Why Is Clinton Disliked?

David Brooks has a short NYT piece with a title that offers a simple question, Why Is Clinton Disliked? He gives the data showing how unpopular she is and what most people think about her. It presents a harsh public perception about her as a politician.

“She is, at the moment, just as unpopular as Trump. In the last three major national polls she had unfavorability ratings in the same ballpark as Trump’s. In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, they are both at 57 percent disapproval.

“In the New York Times/CBS News poll, 60 percent of respondents said Clinton does not share their values. Sixty-four percent said she is not honest or trustworthy. Clinton has plummeted so completely down to Trump’s level that she is now statistically tied with him in some of the presidential horse race polls.”

Yet it wasn’t always the case. Before this campaign season, public perception was different.

As secretary of state she had a 66 percent approval rating. Even as recently as March 2015 her approval rating was at 50 and her disapproval rating was at 39.”

He goes overboard with his view of Hillary Clinton as being disliked for being a driven workaholic and an impersonal professional role. Still, I think he has a point.

Most people don’t connect with Hillary. Her husband is just as much a sleazy politician and yet people liked him because he connected to people on a personal level. The same thing with Bush jr.

People don’t vote for politicians. They vote for people. Elections really are popularity contests. Hillary is smart and saavy enough to know this. It’s just she lacks charisma and charm. It’s just not in her to be that way.

She is a capable professional politician. She knows how to play the game in Washington. I’m sure she is well liked or at least respected by those who directly work with and share her political goals, those who have careers that are aligned with or overlap with hers.

She just doesn’t have the personality for media attenion. She is a good professional politician. But that’s not necessarily a compliment. She flip flops and tells people what she thinks they want to hear. She is a player of the game of wealth and power. She does get things done. The issue is what she gets done.

That might be fine if no one knew her actual political record. That is where the problem begins. Before this campaign, few bothered to learn about her. Once people did learn about her, they quickly figured out that they don’t like her and trust her, much less share values with her.

It’s not complicated. They didn’t know her before and now they do. There is no point in blaming most people for not liking her for the simple reason they don’t find her likable.

Brooks mentioned another of what he considers a ‘paradox’. He writes that,

“[A]gree with her or not, she’s dedicated herself to public service. From advocate for children to senator, she has pursued her vocation tirelessly. It’s not the “what” that explains her unpopularity, it’s the “how” — the manner in which she has done it.”

That misses the point. She has dedicated herself to being a professional politician. That isn’t necessarily the same as public service. No one is arguing she has never done a beneficial thing in her life. It’s just that her doing good seems to serve the ulterior purpose of looking good, like a boy scout helping an old lady across the street to get a badge or a high school student volunteering at a soup kitchen to put on a college application.

Brooks does get to this point. Surely, she is a normal human with normal human interests, concerns, and preoccupations. “But,” as Brooks says, “it’s hard from the outside to think of any non-career or pre-career aspect to her life. Except for a few grandma references, she presents herself as a résumé and policy brief.” One gets the sense that to her everything is politics. That is to say, in this kind of political system, that everything is about wealth and power, about connections and cronyism.

She is all about big money politics. She isn’t ashamed of being a servant of corporate interests. And she isn’t ashamed of using her authority to force US power onto others, even when it harms and kills thousands of people. That is politics in her mind and her life is all about politics. One suspects she thinks about little else. She is ambitious and has dedicated her life to this aspiration, whatever one thinks of it.

Brooks states, because of her lack of presenting herself with a personal life, that therefore “of course to many she seems Machiavellian, crafty, power-oriented, untrustworthy.” It’s not that she seems that way. She is that way. That is what the minority of people who like her mean when they say she is experienced and effective. She gets things done, by any means necessary.

What the majority dislikes about her is not just how she gets things done, but also what she gets done. Even if people were able to see a more personable side to Clinton, it wouldn’t change that most people disagree with her values and policies. Most Americans don’t support neocon wars of aggression and neoliberal ‘free’ trade agreements, two areas of policy that only find majority support among the upper classes.

No amount of personal image rehabilitation and public perception management is going to change that. People dislike and mistrust her because of issues of substance. She simply doesn’t represent what most Americans want and support. It doesn’t help her campaign that right now there is another candidate, Sanders, who does represent what most Americans want and support. This is a rare campaign season in that people feel they finally have a real choice and, as such, they are intentionally not choosing Clinton.

All of this might change after the nominations, assuming Clinton is nominated as the Democratic candidate. Maybe more people will rationalize that Clinton isn’t so bad, after all, at least compared to Trump. Or maybe even then most Americans won’t be able to stomach voting for her.

* * *

Additional note:

Brooks’ article unsurprisingly gets negative attention, one assumes mostly from Clinton supporters. There is no doubt that much bias exists in society against women in positions of power and authority. But it would be disingenuous to claim that is all or even primarily what is going on.

If Bill Clinton were running for the presidency now instead of back in the 1990s, he too would be facing some of these same problems. It’s not gender or even entirely personality. It’s just that back in the 1990s most Americans didn’t yet have a good sense of how bad neoliberalism was and they hadn’t seen the full brunt of neoconservatism that would come with the War On Terror.

The ideology of the Clinton New Democrats is no longer supported by most Americans. It really is as simple as that.


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