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Happy Birthday, Hillary

Today, Hillary Clinton turns the big 7-0. Save your streamers though: this birthday is wrapping up a rather sad year.

In the fall of 2016, Hillary looked poised to win the biggest present of all: the White House. Then James Comey and a bunch of mad-as-hell, white working-class voters in the Rust Belt dropped an electoral atomic bomb into her birthday cake. In the aftermath, millions of conservatives breathed a sigh of relief, and even now console themselves amidst the circus-like atmosphere of Donald Trump’s administration that “at least we don’t have Hillary!” Meanwhile, millions of liberals are still alternating between sadness and anger over their heroine’s unexpected defeat.

Yet the most revealing response today to the life and times of Hillary (and her husband) is coming from young left-wing voices, many of whom were mere children during her and Bill’s presidential reign (and her 2002 Iraq war vote). Left-wing Twitter and Facebook exploded when Hillary released her bestselling executive summary of What Happened—and not in a good way. As soon as Clinton opens her mouth on national television, leftist voices swarm social media to silence her. Rather than seeing her the way garden-variety liberal Democrats do—as a wrongfully denied Madam President—it seems today’s young progressive left is as “ready for Hillary” as your average right-wing dittohead.

I myself have some pretty strong thoughts on the Baby Boomer generation’s staunch refusal (among both conservatives and liberals alike) to exit the field and allow Gen Xers and Millennials a turn at bat. And it should be said that in the past, there would be nothing offensive or ageist in asking, even demanding, that a losing non-incumbent candidate accept his loss and go away. When Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Bob Dole were defeated by popular incumbent presidents or VPs, they never again presumed to speak as decision-maker faces or voices of their parties. (Ditto almost-candidates like Mario Cuomo and Ann Richards.)  


But that changed forever with Bush v. Gore. John Kerry, John McCain, and Mitt Romney all followed the Al Gore playbook to a T, with McCain and Romney becoming the mainstream media’s official Republican Grownups in the Room. So if privileged white men like Gore, Kerry, Romney, and McCain still get to play Ingrid Superstar [1] even after their humbling defeats, why the double standard? Why should only Hillary have to crawl into a spider hole never to be seen or heard from again, and be shamed, not only by the conservatives who have always loathed her, but by ascendant Democrats, too?

The insightful Millennial left theorist Emmett Rensin recently wrote an article satirizing [2]What Happened by reviewing it in the narrative voice of someone who’d never heard of Hillary Clinton before. Let me take up Rensin’s theme from a slightly different angle. If I were a man from Mars who had no idea who Hillary Clinton was, save for reading Jacobin and Thomas Frank and from watching Jimmy Dore and Cenk Uygur, I would think Bill and Hillary were a hardline conservative presidential couple who were hated and almost impeached because of their constant and sadistic betrayals of their progressive left base.

I’ll simply quote noted historian Steven Gillon, who actually interviewed a typical “Red America” voter in the early 90s about why he didn’t cotton to Bill Clinton. His answer was succinct: “Because he’s a womanizing, truth-shading, non-inhaling, Elvis-loving, draft-dodging, war-protesting, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, gun-hating Baby Boomer!” And Hillary was a shoulder-padded, non-maternal, feminist lawyer who didn’t stay home and bake cookies. Simply put, the loudest critiques of the Clintons during their actual heyday had almost nothing to do with why they are so passionately hated by young progressives today. They were initially despised because they shattered the 1950s-style “norms” of the presidency in the eyes of many older, religious, and conservative Americans—almost as much as Trump is accused of doing today.

