Hillary Clinton: A Pacifist Analysis

Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas

A pacifist analysis is a dissection of a controversial topic that aims for 360° awareness of both the topic and the controversy. When there are vastly different public perceptions of this subject (as there are about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who many Americans love and many Americans hate) we try to understand the different vantage points from which each perception appears rational.

If we were to attempt a pacifist analysis of the beginning of World War One, for instance, we would try to explain in a single summary why Serbian nationalists thought it was a good idea to assassinate an Austrian archduke, why Austria thought it was a good idea to declare war on Serbia, why Germany thought it was a good idea to encourage Austria to go to war, why Russia thought it was a good idea to mobilize against Germany, and so on.

Pacifist analysis aims to be "high-minded" (and, thus, pacifist) in method. Aside from method, a pacifist analysis will also emphasize the influence of the trauma or fear of violence and war in the patterns it detects — particularly the patterns by which small misunderstandings or minor disputes escalate into massive and tragic battles or communication breakdowns. A pacifist analysis of the beginning of World War One would not only emphasize the ironic truth that each side believed itself to be morally correct in August 1914; it would also emphasize that all the parties in this war were motivated by overwhelming fears about the hostile intentions of their enemies which would later prove to have been delusionary or poorly informed. Thus, a pacifist analysis aims to demonstrate possible formulas for peaceful resolution. The point of a pacifist analysis is that future tragedies will be avoided if we only take the time to process the lessons of the past.

A pacifist analysis of Hillary Clinton is long overdue here on Pacifism21. We attempted a Pacifist Analysis of Donald Trump way back in December of last year, a time when we were only beginning to understand the surreal trajectory of this candidate’s bid for power. We concluded in December that Trump’s supporters are highly driven by the fear that their homeland is being invaded and destroyed by hostile outside forces (obviously a slow-burning trauma reaction to the September 11 2001 attacks) and by an urgent sense of blood alienation against Mexicans and Muslims. Trump himself appears to be motivated by a lust for ego gratification. Eight months later, everything we've learned about Trump and his loyal base seem to bear our conclusions out.

Hillary Clinton is just as explosively controversial a topic as Donald Trump, though she is a much more typical and conventional presidential candidate. (That's not to say that she is more typical than most American politicians, because she is not. But she is more typical than Donald Trump.)

Just as Donald Trump cannot be discussed without focusing on the waves of fear that America is being invaded and destroyed by hostile outside forces, Hillary Clinton cannot be discussed without focusing on the same fear. This fear itself has a gigantic presence in the election of 2016 (as it did also in the elections of 2012, 2008 and 2004). Those who truly believe that America is currently deeply and mortally threatened by immigrants and Muslims will tend to support Donald Trump, and will tend to view everything Hillary Clinton does or says with extreme suspicion. This fear is the most basic fact about the entire political landscape in the USA in 2016, and we will see how it threads its way through perceptions of Hillary Clinton as we proceed with the analysis below.

Who Is Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton is a politician whose path to prominence has been so unique that it's difficult to imagine it forming a template for any future candidate, no matter how successful her presidency turns out to be. She can fairly be described as a brilliant policy wonk who decades ago formed a team with another brilliant policy wonk (Bill Clinton) and assisted closely in his rise to Governor of Arkansas and President of the United States. Their marriage appears to have been repeatedly marred by Bill Clinton's chronic adultery, and yet they appear strongly united as a political power team.

After Bill's election in 1992, Hillary boldly broke the sexist mold of apolitical presidential spouses and took on the difficult and urgent challenge of leading the battle for healthcare reform. Unfortunately for Hillary, this turned out to be one of the Clinton administration's worst failures. She did not appear to correctly gauge the intensity of both institutional and personal opposition to healthcare reform. The result was a major setback for the cause of healthcare reform (which finally passed in 2010). Another result was a major setback in her relationship with the American people — a relationship that has remained fraught with suspicion and controversy ever since.

Following Bill's presidency, Hillary became a Senator from New York and generally won praise from insiders for her professionalism and ethics of hard work in the service of moderate progressive causes. But her Senate years delivered another setback after she chose to vote with the George W. Bush administration to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When she ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008, her young upstart challenger Barack Obama (who as a Senator had voted against the Iraq War) was able to use this vote to portray her as an out-of-touch hawk, likely to repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration. Their primary race was so bitter that many were surprised when Hillary Clinton accepted Obama's invitation to join his administration as Secretary of State. She won general praise as a capable if unspectacular champion of American foreign policy in this role.

