events scheduled through December, leaders of the party appear to be reacting with significantly less enthusiasm.
The arrival of Clinton’s account has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle. Democratic and Republican voices alike have voiced their concerns with exasperation about Clinton’s apparent inability to move on from the past. However, the larger problem may prove to be the effect that such a highly-publicized tour has on the country’s political atmosphere—especially the body politic’s perception of partisan issues. Clinton’s commentary could serve to hold some of the American public back from accepting the Democrat’s loss in 2016 and could, in turn, influence the general attitude among voters in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.
Following her loss, Clinton retreated from the nation’s eye almost entirely. She may have been present at the inauguration in January and at a few public events with her family in the following period, but for a few months, the face of Hillary Clinton seemed to be fading from public memory. It appeared she was allowing the Democratic Party to begin the process of rebuilding its image after the devastation.
In July, congressional leaders emerged with “A Better Deal”—a legislative agenda that emphasizes policies aimed at improving the economic standing of America’s labor force—in an attempt to refocus the party’s values preceding the 2018 midterms. Looking even further ahead, Democrats have already begun speculating about contenders for the 2020 nomination.
The Democratic Party desperately needs to leave Clinton-era politics behind if they hope to move forward. Many Americans’ opinion of Hillary Clinton is rooted in beliefs that were conceived two decades ago during her husband’s presidency. However sensible her platform was in 2016, those ideas were tainted by a long career of controversy, from Whitewater to her emails.
Though undoubtedly qualified to occupy the Oval Office, Clinton entered the campaign ring with far too much baggage from her tenure as First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State. That baggage was only magnified as the latest election season dragged on, and it could be argued that that baggage cost her the race.
The What Happened tour promotes a book filled with what one can charitably call explanations and what another might honestly term excuses. Her narrative identifies an array of obstacles, from Bernie Sanders to the media, as disadvantaging to her campaign. At the very least, her discussion of Sanders carries the potential to sow disunity among the various factions of the Democrats.
But it’s not for this reason alone that Clinton’s latest operation may seriously damage her party. Rather, it’s the preoccupation with crafting a sympathetic narrative that will neither change the results of the election nor redeem the Democrats for their apparent lack of appeal to the common voter. As long as the nation’s attention is focused on 2016, Hillary Clinton represents how out of touch the party is with progressive politics.
As evidenced by this election, politics have changed in the U.S. since the Clinton era. Citizens are tired of a broken Washington that seems to be working against them. That’s what enabled then-candidate Donald Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric. Clinton’s perceived association with that swamp was—and may continue to be—crippling to her party.
But can the Democratic Party tell the Clintons to get lost? Realistically, no.
Both Bill and Hillary retain high profiles and large bases substantial enough to be important to the American left despite neither of them pursuing office. Earlier this month, Clinton told CBS that she is “done with being a candidate” but “not done with politics.”
Clinton retains a powerful public voice and has the experience to weigh in on national issues. However, there must be a unified effort within the American Left to look forward, not back, to bring the Democratic Party back to its roots.
The Democratic Party I know is the party of the working class, underrepresented minorities, social justice, and societal progress. That’s the party that convinced me, along with millions of other young adults, of the importance of being a politically-involved citizen. My Democratic Party embraces a changing world and a rapidly-evolving political climate. It is the party people can identify with—the party that wins elections.
Such a favorable image is unrecognizable from the one in the minds of many Americans that went to the polls last year. So, the election was lost; that cannot be rewritten. Clinton is justified in telling her story in the places where she believes it was told unfairly, but she’s not doing the Democrats any favors with her current approach to doing so. Going forward, the healthiest thing for the party is to shift public attention away from their past failures and, hopefully, toward future successes.