The Smart Con: Clinton Vs. Trump
Trump’s outlandishness may get more press but Clinton’s intelligence act might be just as dangerous
The Smart Con: Clinton Vs. Trump
By Peter Bloom / commondreams.org
Mar 29, 2016

Even in the face of Bernie Sanders recent blowout victories, the pundits continue to proclaim that the 2016 presidential race is now firmly between Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The stakes of this contest supposedly go far beyond conventional partisanship. It is a struggle for the soul of American politics, pitting principled – yet “boring” – moderation against an alluring but profoundly dangerous extremism.

Indeed, as the general election season approaches, the main storyline seems to be whether a “boring” policy wonk can defeat an inciting demagogue. Clinton is portrayed as above all informed and reasonable. Trump, by contrast, is lambasted as ignorant and irrational.

At least for Trump, some have come to wonder whether this is more caricature than reality. Is it all an act that stirs up the crowds but masks a genuine streak of thoughtfulness and knowledge? Whether this is true or not, of course, hardly justifies his populist appeal to racism and xenophobia.

However, it is telling that remarkably fewer voices have asked if Clinton’s widespread depiction as the most informed candidate is also being propagated to similar political effect? Undoubtedly, the Secretary is quite well-versed on the issues. Still does her moderate veneer mask a less knowledgeable and more extreme agenda than is popularly assumed?

Clinton’s Intelligence Act

The idea that Clinton is the most informed candidate has been repeated so much and with such conviction that it is now almost unconsciously accepted without question. She is seen as not only having vast experience but also a deep understanding of the country’s problems along with a well thought out set of policy solutions ready to address them.

"Undoubtedly, the Secretary is quite well-versed on the issues. Still does her moderate veneer mask a less knowledgeable and more extreme agenda than is popularly assumed?"

Clinton and her campaign, for their part, have increasingly drawn on this reputation for expertise as part of its public pitch to voters. The former first lady, Senator and Secretary of State admits that she is “not a natural politician”. She claims though that she makes up for this lack of charisma by her exceptional competency once she is given the job.

Her opponents are portrayed by comparison as unwitting idealists – as is the case with Sanders – or willfully ignorant manipulators in the mode of Trump. Clinton stands out for her “hardheaded realism” and erudition. Even if one disagrees with her positions, it is seemingly impossible to argue with the idea that they are unsubstantiated or not based on evidence.

This perception is implicitly challenged by the fact that her views seem to be consistently changing. She has famously “evolved” on LGTB rights and now decries the racially charged strategies of mass incarceration that she once vigorously promoted. The same holds true for economic issues like free trade and environmental ones such as the keystone pipeline.

A charitable reading of these substantial policy shifts would be to say that her opinions change as she learns more about a subject. Yet there is a worrying and far too common to be mere coincidental trend that these adaptations adhere to whatever is politically popular at the moment rather than informed principle.

Moreover, the sharp discrepancy between perception and reality raises broader questions regarding the degree to which this reputation for policy acumen is political theater as much as it is fact.

Extremely (mis)informed

There are far worse political sins, of course, then exaggerating your strengths. And it is not mutually exclusive to conclude that Clinton is both extremely informed and driven by an overriding desire to win elections. Still it presents voters with a potentially skewed version of her credentials and the credibility of her stated positions.

Most notably, it justifies a rather narrow reform agenda as being “pragmatic” rather than guided by special interests. Her rejection of free college tuition and single payer health care are seen as the result of a deep study of the issue as opposed to her ties to the health care lobby and for profit colleges, respectively.

It leaves these arguably quite realistic proposals seem not only politically inexpedient but fundamentally unviable. It is a picture that Clinton works hard to perpetuate. Her attacks against Sanders idealism are reminiscent of those she leveled at Obama in 2008 when she mockingly declared

“Let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified. The sky will open. The light will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.”

This now well-trodden narrative is especially problematic in the present campaign. Her opponent Bernie Sanders has directly questioned her judgment, noting that despite having the same information as lawmakers she was as disastrously wrong about Iraq as he was presciently correct. 

This critique is not just typical election rhetoric either. It goes to the heart of Clinton’s case to be President – if she is really the most experienced and informed candidate than why has she shown such consistently poor judgment when it mattered? Indeed, what is the benefit of her deep well of knowledge if it does not translate into wisdom?

The Smart Con

These questions raise more serious concerns than just lack of foresight. It points to a potentially dangerous effect of this intelligence act. It represents the worrying effort of making otherwise irrational and unacceptable policies seem reasonable and sane.

Iraq is by far not the only examples of such a (mis)informed strategy. Clinton was the leading force behind the United State’s destructive military intervention in Libya. It echoed Iraq in being touted as humanitarian mission to remove a brutal dictator (exchanging Saddam Hussein with the equally reprehensible dictator) that in actuality was influenced byUS oil interests with similarly costly consequences for the population it was meant to liberate.

