On Thursday, the New York Times published a potentially bombshell exposé about financial ties that the Clinton family has to the Russian uranium industry. Over the past decade, the Clinton Foundation and family appeared to be primary players and beneficiaries in a multi-billion dollar game between authoritarian eastern regimes, international mining money, and a whole lot of curiously-timed legislation. At one point, Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved a massive corporate takeover that seemed to repay a group of investors who had donated millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.
It may not be as bad as it seems. It could be that, despite how James Bond-esque it sounds when you throw around terms like “Russian uranium conglomerates,” involvement in these kinds of deals are just what happens when you’re the world’s most powerful family. Then again, “the world’s most powerful family” sounds a bit ‘Dr. No’ too.
I’ll be curious to see how much traction this story generates. Will any of it matter to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign? This woman handles controversy like a power lifter handles iron, though the international scope of this particular affair makes Whitewater look homespun. Is this worse than her email scandal? Will it have the same lingering effect as any of the family’s previous question marks?
I’m not so sure it will. Let’s give credit to Hillary Clinton: she is the undisputed modern master of getting away with scandals. It’s not that she’s as slippery as a mob capo or as brazen as Bush-era Wall Street. Rather, Clinton is an expert in managing a nest of sub-explosive landmines of borderline criminal activity and convenient oversights. The talent that Barack Obama has for tacking expertly in political winds, she has for engaging in nefarious business just up to and slightly pushing the envelope of blazing public intrigue. And it’s a dangerous game—in American political theater today, public intrigue comes in no other variety.
She’s had plenty of practice. Hillary and Bill Clinton have been involved in scandal as one of the nation’s imperial families for damn near the last thirty years. (And one of two families that have held the White House for nearly all of that time.) As the sideways glances start to stack up in earnest now that everyone’s really looking for dirt on her—with plenty to find, apparently—what if none of it bothers us enough to ever displace her, as a candidate or as president? What if Hillary emerges out of it all as a victorious alter-Nixon? What if we end up remembering her goodwifely suffering through Bill’s scandals not as pathetically politic, but as a cunning act of research inside a Large Hadron Collider of how exactly a top-tier American politician gets away with murder?
I think the question is more informative than the answer. We already know how this is going to play out: the mainstream left is going to hold their breaths a little before Hillary’s campaign airs a casual summary dismissal of the coincidence (between multimillion-dollar donations to their slush fund charity and Bill Clinton’s private dinner with a Kazakh autocrat who days later rewarded the donor with a stake in the state-run uranium agency). What American can’t relate to that? Soon we’ll forget about it—this is not the first time this relationship has been exposed—until her Republican challenger resurfaces it in while parsing through the mountain of accusations she’s accumulated. Talk about a big mining operation.
My chief problem with this story isn’t Hillary’s involvement with shady multinationals; I already assume the Clintons run Skynet. It’s that my knowledge of the story has basically zero effect on my likelihood of voting for her. It’s on that fact that I unload all of my frustrations with Hillary. Not just now, but whenever we glimpse the astoundingly remote relationship she has with the average American. Whenever we see how far above us she correctly perceives herself to be.
This story’s electoral insignificance is a testament to how damaging our bullshit joke of a political climate really is. It’s weird: we live under the rule of basically one party, but that one party is bifurcated seethingly and inexorably on some of the most fundamental issues in political philosophy—notably, the question of whether or not the collective good exists. The only alternative to Clinton’s side of the spectrum is so rabidly stupid as a matter of policy right now, it’s impossible to imagine rewarding them a vote just because I’m miffed that Hillary Clinton has more in common with Saruman than me.
Look: I, as a relaxed progressive, have huge problems with Hillary Clinton. I haven’t forgotten when she played into the electorate’s basest instincts by trying to smear Obama with photos of him dressed in traditional Kenyan garb in 2008. The revelations about her State Department emails are really troubling, mostly for her total aloofness from the law. I can’t stand her insincerity. And none of this is to say anything of the old-school, Hitchens-esque gripes about the Clintons.
The difference between Hillary and her opponents, though, is that she speaks a political language I understand. I respect her as a driven careerist and a good-enough thinker; I can’t say that for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. I grudgingly respect her family’s sustained, Castro-like success against all political assassins; I can’t say the same for the even-more predestined Jeb Bush. If the election has to be a battle of anointed surnames, I’d rather entrust the country to a Clinton than a Paul.
The most troubling thing about the Clintons’ Russian oil corruptions, in other words, is the fact that it’s far from bad enough to make progressives relinquish our cling to her as a bulwark against the party of hate and science denial and regression. This isn’t a complaint about having to choose between “a lesser of two evils.” It’s a complaint that our politics is so binary and antagonistic that I read this story about Billary’s wheelings and dealings in the Soviet bloc and partly felt relief that at least she’ll be comfortable sitting in the planet’s driver’s seat. Unlike poor Obama—who, by the way, is going to look like a gleaming black pearl of genuine democracy when we look back on this era of American emperors—Hillary will be ready to take all comers who stand in her way. She’s probably killed before, and she’ll do it again.
Strap the fuck up, America. This is the left you wanted.