For nearly three full decades, from 1980 to 2008, the only Democratic couple to live at 1600 Pennsylvania had the last name Clinton. But while they were infuriating the right, they were also cementing their disconnect with the progressive wing that truly brought them to the party. One thing that left-handers like Thomas Frank [3] and Rick Perlstein are 100 percent correct about is that progressive economic policy was in fact erased from the entire political dialogue for most of the 1990s—especially after the calamitous failure of Hillarycare and the furor over NAFTA in 1993 and 1994. That’s largely because, for better or worse, there was simply no mainstream political will in either party to push hard for real economic progressivism before the 2008 meltdown. Deregulation, privatization, free trade, and budget-balancing were lauded in the post-Cold War era by virtually every “serious” pundit from Time and Newsweek to National Review and Fox News. And the crushing Democratic defeats of 1984, 1988, 1994, and 2000 at the hands of economic conservatives only underlined it again and again. You cannot blame the Clintons alone.

Fast forward to 2016. Many progressives would consider Hillary’s ultimate sin to be running a cautious, compromising, 1990s campaign even after everyone else had clearly shifted to a post-Great Recession world. And there is a lot of validity to that criticism. But what you won’t hear people admit is that in order for the young Millennial left to get where they are today, Hillary not only had to lose, Donald Trump had to win.

Of course I’m not saying that most lefty young Twitterers and opinion columnists felt happy or vindicated upon Trump’s victory, or indulged in any real schadenfreude. But if Hillary had won, there would be no hashtag #Resistance. There would be no weekly rallies and marches and round-the-clock social media campaigns in major U.S. cities. Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers would still be doing harmless frat-house jokes and game show skits with Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler. And if Hillary had won, and if she did indeed want to revert to her old “neoliberal” ways, then I have no doubt how summarily she would have treated the young turks who didn’t vote for her or who voted for her while holding their noses. As Judge Judy says to her bailiff: “Put ‘em out!”   

Bottom line: If Hillary had won, nobody would be going around today tossing back as a final checkmate: “Bernie woulda won!”

In the academic film and TV urban dictionary, there is a meme called “fridging,” based on the slasher-movie trope of finding a dead body or severed head in a refrigerator. (Happy Halloween.) It refers to when the Final Girl sees her dead boyfriend or bestie gal pal cut into fish sticks, or when the Dirty Harry/Charles Bronson/Walker Texas Ranger finds his teenage daughter murdered—not really to illustrate how sad it was for the actual victim, but merely as the plot point for our hero to develop his or her character, and to find the righteous anger and strength to beat the baddie in the end.

Today’s Bernie/Elizabeth Warren narrative plainly needed the fridging of Hillary Clinton. That way the fight for the $15 minimum wage and single-payer and resisting Trump at all costs would become absolute litmus tests for the post-Hillary Democratic Party—so the real hero could put on the super suit. Now that that has happened, Hillary needs to go off uncomplainingly into the sunset [4] so the real stars can kick ass and take names.    

And that’s why today’s ascendant left must silence, dismiss, and, yes, “erase” Hillary Clinton. Young progressive leftists are using the exact same tactics that the Clintons used to take over the Democratic Party 20 years ago, and that Roger Ailes and the Koch Brothers used to create the Tea Party 10 years ago. Rush Limbaugh, Ailes, and the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus told us for years that the only way to lose an election was to not be authentically conservative enough. Now, today’s left-wing voices say that the only way for the Democrats to lose is not to be expressly left enough.

So Happy Birthday, Hillary. Though the hard left may diss all those supposedly weak-tea and “sellout” positions you had, and the hard right may be sick and tired of being sick and tired of you, in the end, we just can’t quit you. No matter how much some people might want to.

Telly Davidson is the author of a new book on the politics and pop culture of the ’90s, Culture War [5]. He has written on culture for ATTNFrumForumAll About JazzFilmStew, and Guitar Player, and worked on the Emmy-nominated PBS series Pioneers of Television.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "Happy Birthday, Hillary"

#1 Comment By Whine Merchant On October 25, 2017 @ 11:50 pm

Thank you for your interesting thoughts.

Now – can we please just move on? HRC is not going to run again, so lets stop with the autopsy and pay attention to the present and future…

The obsession with HRC is just a Faux News distraction from Trump’s antics.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 26, 2017 @ 12:44 am


Speak for yourself.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 26, 2017 @ 12:46 am

“Hard left, hard right—try though we might we just can’t seem to quit her.”