As worrying as Clinton’s push for this ultimately failed strategy was how she internally justified it to the administration and later as a Presidential candidate to the public as formed through intensive research after an exhaustive personal investigation. In both Iraq and Libya, the fantasy of neo-conservatism was legitimated by the mass respect for Clinton’s intelligence and her unparalleled “smart power”.

To this end, Trump is rightfully criticized for playing to a crowd that feeds off of the crudest forms of scapegoating and fear mongering. Yet Clinton offers her supporters a different but potentially just as threatening political fantasy. In her persistent appeal to her own knowledge she makes the racism, inequality and imperialism of the status quo seem well considered and moderate.

It is the same “informed” perspective that promoted “free trade” for decades before suddenly rejecting it, to publicly declare that marriage is a “sacred bond” between a man and a woman before realizing it is a human right guaranteed to all people, to call passionately for war before repudiating it when the fog of nationalist fervor disappeared to reveal a battlefield strewn with unnecessary casualties. It remains to be seen if the American public will continue to fall prey to this smart con or finally wise up. 
 

 

Peter Bloom is a lecturer in the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University. He has published widely on issues of 21st century democracy, politics and economics in both scholarly journals and in publications including the Washington Post, The New Statesman, Roar, Open Democracy, The Conversation and Common Dreams. His book, Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, will be released next year.

4.0 ·
2
Trending Today
How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men
Mark Green · 4,762 views today · Why Men Need More Platonic Touch in their Lives
Globalization Makes No Sense
Chris Agnos · 4,448 views today · When I lived in San Francisco, I often would marvel at the movement of goods through the ports across the bay in Oakland. Full container ships would enter the bay one after...
Proof of Evolution That You Can Find on Your Body
4 min · 3,120 views today · Vestigial structures are evolution's leftovers — body parts that, through inheritance, have outlived the context in which they arose. Some of the most delightful reminders of...
Those That Did Not Seek Revenge
Dr. Ann Russo · 2,005 views today · Dr. Ann Russo on violence, healing, and transforming justice.
DAPL Opponents Vow to 'Rise' From Ashes of Oceti Sakowin and Keep Fighting
Lauren McCauley · 1,917 views today · 'They cannot extinguish the fire that Standing Rock started,' Dallas Goldtooth declared
Immigrants For Sale (2015)
33 min · 1,111 views today · The detention of migrants has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which immigrants are sold to the highest bidder and traded like mere products. The Corrections...
Stunning Small Homes Form Part of a Communal Compound for Best Friends
Lighter Side · 1,000 views today · If you’re lucky enough to have longtime friends even as an adult, then you know probably already know how much it means to be able to spend time together. Maybe you even have a...
The Foiled Bomb Plot in Kansas That Didn't Make Trump's Terror List
5 min · 924 views today · When a plot by a pro-white militia to bomb a Somali mosque in Kansas was foiled by the FBI last October, the aborted conspiracy received little national coverage - nor did it...
Without Saying a Word This 6 Minute Clip From Samsara Will Make You Speechless
6 min · 882 views today · Can you put this video into words? It's a clip from the phenomenal documentary Samsara, directed by Ron Fricke, who also made Baraka.  If you're interested in watching...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 839 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 835 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 830 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Compassion, the Antidote
Martin Doblmeier · 799 views today · Thich Nhat Hanh has published nearly 100 books and is one of the best-known teachers of Zen Buddhism in the world today. In the early 1960s his practice of what he termed...
Where the Term "Redneck" Came From
15 min · 740 views today · If you don't know this story, you'll never look at the word the same again.  This is just a window into the sometimes shocking, subversive and untold history of the United...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 668 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
How Wolves Change Rivers
4 min · 633 views today · When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable "trophic cascade" occurred. What is a...
Touch Isolation: How Homophobia Has Robbed All Men Of Touch
Mark Greene · 461 views today · Homophobic prohibitions against male touch are hurting straight men as well.
10 Words Every Girl Should Learn
Soraya Chemaly · 446 views today · "Stop interrupting me."  "I just said that." "No explanation needed." In fifth grade, I won the school courtesy prize. In other words, I won an award for being polite. My...
Michael Moore Wants to Help You Find Your Next Anti-Trump Protest
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman · 368 views today · The Resistance Calendar lists upcoming rallies across the country.
The Most Astounding Fact about the Universe
3 min · 315 views today · This is Neil Degrasse Tyson's response when asked to describe the most astounding fact about the universe. Background music is the cinematic orchestra - To build a home.
Load More
What's Next
Like us on Facebook?
The Smart Con: Clinton Vs. Trump