However, the image of Hillary Clinton as a diabolical and slippery figure with insidious intent to destroy the USA had become a very popular meme by the time she began her current run for President. This image was powerfully and insistently reinforced by conservative news media and the Republican-led Congress, who together managed to turn two weak cases for scandal (one involving the suspicion of wrongdoing in a terrorist attack in Benghazi, the other involving her use of a private email server while Secretary of State) into gigantic news stories. Any rational look at the evidence behind the Benghazi and email stories must conclude that any offenses were minor or nonexistent, and yet today a large number of American voters seem to believe that the two words "Benghazi" and "email" add up to a conclusion that Hillary Clinton is an evil actor who cannot be trusted with the presidency. Sadly for the United States of America, our internal divisions have grown so great that the schism between those who believe Hillary Clinton is "evil" and those who do not appears to be breaking us apart more and more each day. The hysterical tone of the 2016 presidential election (and of the Trump campaign) is a symptom of this schism, which continues to rage with such a white-hot intensity that some Americans are reminded of the Civil War.

The fact that Hillary Clinton (not Donald Trump, but Hillary Clinton) is the focal point of this schism appears to be a bizarre quirk of fate, since by all accounts she is herself a cautious and moderate politician, with no apparent taste for divisiveness or schism. The fact that schism appears to follow her around may be related to some aspect of her personality, or it may be a function of the times she lives in. Either way, it's a fact that this highly polarizing figure is likely to become President of the United States of America, which means that our path to unity as a country is still hard to see. (Our current President Barack Obama managed to thrive during eight years of the same polarization, so we can at least hope that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be able to survive the barrage as well.)

What Motivates Hillary Clinton?

Like many politicians, including party-switchers Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton's most enduring alliance is obviously not to the Democratic Party, since she campaigned for the starkly conservative Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964. One may assume that her upbringing in a conservative family and her coming of age during the relatively calm and judicious administration of Republican Dwight David Eisenhower help to explain her early allegiance to conservative politics. She has stated that two personal positions drove her decision to begin actively supporting liberal candidates by 1968: support for the black civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War.

This was a common trajectory for politically aware young Americans in the 1960s, and suggests that Hillary Clinton's political motivations have always tended towards mainstream "bandwagon" positions. She does not tend to originate big ideas; she chooses the best to champion, and does so well. It can be presumed that she developed this skill for leadership in productive teams at a young age: she was an eager joiner, ran for student offices at every school she attended, and majored in Political Science at Wellesley College. Her journey was not driven by strong ideology, or by projection of personal will. Rather, politics appears to have been her chosen field of interest due to an externally-focused mind and a sensible intellect. The fact that she has made a life's career out of politics may reflect her enjoyment of a field in which she has natural talents and instincts, rather than a distinct political philosophy. (Interestingly, all of these things can be equally said of her husband Bill.)

What Are The Experiences That Shaped Hillary Clinton?

Any person born in 1947 (or, in fact, any person alive today) has lived through incredibly tumultuous and dramatic times, and there can be no doubt that Hillary Clinton was deeply affected by the fast-moving events of the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. But the signature event that appears to have shaped her outlook was her experience as the failed champion of healthcare reform during Bill's presidency. She began this charge with great optimism, which means that the American people were able to observe her transition from hopefulness to despair. By the last years of the Clinton presidency, which culminated in her husband's painful and awkward Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, she was openly speaking of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" against her. These bitter words have haunted her since, and yet the opposition she faced during her husband's presidency is not even as intense as the opposition she faces today.

It's a good guess that the experience of surviving the difficult years of the Bill Clinton presidency stands today as the formative experience that shapes Hillary Clinton's world view, as well as her method. It appears to have given her strength, and a quiet dignity. Even Americans who dislike her cannot deny that she shows amazing fortitude, and has even managed to remain always cool, and often sneakily charismatic, while fending off virulent and hateful attacks in public forums. The experience of surviving Bill Clinton's presidency gave Hillary Clinton uncommon strength. People perceive this in her, and it may be among her chief qualifications for President.

Why Is Hillary Clinton So Loved And So Hated?

It may be the case that many politicians are widely loved and widely hated ... but even so, there is an edge of intensity among the many Americans who love or hate Hillary Clinton that breaks the mold. In many parts of the USA, "Hillary Clinton" is a dirty word, a phrase to be snarled at. The disturbing image of Trump supporters chanting "Lock her up" is only the latest moment in a long legacy. It's a bizarre fact that Hillary Clinton is viciously and publicly hated by a large cross-section of America — and she is also the front-runner in our presidential election. We live in a deeply divided country.

