Next Sunday, America’s only female candidate for President arrives in London to promote her new book. She will be warmly welcomed. Ever since I read The System, an account of Bill and Hillary’s attempt to reform healthcare in the 1990s, I have been fascinated by the Clintons. And so has most of Britain.
Their brand never became toxic here. Incredibly, Bill became President when John Major was the British Prime Minister, but it is his intervention in Croatia with Tony Blair that sticks most in the mind for us. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, which became toxic for Blair, Croatia was seen by the mainstream as a broad success. Perhaps, just perhaps, it gave Blair too much confidence.
I covered Hillary’s first tilt at the nomination closely, as she spent a year fighting Barack Obama. I felt that this was her one and only chance, and she would have beaten anyone other than Obama. In politics, as with any sporting contest, sometimes people look great only because they have weak opposition. Standing from afar, there must be many Britons who think that year’s Presidential election should have been Clinton vs. Obama.
Again, from afar, Obama’s term was a big success. He finally managed to get some healthcare reforms through, but was beaten back on gun controls. We always have a chuckle when the holder of the post, often described as “the most powerful in the world” or alternatively, “leader of the free world” sometimes cannot find the light in a dark room. What Obama found, as did Blair, is that the President can only do so much. For real, quick change, you need Congress (or Parliament) to be fully on your side. At least in our “first among equals system”, the Prime Minister also controls Parliament, by definition.
And so to the most recent election, the one this book is about. We watched in horror as Trump made steady progress through the year, quietly confident that Hillary would kill him off in the real elections. The reasons that didn’t happen, from her perspective, are many and varied. Was there just one moment when she stuffed up? No. There were health issues which, although technically irrelevant, help feed a narrative. A lesson re-learned by Theresa May only last week. We had the email frenzy which turned out to be nothing, and certainly is nothing on the scale of what Team Trump are now involved in. And there was something about Benghazi, which barely made the news here and seemed at most an interesting footnote.
We always knew Hillary Clinton should have been the first female President. Given that the role is never quite as powerful as some like to make out, Trump’s impact on the wider world is likely to be small. We remember Bill for Croatia and because he was hounded by a toxic system, that turned every misdemeanour into some kind of treasonable offence. We now remember Hillary for being hounded irrationally by a toxic system. We’re just very thankful that a pillar of industry has been elected, so that he can now drain off the toxicity and make America great again. We won’t be holding our breath.