True confession: Sometimes I feel bad for Hillary Clinton

Went to Russ & Daughters early this morning to pick up some smoked fish.

Riding back on the F train, I got engrossed in this piece in the LRB about, among other things, the relationship between Margot Asquith—about whom the only thing I had previously known was that she supposedly once said to Jean Harlow, after Harlow kept incorrectly pronouncing the “t” in Margot, “No, no, Jean. The ‘t’ is silent, as in Harlow.”—and Virginia Woolf.

After Woolf killed herself, Asquith wrote:

When I last wrote to her I felt lonely and depressed. I told her that at one time I was arrogant enough to think that I was the hostess at the festival of life, but that now I was not even a guest, and there was no ‘festival.’ I added that when I died I hoped she would write my obituary notice in The Times, as that might make me famous.

And I just sat there, feeling intensely moved by how sad a statement that was. Here was a woman of wit and intelligence, thwarted by constraints internal and external, constraints too formidable to overcome. Earlier in her life Asquith had written in her diary:

When I read of Parnell or Lasalle or smaller men who have arrested attention, I feel full of envy, and wish I had been born a man. In a woman all this internal urging is a mistake; it leads to nothing and breaks loose in sharp utterances and passionate overthrows of conventionality.

Which made her friendship with Woolf all the more poignant, as the writer I was reading in the LRB pointed out:

Her [Asquith] own achievements, first as a waspish socialist socialite and later as an unsuitable political wife, seemed to confirm this as a bitter truth; but Virginia’s, now set out cleanly before her, showed that a woman’s genius, however embattled, could assert itself in lasting accomplishment.

I sat some more, lost in thought. Then I turned a few more pages, and stumbled across this piece by Terry Castle, one of my favorite writers, about going to a Silicon Valley fundraiser for Hillary Clinton.

Still thinking about Asquith, and all those wealthy women past, denied their place in the sun, I was prepared to feel sad for Clinton as well. True confession: I often feel sad for Clinton. I know it’s politics, and I’m a Sanders supporter, and I loathe everything Clinton stands for, and there’s no human right to be president of the United States. But, still, I find it hard sometimes not to empathize with someone possessing such obvious talent and ambition, doing everything right, yet finding the prize she seeks so elusive. Though this time, of course, she may get the prize, and my sads will be neither here nor there. Besides, pity can be an ugly emotion, and Clinton—a powerful agent in her own right, with plenty of accomplishments to be proud of—neither needs nor wants mine.

In any event, I know Castle to be too shrewd and funny a writer for this kind of sentimentality. I switched gears.

I read the first couple of paragraphs, and found myself laughing out loud. Then, just as I was settling in to my new mood, the announcement came: 7th Avenue. My stop. Time to get off the train.



  1. RA April 3, 2016 at 3:25 pm | #

    What Happened to the Smoked Fish?

  2. Xor (@CartoonDiablo) April 3, 2016 at 3:33 pm | #

    It’s interesting to see in the context of baby-boomers generally: they did all the “right things” sucked up to the right people, worked hard within an elite system and now suddenly everyone else is complaining? I’d imagine a lot of the support from Boomers is from affinity for however they got ahead as well and seeing all the familiar systems crumble.

    Clintonites only ever knew how to work in the political establishment, and now that it’s collapsing along with every justification for it (lesser evilism, transactional politics), they seem to be terrified.

  3. John P. April 3, 2016 at 3:56 pm | #

    yeah. what did you with the fish?

  4. David Timoney April 3, 2016 at 3:59 pm | #

    Ahem: “first as a waspish socialist”. I think you’ll find that was “socialite” in the original, but I have to admit I like your version as it suggests an improvement in Margot and Herbert’s breakfast conversation.

  5. jonnybutter April 3, 2016 at 4:02 pm | #

    I sometimes feel sorry for her too. (I hope that I will continue to feel that way because she somehow loses to Sanders!). She exudes pathos. She plods along all these years, carefully preparing for these two runs for pres., and it’s her own head-down doggedness, and rigidity, that help do her in.