So, why exactly is Hillary so loved and so hated? The answer may have more to do with the country than with the candidate.

Even with all the irrational propaganda flying through the air, and all the rage and emotion currently coursing through the American soul as Trump and Clinton face off in 2016, there is one hopeful sign about the American mood. Hillary's gender has somehow failed to come up even as a dog-whistle in our current news cycles.

Of course, gender colors our perception of Hillary Clinton in nearly infinite subliminal ways. Still, the election of 2016 is showing us that American voters fear illegal immigrants and Islamic terrorists more than they fear strong women. Perhaps our country is "growing up", even today. It will be a big deal if Hillary Clinton manages to become the first woman President of the United States without gender ever becoming a prominent issue in the campaign! (Contrast this with the first presidential campaign of Barack Obama, whose ethnic background has been a constant topic of uncomfortable public discussion.)

Is Hillary Clinton Guilty of Crimes Related to Email or Benghazi?

A pacifist analysis strives to be impartial when two sides of a story clash. But a pacifist analysis also strives to reflect factual truth, and it must be said that all evidence shows the famous "Benghazi scandal" and "email scandal" to be incredibly weak vessels upon which great levels of public attention have been heaped.

The facts clearly show that there is no rational case for Hillary Clinton's wrongdoing in Benghazi. There is only a tremendous amount of deep suspicion that both scandals may indicate something diabolical, and always a shrugging winking suggestion that "you know something's funny about it". This is a favorite with drunk uncles, and with the Donald Trump crowd.

What is tragic is that endless repetition produces a positive memory effect in duller minds, and many Americans began to hear the name "Benghazi" so many times that they began to believe there was some connection to guilt on the part of Hillary Clinton. There was not. There has only been a news channel called Fox News that was desperate for a story that had some chance to make Hillary Clinton look bad ... and Fox News always has a whole lot of hours to fill.

It is truly offensive how Congress has politicized the Benghazi pseudo-scandal. Four Americans died in a terrorist attack in Libya. Meanwhile, thousands of Americans died, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died, as a result of an entire phony Republican-led war in Iraq. Our Republican Congress has chosen to devote massive resources to investigating Hillary Clinton's activities in Benghazi. Thanks, Congress.

The fact that Hillary Clinton voted for the war in Iraq, and could thus be tied to a real governmental misdeed if only so many other Republicans in Congress were not also guilty of supporting a phony case for war, makes this substitution of a fake scandal for a real scandal particularly galling.

In recent months, the Fox News/talk radio axis has backed off the phony Benghazi scandal because they have smelled real blood with recent developments in the phony email scandal. On this topic, my personal experience as an Internet technologist with significant experience in email forensics gives me a special vantage point from which to view Hillary Clinton's decision to use a private email account instead of a State department address. Hillary Clinton made this decision in a time when there were no well-known government standards for email usage. Today, there are still very loose email standards for government employees, and it's a pretty safe bet that no politician in America, either Republican or Democratic or otherwise, would like to see his or her email activiies exposed to the public.

A thorough FBI investigation of Clinton's email records found a tiny amount of slightly irregular activities, such as mistakenly forwarding classified documents, none of which were remotely concerning to the FBI. It's a safe bet that the FBI would also find a similar amount of irregular activity if it investigated Paul Ryan's emails, or John McCain's emails, or Mitch McConnell's emails. This is the nature of email: we all deal with a lot of it on a daily basis, and we all have pretty sloppy email habits. This is not a problem that tells us anything about Hillary Clinton. The fact that she chose to use a private email address instead of a State Department email address merely shows that she wanted to maintain privacy, and felt it important to do so. The fact that she used a private, non-governmental email address for many years in plain public view without anybody saying "Hey, Hillary, why are you using a private email address instead of a State Department email address?" indicates that her desire for email privacy was considered reasonable and legal by everyone she interacted with at State during all her years in that office.

The hyperbole surrounding the terms "Benghazi" and "email" did not arise from grassroots American opinion: both pseudo-scandals were deliberately fabricated by conservative news media and obsessively nurtured by the Republican-led Congress. The fact that the Issa/Gowdy kangaroo courts turned up no evidence of actual offenses by Hillary Clinton but still managed to drill the words "Benghazi" and "email" into the brains of many American voters as evidence of "diabolical Hillary Clinton" should also outrage every American, because it shows that we are more vulnerable to well-executed propaganda campaigns than we would like to believe. The real scandal is that so many Americans have been truly fooled by these phony campaigns.

