If I had known that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were going to debate about Henry Kissinger, I would have kept watching last night. Having been outdebated on foreign policy in the previous debate, Sanders opened a new line of attack featuring the 92 year-old former Secretary of State. At Politico, professor Gary Bass reports:
Sanders announced that he had a “very profound difference” with Clinton. “In her book and in this last debate, she talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger,” he said with disbelief. “Now I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country. I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.”
He slammed Kissinger for bombing Cambodia, which “created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some three million innocent people, one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger.”
How did Clinton respond:
Hillary Clinton’s response. . .was flat-footed. Surely there must be issues where she disagrees with Kissinger. But rather than offering any criticism of him, or mentioning her own opposition to the Vietnam war, she ducked by saying that “whatever the complaints you want to make about him are,” Kissinger is worth talking to because of his “his ongoing relationships with the leaders of China”—a formulation which, while correctly noting Kissinger’s formidable guanxi in Beijing, sounds like cronyism taken to a global level.
Bass is the author of The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide. He does not conceal his hatred of Kissinger in the Politico article, a hatred that is standard-issue among leftists who were around during Kissinger’s tenure or who have examined that period.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? In New Hampshire, Clinton lost with every age demographic except 65 years and older. By embracing Kissinger, she risks losing some Democratic support within that cohort.
Moreover, as Bass points out, Clinton’s connection to Kissinger also reinforces the view that she’s pure establishment, the ultimate creature of Washington. By highlighting the link, Sanders is able to strengthen his persona as someone who hadn’t been slowly corrupted by establishment cronyism.
Hillary Clinton remains tone deaf.
The only good news for her is that most voters under the age of, say, 45 have no idea who Henry Kissinger is. And most of the Black and Hispanic voters on whom Hillary is pinning her hopes may not care.
For many of them, the embrace that matters is of President Obama. Hillary continues to get the better of Sanders in that suck-up contest.