    Ultimately, I think the pathos-ooze is due to her utter unsuitability for her chosen profession. She works hard at it – and has done for decades – and is still just so terrible at retail politics.

    • Donald April 5, 2016 at 8:53 pm | #

      I can top this. I thought Bush would lose in 2004 and remember feeling, to my shock, a little bit of sadness for him as a buffoon who I had read really wanted to be a baseball commissioner and instead would be rejected as a one term President and failed war criminal.

      The feeling passed.

      • jonnybutter April 8, 2016 at 10:17 pm | #

        I hear you Donald. Just on a human level these feelings bubble up. Interesting that they go away when the person at hand gets or keeps power

  6. Joel in Oakland April 3, 2016 at 4:17 pm | #

    I hope y’all read Barney Frank’s piece in Slate the other day. He’s a real curmudgeon, and I’m voting for Sanders, but I respect what he said there.

    • Xor (@CartoonDiablo) April 3, 2016 at 4:27 pm | #

      I like when he said that Dems can’t “unilaterally disarm” for superpacs. Sanders is a threat because he completely disproves that, and threatens the entire ideology that Clinton and the DNC is based on.

    • Andrea April 3, 2016 at 5:15 pm | #

      I’m not impressed with Barney Frank.
      He’s a shill for Hillary and the banking industry. Dodd-Frank is a joke!

    • David Jacobs April 3, 2016 at 7:06 pm | #

      Barney Frank’s comments were internally inconsistent. He criticizes Obama on trade and fails to see the analogous problems with Clinton, all of which require a new sort of politics.

      • Ra April 4, 2016 at 4:30 am | #

        “I like when he said that Dems can’t “unilaterally disarm” for superpacs. Sanders is a threat because he completely disproves that, and threatens the entire ideology that Clinton and the DNC is based on.”

        The success of one man in one populist moment does not disprove anything. There are literally thousands of elected offices in America. Without campaign finance reform which the DNC is for, Democrats need Super PACs to remain competitive. Not to burst your pretty little bubble, but that’s just how things work in the real world. But by all means, keep talking as if anyone actually liked spending all day begging for money.

  7. kenyon brown April 3, 2016 at 7:42 pm | #

    I’m one of those boomers all for Sanders. And Hillary doesn’t need my sympathy either, but I have loads to give. I keep thinking, if only she had hammered a few nails with Jimmy after her stint at State, going off the grid to help others, she’d be so much better off now. Somehow she’s found herself caught a money trap/power trip gig where she really doesn’t belong but, alas, there’s no easy way out.

  8. Ben April 3, 2016 at 8:15 pm | #

    You “loathe everything Clinton stands for?” Like protecting Planned Parenthood? Fighting climate change? Raising the minimum wage? Clean energy jobs? Reasonable gun laws? Equal pay? Improved Social Security? Lowered student debt? Voting with Bernie Sanders 95% of the time in the senate? This is below you, Corey.

    • YankeeFrank April 4, 2016 at 9:56 am | #

      Like protecting Planned Parenthood? As a Democrat, this is something to brag about?
      Fighting climate change? Hillary will do less than nothing.
      Raising the minimum wage? Right, because $12/hr is a living wage.
      Clean energy jobs? Yes, her bold plan is… weak tea.
      Reasonable gun laws? What’s she gonna actually accomplish on this? How hard will she really fight?
      Equal pay? From the woman who sat on the board of Walmart.
      Improved Social Security? Is that “improved” like the way neoliberals use the word “reform”?
      Lowered student debt? How much lower? She gonna shave a percent off the interest rate?
      Yes, we loathe everything she stands for because she is the precise type of faux liberal where urgent policies and needs go to die.

  9. aab April 3, 2016 at 10:51 pm | #

    Now I want smoked fish. Yum.

    Whenever I start to have any pity for Hillary Clinton, I remember the victims of her husband that she slut-shamed, and the millions all over the world she’s complicit in killing and starving, and that pity evaporates in seconds.