The Benghazi and email canards are beneath merit as serious critiques of Hillary Clinton — unless one is already of the opinion that Hillary Clinton is an evil person with secret intent to destroy America. As mentioned above, this presumption is the key difference between the two opinion groups currently fighting over the future of the United States of America. If one presumes that Hillary Clinton must be evil, then the Benghazi and email stories are infinitely compelling. If one does not begin with these presumptions, they are not. However, as we will see below, even those (like myself) who do not believe that Hillary Clinton is a diabolical figure may have serious reservations about her future presidency.

Is Hillary Clinton Owned By Wall Street?

Far from the solipsistic universe of Darrell Issa, Trey Gowdy, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders (which I personally supported, though I also remained somewhat enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton's candidacy) made a strong case that Hillary Clinton is too traditional a candidate in her devotion to Wall Street banks and large corporate donors. This charge is keenly aggravated by the terrible suffering of many Americans following the 2007/2008 economic crash, which has been tied to the deregulation of Wall Street that was signed into law during Bill Clinton's presidency.

Bernie Sanders is no longer a candidate and now urgently supports Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. I agree with Bernie. Still, we need to ask whether or not we can trust Hillary Clinton to take the kind of stand for American people (as opposed to American hedge-fund investors) that Elizabeth Warren has taken.

Well, Elizabeth Warren urgently supports Hillary Clinton too, and that helps. Still, the widespread public concern over both Bill and Hillary Clinton's perceived coddling of wealthy corporate donors remains very strong. However, it's an important point that Hillary Clinton is not exceptional here. Most successful modern Democratic or Republican candidates pander to donors and corporate leaders in a large variety of ways. Hillary Clinton may be a disappointing example of this, but this only makes her a conventional, not an exceptional, politician and candidate.

Barack Obama is also said to be owned by Wall Street, and countless objections to his moderate achievements such as privatized healthcare reform (rather than public option) and the weak regulations of the Dodd-Frank bill are seen as evidence of this chronic problem with American politics. But Barack Obama has proven to be a very successful President of the United States, at least by most measures. Hillary Clinton can be expected to be similarly imperfect, and we can reasonably hope that she has learned from the failures of the pre-2007 crash economy that she and Bill Clinton helped empower.

There is clearly nothing new about Hillary Clinton's background as a pro-Wall Street and pro-corporate politician. Indeed, it was Bernie Sanders' campaign against this type of corporate over-influence that represented something new and exciting in American politics. We can only hope that the spirit of his campaign will find a place within Hillary Clinton's administration in some way if she is elected.

Is Hillary Clinton A Hawk Or A War-Monger?

As a pacifist, I am deeply concerned by Hillary Clinton's 2003 votes in support of George W. Bush's Iraq War. I am deeply concerned about the fact that she likes to trumpet her friendship with known war-mongers like Henry Kissinger, and that her chosen Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine is known to be on the "hawk" side within the Democratic party. I am deeply concerned that Samantha Power's groundbreaking book about genocide (which closely covered the Rwanda and Bosnia tragedies that occurred during Bill Clinton's presidency) revealed Hillary Clinton to be among those of Bill Clinton's close advisors who did not urge action when both of these disasters occurred.

But, as with our conclusions on Hillary's relationship to Wall Street above, we should be clear that Hillary Clinton's faults here simply reflect the status quo of American politics, and do not represent a unique or special inclination of Hillary Clinton's that seems likely to make any situation worse. Just as Barack Obama is much more comfortable using military force (and horrific methods such as drone attacks that kill innocent people in Afghanistan and Pakistan) than many peace-loving Americans would like any President to be, it's clear that Hillary Clinton would be similarly comfortable deploying America's military strength broadly, aggressively and proactively, and both covertly and overtly.

It's likely that a HRC-led foreign policy would resemble Barack Obama's. In terms of her likely foreign policy decisions and military leadership, Hillary Clinton seems to have completely absorbed Washington DC's conventional wisdom, and appears likely to follow conventional patterns of American military decision-making if elected. There is no reason to think she will initiate any new or original significant efforts to change USA policy around the world, either for better or worse.

What Is The Larger Historical Significance of Hillary Clinton's Entire Career?

We stand at a crossroads in America today. As an American citizen, I personally plan to vote for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump because I think she will be a conventional, reasonable and moderate leader, and because I find Donald Trump completely ridiculous, offensive and unacceptable. This is hardly a ringing endorsement, but I do plan to celebrate in great fashion when Hillary Clinton is elected President in November, because I personally feel warmly towards her and I admire her strength and courage in the face of virulent hatred, and because it's a very big deal for the United States of America to have its first woman President.