Speak for yourself.

#4 Comment By cka2nd On October 26, 2017 @ 5:51 am

This is such BS. It is the Democratic establishment, still dominated by centrists in Washington and in most of the state capitals, that is still pushing THEIR kinds of candidates in special elections, recruiting THEIR kinds of candidates for next year’s U.S. Senate and House representatives, and covering their ears and shouting through the media that THEIR candidate and campaign for President last year did not lose because of her centrism, because of her warmed-over, half-hearted, focus-group tested and technocratic “progressivism,” because of her compromised relationships with Wall Street, or because of her war-mongering imperialism (not much help from Bernie on that score) but because the big bad Russkies did it, “LA LA LA LA LA,” WITH an assist from Bernie “Ralph Nader” Sanders.

As for the 90’s, you are conflating the Right’s loathing for the Clintons with the Left’s. We loathed Bill for rushing back to Arkansas to okay the death sentence of a man with brain damage. We loathed Bill for pushing NAFTA through congress where Papa Bush had failed. We loathed Hilary for ignoring single payer in health care reform in favor of some kind of health insurance company preservation act. We loathed him for proposing welfare reform from the right (“Workfare means you get to work for pennies on the minimum wage!”) and her for supporting it. And if you think that Alexander Cockburn, Adolph Reed, Christopher Hitchens and a whole slew of other left-wing journalists and intellectuals and activists were not exposing the Clintons AND the Democratic Leadership Conference AND Al Gore AND the Washington Consensus AT THE TIME, then you were not paying attention.

#5 Comment By collin On October 26, 2017 @ 8:34 am

Check out Fox News…They look to continue HRC scandals for 24 hours while 75% of Progressives have accepted she was a poor campaigner and looking for 2018.

#6 Comment By Donald (the left leaning one) On October 26, 2017 @ 12:01 pm

What cka2nd said. This article is the sort of shallow personalized gossip I expect to see in the mainstream press. The American Conservative is usually, or at least sometimes, better than this.

The issue is much bigger than the Clintons–they just represent the neoliberal, triangulating Third Way Democrats that tried to kill FDR liberalism (and everything to its left) back in the 90’s. And they continue to do so. But cka2nd said it better than I would, so just go back and reread his or her post.

#7 Comment By Diogo On October 26, 2017 @ 12:38 pm

As a progressive millennial who’s not exactly a fan of Hillary, I’m surprised how these conservative magazine has done a decent job at tapping into our collective feelings on this issue. Not just by being more nuanced than conservative articles in general (who tend to paint progressives in broad strokes with no concern for significant differences between them, and tend to be condescending to millennials without actually addressing their mindset), but also more accurate than left-leaning outlets, who tend to (perhaps in a self-serving way) reduce Hillary-skeptics on the left to “Bernie Bros ” or ignore their existence and points altogether.

#8 Comment By Dan Green On October 26, 2017 @ 2:51 pm

The Clintons need to concentrate on their grandchildren.

#9 Comment By One Guy On October 26, 2017 @ 5:11 pm

What you mean “we”, white man?

#10 Comment By Dan Phillips On October 26, 2017 @ 7:37 pm

It should tell The American Conservative something that so many of their commenters are self-professed liberals.

#11 Comment By blackhorse On October 26, 2017 @ 8:45 pm

Unlike Dick Nixon, the conservative press will always have a Clinton to kick around.

But, since you raised the topic, the post-candidate theory sounds a tad spurious. Gore was doing his environmental thing, not politics (or at least, inertly so). Kerry and McCain were sitting Senators, continuing their careers ala JQ Adams. Kerry went on to outperform HR at SoS.

Romney and Clinton, oth, are on the outside because (1 they have no official roles and (2 are out of touch with their respective bases.

#12 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 26, 2017 @ 9:54 pm

Hillary who? Maybe she should try baking cookies for the PTA meeting.

#13 Comment By VikingLS On October 26, 2017 @ 11:47 pm


And all during the Bush years there was principled opposition to Bush from the right, TAC was one of it’s vehicles.