    As a woman who is technically late Boomer and Harvard educated, who was completely blocked in my chosen profession by misogyny, I would like to point out that there are many, many women of great ability who have been stymied n the last 50 years who are much more deserving of sympathy than Hillary Clinton. Plenty of men, too, trapped by the shackles of what is and isn’t acceptable to do, say or believe to get ahead in such a conservative, hierarchical culture — such as treating women as equals.

    • jonnybutter April 4, 2016 at 8:15 am | #

      I’m with aab.

    • Harry April 4, 2016 at 12:10 pm | #

      That’s just the “super predator” in you talking. …

      • jonnybutter April 4, 2016 at 7:54 pm | #

        must be…

  10. Miguel April 3, 2016 at 11:00 pm | #

    Shelsky’s on Court Street may not be Russ & Daughters, but the fish is good and you don’t have to leave Brooklyn.

    • Jed April 4, 2016 at 11:48 am | #

      I prefer Shelskys. Owner is a heck of a nice guy. Mostly, its the exact same fish.

  11. Ramy Abdel-Azim April 4, 2016 at 11:38 am | #

    I, too, sometimes feel bad for Secretary Clinton. Imagine what it must feel like to sell out every thing you believe in so hard, only to come up short when it counts. Except, whenever I feel this way it occurs to me that this is exactly what anyone who sells out as hard has Secretary Clinton has deserves. If she had just remained a Republican and moved THAT party to left instead of hijacking the Democratic party and moving that one to the right, it’s quite possible that today, we’d be applauding the first female nominee of a major party for president in Secretary Clinton.

  12. The Real Peterman April 4, 2016 at 1:29 pm | #

    “doing everything right”

    You can’t be serious.

  13. Paul Coppock April 5, 2016 at 1:52 pm | #

    I find Castle’s piece asphyxiating and therefore boring.

    • YankeeFrank April 5, 2016 at 3:35 pm | #


      • Thomas Rossetti April 5, 2016 at 4:28 pm | #

        Reading the comments on Hillary put me to thinking of the say Norman Mailer’s support of Wallace in 48. Truman doesn’t look so bad now and my guess is Hillary wont look so bad in sixty years. The prospects for the liberal project in America have not looked so good in years. The Republicans are exploding. It is finally time to cash in the chips of the Clinton and Obama years and set America on a path to real reform. Bernie is part of that mission, but Hillrary and, may I be so bold, Bill! are essential to the victory. Are memories so short that Bill Clinton’s speech for Obama at the Democratic convention in 2012 was not the key turning point to Obama’s reelection.How can one not love Bernie? But the cause is larger than his politics and for a theorist who identifies as a specialist on conservatism I think Corey Robin misses the gravity of the task.

  14. Frank Wilhoit April 5, 2016 at 4:20 pm | #

    At least you know who Margot Asquith was. People should go look up her husband, Henry, who was the beneficiary (?), 100 years earlier, of the same strategy of reflexive, scorched-earth opposition that has been visited upon Mr. Obama. Read what Arthur Balfour, the Conservative leader, said about the necessity of ensuring that the Conservative Party remained in effective control regardless of the outcome of elections and indeed of the nominal tenure of office. Asquith implemented his own counterpart of “the nuclear option”, restricting the veto power of the House of Lords. It is not widely known that Britain was on the very brink of civil war in 1914, if the World War had not broken out. Altogether a fascinating period, rich in analogies (one ought not say parallels) to our situation.

  15. Roqeuntin April 6, 2016 at 7:40 am | #

    I honestly don’t. I may have early on, but the way this primary campaign has gone and the behavior of both her, media outlets like CNN, and the Democratic party in general in response to Sanders candidacy took care of any sympathy I had rather quickly. It’s easier that way, not liking her or what she represents at all, easier to fight harder. Not only have I donated money to Sanders on several occasions, I’ve even volunteered to canvas (I’ve never done either of these before in an election.).

    Sanders has to, absolutely has to win NY if he has a shot at the nomination. This is his Gettysburg, A loss here would make it all but impossible to make up the delegate count. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t do my part. More people should get involved, it’s the only way Sanders wins this thing.

  16. Hattie April 8, 2016 at 3:14 am | #

    Terry Castle is a spoiled brat and her piece on Clinton stank.

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