It's an amazing fact that so little of the public discussion about Hillary Clinton has focused on her gender. Perhaps it's because the 2016 election has been so outrageous and strange, and also so loud, that the topic of gender has found no traction in our daily news cycle. It is very happy news that America is becoming a more tolerant and inclusive nation in 2016, even as our party politics flies off the rails with the weird candidacy of Donald Trump. Trump has dominated nearly every moment of this presidential election, with the ironic result that Hillary Clinton sometimes appears to be merely a side player in what is likely to be her own presidential election.

Let's take a clue from this and realize that the same fear and trauma that inspired the Republican party to select the clownish Donald Trump as its champion is behind the terrible schism that causes millions of Americans to deeply and sincerely fear and hate Hillary Clinton, even as millions of other Americans embrace and admire her. This schism is, even more than Donald Trump, the biggest story in American politics in 2016. We are a severely divided nation, cut in half by a paranoid fear (rooted in the trauma of September 11 2001) that has degenerated into blind hatred on all sides. This paranoid fear has taken such deep root in our national mind, as we have observed above, that it has even created an alternate reality in which both the "Benghazi scandal" and "email scandal" are widely considered credible, despite all evidence that they are not. We are a severely divided nation, and President Hillary Clinton will have a hell of a job on her hands if she hopes to bring us together.

I didn't find your article to be impartial. You are entitled to your point of view but it doesn't seem like you did research on Benghazi. You have probably travelled, yes? How would you like to be in a foreign country holed up in the US embassy under attack and your phone calls for help go unheeded and you die. Those men kept asking for US planes and none came. Next, I was watching that show about espionage and buying alternate computers is something that spies apparently do. They also give foreign countries access to classified documents, but not accidentally. What if it was not an accident? Something a clever spy would do. Do I think she is a spy, I don't know. But it isn't much ado about nothing.


I find it astonishing all the war crimes and acts of violent corruption that you left out of this breezy and long article.

Hillary is the "Queen of War" according to international independent journalist Pepe Escobar. Why?

It's her legacy. A long trail of human bodies, bloodied, used up, and dead.

See this video, I watched it before going to Quaker meeting on Sunday. I was a bit late, but it was worth it:


Thanks for a thoughtful analysis. So much of what you write is on point. I have some further reflections.

1) re: Wall Street—HRC does appeal to Wall St. It would be political malpractice not to do so. I believe she tries to cast the broadest manageable net of support—seeking input from the broadest range of constituencies (whereas Trump seeks a narrow, energized base of support). Because of the polarization you highlight, any appeal to someone you disagree with is tantamount to a stab in the back. Thus, she appeals to BLM—and racists howl. But they neglect to recognize she also appeals to police unions & leadership—which in turn pisses off the left. When you seek consensus, extremists tend to sense a betrayal.

2) re: scandals—Unfortunately, HRC has been trained as a lawyer (as have I, full disclosure). She has learned to thread a fine needle with precisely aimed words. She saw, e.g., the perjury trap laid for her husband and wants to avoid that at all costs. The problem is that this comes across to the average person as prevarication, squirming, even lying. It's bad political-speak. Thus, in my opinion, her reputation and the opening for inquiry & investigation by her opponents.

3) re: war mongering—Obviously, this should be the single biggest subject matter for your blog. I suspect, without proof or evidence—just a hunch—that this is where the gender issues come to the fore in the way she acts. As a woman on the national security stage, she has to project a tough image—tougher than men—to avoid being called weak, womanly, sissy, etc. This, most likely IMO, more than anything else forced her to vote to give GWB Iraq authorization. Sorry if this sounds sexist. This was clearly a forced error on her part. And, as you point out, there was an establishment consensus/peer pressure component to this decision as well. It's my hope that she learned from that experience and has the prepossession and self-confidence not to be forced into making such a rash, forced decision going forward. You know what the howls from the war party right will be like if she refuses to engage militarily as President in some unforeseen conflict. They've done the same thing to the current president, who more than anyone in my lifetime (except perhaps Carter) understands the hard work of proactive peacemaking and has practiced de-escalation & disentanglement at an extremely high level for 8 years.

Don't know if you saw it, but I've posted my own analysis—on a philosophical ethical axis—at my blog. It's in six parts called Frameworks. It looks at GOP as rule-following & Dems as consequentialist/utilitarian, then traces those philosophical tendencies down to the strategies & tactics & messages employed by the two major candidates. I invite your perusal & comment.

See you on Twitter.

Jim H.