Hillary Clinton and the (Electoral) Curse of Shimon Peres

She is more polished, more professional and more levelheaded than Sanders or Trump, but somehow the Democratic frontrunner fails to click.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Hillary Clinton with Shimon Peres, July 16, 2012.
Hillary Clinton with Shimon Peres, July 16, 2012. Credit: AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy speech in San Diego on Thursday was an anti-Trump tour de force. She used her strongest suits, experience and cool-headedness, to strike at Trump’s weakest points, his lack thereof. If you canvassed the foreign policy establishment in America, indeed if you asked national security personnel around the world, Clinton would blow Trump out of the water, and justifiably so.

Clinton is, without a doubt, more knowledgeable, more professional and more responsible than either Trump or Bernie Sanders. In the past 25 years, while Sanders moved up from running a city ranked 870th in the U.S. to representing a state ranked 49th out of 50, and while Trump built some houses, exchanged some wives and provided the New York Post with saucy headlines, Clinton was First Lady, New York Senator and Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. What she has already forgotten Sanders hasn’t started to learn and Trump won’t even make the effort.

Yet here she is, a year after announcing her candidacy, four months after the primary season began, still locking horns with Sanders while Trump is catching up from behind. Clinton’s near-certain coronation as the presumptive Democratic candidate in the early evening hours of next Tuesday’s primaries could very well be marred by a humiliating defeat to Sanders later that night in California, the biggest prize of all. If that happens, her fate will hang in the balance well into the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in mid-July.

Even a squeaky close victory in California will suffice for Sanders to rebuff party efforts to get him to resign and to continue his guerrilla warfare against Clinton. It would provide more fodder for Trump and the GOP to snipe at Clinton and elevate Sanders, the rival they would ultimately prefer. Democrats will wake up on Wednesday morning with a bout of anxiety that would be instantly familiar to people who voted for Israel’s Labor Party in the 1980’s and ’90’s. A gnawing sensation that they are being led into battle by a candidate who is highly qualified to lead the nation but has only small problem: he is unelectable.

This is what supporters of Shimon Peres felt after he lost the 1977 elections to the Likud’s Menachem Begin, was crowned Prime Minister in the 1981 elections only to find out the next morning that he had lost to Begin again, managed to convert slam dunk victories in the polls to unavoidable power-sharing with Yitzhak Shamir in 1984 and 1988 and, most astonishingly of all, somehow lost the elections that were supposed to be unloseable following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1996. It was twenty years ago this week that Peres was beaten by relative neophyte Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel was changed forever.

Like Peres, Clinton is a polished politician. She is well versed in all the shticks and tricks of the trade, and, like Peres, enjoys the strong support of her party’s movers and shakers. She isn’t an extreme leftie or a radical righty but a moderate centrist, smack dab in the middle. She is widely respected in world capitals and can speak with confidence and authority about the world’s most acute problems. A recent poll found that 55 percent of Americans trust her to handle the country’s nuclear arsenal compared to only 33 percent who would give the codes to Trump. You would think this would be more than enough to guarantee her victory.

Yet something, somehow, doesn’t seem to click. Clinton is seen as untrustworthy. She often comes across as unauthentic. Like most politicians, she has cut corners and made some bad decisions, but these have been magnified to monstrous proportions by her rivals. Despite her many years in politics, in presidential history she is an outsider: she is a woman in a world hitherto restricted to men, just as Peres was the perennial Polish-accented outsider with European manners in a world dominated by ruff and gruff sabras. in an election year that voters yearn for revolution and upheaval and burning down the house, Clinton offers continuity, evolution and step-by-step progress.

Credit: YouTube

Clinton already lost one race that she was supposedly sure to win, against Barack Obama in 2008. If she falters against an aging Jewish socialist and a raving reality star, Democrats would be right to hand her the same kind of humiliating rebuke that Labor Party activists gave Peres in 1997 when he indignantly asked the crowd “Am I a loser?” and they emphatically roared back “Yes!”

In the head-to-head personal elections in 1996, Peres received 30,000 votes less than Netanyahu, about one percent of the vote. One in five Israelis preferred to stay home and many Israeli Arabs, incensed at Peres for a bloody military operation in Lebanon, opted to abstain.

Sanders supporters who swear by #neverHillary or are actually thinking of voting for Trump because Clinton is too corrupt, too establishment or too status quo should take a look what has happened to Israel in the past 20 years. Liberalism is smothered, the free press is endangered, democracy is fighting for its life, the rule of law is under siege and most of the country increasingly believes this is the way things were meant to be.

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