Dear Joe Biden: Hillary Clinton Was a Great Candidate

In March, former Vice-President Joe Biden had some garbage to say about Hillary Clinton's campaign. At the time, he didn't explicitly name Clinton, despite the fact it was plain she was about whom he was speaking.

Now he's opened his yapper again, and this time he at least has the integrity to name her as he criticizes her—though he could hardly avoid it, since it's such a personal criticism.
Appearing at the SALT hedge fund conference in Las Vegas, the possible 2020 presidential candidate weighed in on Hillary Clinton's 2016 candidacy in a way that Clinton supporters sure won't like.

"I never thought she was a great candidate," Biden said, according to reports. "I thought I was a great candidate."

Biden clarified, according to CNN, that "Hillary would have been a really good president."
Three things:

One: It's always easy to say that this or that candidate "woulda won" in a vacuum. Biden may believe, and he may even be right, that he would have had some strengths that Clinton didn't have (although I hope we can all agree that many of the "strengths" with which male candidates are credited often come down to being male, which is not actually a "strength" so much as it is undeserved privilege trading on institutional sexism).

What gets far less consideration in these calculations is what role those candidates' weaknesses may have played. The presumption is, inevitably: Candidate X would have been just as good as Hillary Clinton, plus these other things. But that is neither fair nor accurate.

Biden would have been a weaker candidate in a number of ways. For instance, he would have had far less credibility to push back on Trump's misogyny and sexual assault history, given his disgraceful behavior toward Anita Hill. Similarly, the multiple plagiarism scandals during the campaign, most famously Melania Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama, would have invoked Biden's own history of plagiarism.

And if Clinton's "corporatism" was a problem for many left-leaning votes, imagine what they'd have made of Biden's record, which reflects his service to Delware, whose "laws and courts...are the most pro-management in the nation. Corporations based there are held to the laxest possible standards of disclosure, shareholder rights, and fiduciary responsibility. Indeed, as the state has admitted in the past, its laws are specifically crafted to appeal to the interests of corporate executives."

Biden has mounted two failed runs for the presidency already. In 1988, he had to withdraw because of his plagiarism scandal. In 2008, he lost the nomination to Barack Obama—and to Hillary Clinton, who outlasted him in the primary.

Might he have been the strongest contender in 2016 if he'd run? Maybe. But that is far from certain.

Two: Hillary Clinton was a pretty great fucking candidate! I'm not sure why so many Democrats are behaving as though she was a disaster, when she ended up winning the popular vote by 3 million votes.

I'm further not sure why so many Democrats are quick to argue that her popular vote total doesn't really matter, because it was concentrated in progressive centers.

Sure, urban elites blah. But millions of the people who are concentrated in cities like New York, Chicago, Austin, and San Francisco (among others) are there because they were persecuted in their homes, and find greater safety in spaces where laws have been passed to protect them. Millions of queer people who are targeted by Republican legislatures in their home states; millions of women who fear childbearing in an area without robust reproductive choice; millions of Black people who are the descendants of elders who were kept out of small Northern sundown towns. Etc.

It is unfathomably shitty to sneer at the concentration of Clinton's voters when that concentration exists in large part because of the very barriers she campaigned on tearing down.

Three: A number of people have observed that Clinton herself said very much the same thing as Biden when she said during a primary debate: "I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama."

And I will repeat what I wrote at the time:
When Clinton describes herself as "not a natural politician," I am sure she says it because she genuinely believes it; it isn't a false humility, but an honest assessment of what she perceives as her own limitations.

I suspect she also says it as a self-defense mechanism, to undercut charges of arrogance and to deflect other criticisms about her stage presence, voice, delivery, demeanor.

She says it for a lot of reasons, purposefully and thoughtfully.

Which itself is an indication that, even if she is not a natural politician, she is nonetheless a good one.

Because although Clinton saying she is not a natural politician is received as self-deprecating, embedded within it is also an imploration to consider what she has achieved despite not being a natural politician.

Here she stands before us, the first female contender with a real shot at the US presidency, and she has gotten to this place not because of innate talent as a politician, but because she has worked her ass off.

Because she has practiced becoming a speaker, when she was not by nature someone who could command a room. Because she has studied until she has an unfathomable breadth of policy knowledge, when she cannot charm her way through not knowing something. Because she has mustered the courage to overcome her discomfort with campaigning, when campaigning is a part of the job.

I'm not a natural politician...and here the fuck I am anyway.

If there is anything that speaks to the humanity of Hillary Clinton, it is that. She isn't a politician because it came naturally to her. She's a politician despite the fact that it didn't.

And then there is this: Clinton is only not a natural politician according to expectations and standards of politicians defined almost exclusively by men.

She is not naturally a traditional politician.

Not like her husband. Not like President Obama. As she is wont to say.

I am reminded again of that quote from former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau: "Her husband charms by talking to you; Hillary does it by listening to you—not in a head-nodding, politician way; in a real person way."

She's a politician powered by empathy rather than charisma, who makes people feel like they're standing in the sun rather than staring at it.

Maybe that just makes her a natural politician of a different sort. Of the sort who can challenge our expectations of what natural politicians look like altogether.

Hillary Clinton isn't a natural politician, but she just might be a revolutionary one.
I stand by that. And revolutionary politicians don't always win. But they change the landscape, so that there is more space for people who are also not traditional politicians.

That space, that much-needed space, will close if there aren't people there to protect and defend it. If instead, people in positions of power and influence decide to be gatekeepers for the traditions that benefit and privilege people like them.

An unprecedented number of women have declared an intent to run for office in the wake of the 2016 election. If Joe Biden doesn't want to shit all over their potential and opportunity, then he needs to recognize that perhaps there is a new breed of great candidate in town. And that we must celebrate that, if we ever want women to lead.

Failing such recognition, and attendant robust support of a future that reimagines what politics has to look like, he could do us all a favor and just shut the fuck up.

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