Hillary Clinton needs to stop bragging about Henry Kissinger’s endorsement

During the last Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton went out of her way to insist that she is very progressive and very not-establishment. However, later on in the debate, she claimed a rather odd endorsement for a progressive outsider. As she said of her past experience running a large government agency:

I have had the opportunity to run a big agency. I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better — better than anybody had run it in a long time. So I have an idea of what it’s going to take to make our government work more efficiently.

This turned quite a few heads, and made Clinton’s more progressive supporters cringe. In a Democratic primary, Henry Kissinger — a war criminal who personifies the worst excesses of American imperialism — is not someone with whom you want to associate.

Henry Kissinger introducing Hillary Clinton in 2013, screenshot via YouTube

Henry Kissinger introducing Hillary Clinton in 2013, screenshot via YouTube

In the wake of her comments, I heard two main defenses from Clinton supporters. First, that Kissinger was simply commenting on Clinton’s skills as a bureaucrat: He said she ran an effective department, but he didn’t necessarily say that he agreed with her foreign policy decisions or worldview. Second, other supporters have argued that Clinton simply didn’t mean it. It was just a gaffe, and she doesn’t think Kissinger is Actually Good. We should all let her line go and move on.

Apparently, no one told Clinton’s campaign.

For starters, Clinton’s embrace of Kissinger during the debate wasn’t a gaffe. She was reading a line from her campaign’s website. What’s more, in the spin room following the debate, Clinton strategist Joel Benenson doubled down on Clinton’s comments, saying that “People generally believe that Henry Kissinger was a good secretary of state.”

And then there’s this, from today:

Just so we’re clear, this is the same Henry Kissinger who, as Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, was responsible for the military coup that overthrew democratically-elected Salvador Allende and installed dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile. This is the same Henry Kissinger who green-lit Indonesian dictator Suharto’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, and then worked to block efforts by the international community to mitigate the resulting violence. This is the same Henry Kissinger who was directly involved in the United States’ atrocities in Southeast Asia — from our secret war in Cambodia to our enthusiastic embrace of chemical weapons such as Agent Orange in Vietnam and Laos. He is not someone whose endorsement should be considered “flattering,” and he should not be talked up as “a good secretary of state.” His approval certainly shouldn’t be an applause line.

So while I think the labels game is dumb — drawing arbitrary lines around words like “progressive” and “establishment” is usually pretty silly — come on. I think we can all agree that embracing Henry Kissinger as a “good secretary of state” whose endorsement should be taken as a badge of honor is safely outside the bounds of “progressive” and safely within the bounds of “establishment.”

Clinton needs to stop talking Henry Kissinger up on the trail. Her campaign needs to take his name off of her website. Her surrogates, including her husband, need to stop bragging about how awesome Kissinger thinks her time as Secretary of State went. This is a guy whose name, and all that it represents, should be toxic in Democratic politics. It’s time our party’s frontrunner acted accordingly.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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