It would, however, be absurd to suggest that was the dominant sentiment on the right. Similarly while there was opposition to Clinton from the left , it’s ridiculous to suggest that was the DOMINANT sentiment on the left.

“Unlike Dick Nixon, the conservative press will always have a Clinton to kick around.”

They’re not to blame for that if she’s making a point of remaining a public figure, which she is.

“It should tell The American Conservative something that so many of their commenters are self-professed liberals.”

They pretty much followed Rod Dreher in, and would I suspect get bored and leave if he ever leaves or retires. Rod gets the site traffic though, so I doubt TAC wants that.

#14 Comment By Diogo On October 27, 2017 @ 1:08 am

Dan Philips, it tells TAC that they are doing a good job at providing interesting, ideologically diverse articles which appeal to different parts of the political spectrum. The most attractive aspect of TAC is that unlike other media (both left and right) they might be opinionated, but they are never partisan hacks. They follow ideals, not parties, and that’s rare in the media nowadays.

#15 Comment By Dan Green On October 27, 2017 @ 9:57 am

It would be impossible for the media to comprehend how sick and tired millions of us are of Hillary and Bill. The left needs to get them replaced. Sandy and Lizzy are not candidates .

#16 Comment By VikingLS On October 27, 2017 @ 11:48 am


That would be more convincing if most of the liberal commenters themselves weren’t themselves mean spirited partisan hacks that act as if thye rightfully own TAC.

Sorry but the reality is the liberal comments usually come down to “why can’t you see these generic liberal talking points are unquestionably correct!?!?!”

#17 Comment By EarlyBird On October 27, 2017 @ 12:54 pm

Forgetting of course what Trump intends to do and/or will do, his populist economic rhetoric during the campaign was far closer to Democratic progressives than was Hillary, or anyone on the GOP side he was running against. She simply is a conservative on economic and most other issues. Sure, she’ll throw a bone to the safety net and for “job retraining” to differentiate herself from the Republicans, but is fundamentally for continuing the massive globalization and obliteration of the middle class as much as the Koch brothers.

Add to that the fact that she’s been in politics forever, has personally become fantastically rich from it, and is therefore seen as the ultimate icon of the political plutocracy. Why would serious progressives like her?

#18 Comment By Donald ( the left leaning one) On October 27, 2017 @ 7:12 pm

“They pretty much followed Rod Dreher in, and would I suspect get bored and leave if he ever leaves or retires. “

It might be interesting to poll us lefties on that. I read Dreher and find him interesting, but it is Larison that I agree with virtually all the time. Larison writes as a critic of America’s senseless interventionism and on that subject the two political parties are internally split between pro and anti- militarists. Larison represents the anti militarist wing. TAC in general is anti- militarist, so as long as that continues to be the case you can expect to have some lefties as part of TAC’s fan club.

#19 Comment By Donald ( the left leaning one) On October 27, 2017 @ 7:24 pm

VikingLS— Diogo pays TAC a series of compliments ( which I agree with) and your response is that can’t be right because liberal commenters are all arrogant and stupid and can’t argue effectively. Um, sure, Viking— if only we could be more like you. But granting that we liberals are as dumb as a bag of rocks, how does that invalidate Diogo’s comment?

#20 Comment By EngineerScotty On October 27, 2017 @ 8:21 pm

Other than by dying, can Hillary really go away? Would she be allowed to? If she were to hold a press conference tomorrow and announce that she was retiring completely from politics, and would no longer have any public role whatsoever–would she then be left alone?

Given that the House seems eager to instigate another round of investigations into Benghazi and uranium-gate, and that the Donald appears set to (ab)use his powers as POTUS to make Justice sing the tune he wants sung… survey says no. The obvious question–what shoe is about to drop?

As I’ve noted before, and is alluded to in this article–the Left hates the Clintons because they are viewed as right-wingers, and the Right hates them for the opposite reason. While both can’t be true–it does go to show that a long career of political compromises often makes nobody trust you, especially the sort of activists who detest compromise.

#21 Comment By vato_loco_frisco On October 27, 2017 @ 9:44 pm

Although progressive Gen-Xers and Millennials are certainly hovering stage left, given their propensity for ideological in-fighting, an entrance into the national limelight will remain elusive. Until the left jettisons its holy grail — identity politics — it’ll be relegated to the sidelines for the foreseeable future.

#22 Comment By EngineerScotty On October 27, 2017 @ 10:24 pm

Forgetting of course what Trump intends to do and/or will do, his populist economic rhetoric during the campaign was far closer to Democratic progressives than was Hillary, or anyone on the GOP side he was running against.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

#23 Comment By EngineerScotty On October 27, 2017 @ 10:27 pm

The obvious question–what shoe is about to drop?

And right after I write that, CNN is reporting that Mueller is about to file his first set of charges.


#24 Comment By VikingLS On October 27, 2017 @ 11:11 pm

@Donald ( the left leaning one)

All I can do is sigh. Liberals like TAC because the articles give them foder for a comments section to respond in that is now a hostile environment for conservatives, PARTICULARLY the very paleotypes that founded and supported TAC long before you all came.

You’re like a bunch of straight sorority girls who took over a gay bar and don’t get why the gay men are pissed about it. After all don’t you just make the place more fun?

No, you don’t and you keep us from being able to talk to eachother and your requests to the DJ and the bartender are the same banal crap we came to this bar to get away from in YOUR bars.

Yeah we get it that you bring some money into the place and so the management is going to indulge you, but you can’t expect US to be happy about it.

Dan Phillips has a valid point too, even if you won’t see it.

#25 Comment By VikingLS On October 27, 2017 @ 11:14 pm

“Other than by dying, can Hillary really go away?”

Until very recently George W Bush had pretty much gone away. (And while I don’t agree with his take on things, he had sufficient cause to resurface).

Clinton is making a point of staying in the public eye, that’s her right, but nobody who pays attention to her is wrong for doing so when she’s making herself newsworthy.

#26 Comment By VikingLS On October 27, 2017 @ 11:32 pm

” TAC in general is anti- militarist, so as long as that continues to be the case you can expect to have some lefties as part of TAC’s fan club.”

First of all when I talk about liberals I mean liberals. I would not be surprised if some hard left, anti-war ant-capitalist types stayed around. Liberals by and large are neither anti-war nor anti-capitalist. They just want to be in charge of war and capitalism.

Second of all I was hanging out here before Dreher came, it was at LEAST as anti-militarist then, and there were almost no liberals here. It was mostly libertarians, paleos, and some mainstream/necons coming in to tell us we were wrong and naive.

Rod’s the one who generates the 300 comment threads because he’s the one that writes about social issues, and occasionally responds directly to the readers. That’s why most of you come to this site, and that’s why, should he ever leave, I don’t expect many (not I am not say NONE) of you to stay.

#27 Comment By james On October 29, 2017 @ 8:02 am

The irony of red stater quote in the OP is the same can be said of Donnie John Trump and then some. Hillary Clinton hatred is one of the most interesting aspects of the modern age. It demonstrates clearly that hatred is irrational and can so easily be taught. Twenty five years of demonization works. If a moral scale existed Donnie would be far worse than Hillary, but who cares for misogyny and projection are embedded in the soul it seems. Started with Eve and continues to this day. Knowledge is so hard hate so easy.

#28 Comment By djealas On October 30, 2017 @ 8:26 pm

“Gen Xers and Millenials a turn at bat”? Go back under your rock, Telly! WAAY too much boomer trashing going on, the same boomers responsible for the greatest creation of wealth and industry in history, and most of the criticism from Gen Xers and Millenials living in their parent’s basement. What a crock! Hillary is garotted politically, and hopefully we are done with this witch and anyone who seems to think America would be better off under her tailored boots. Trump is no better, but you need to understand that the people who elected him were tired of watching their values and ethics and morals undermined and destroyed by brainwashed children and perverts in Hollwywierd. I’m done.