Photo: Evan Agostini (Invision/AP)

Hillary Clinton popped back into the news cycle on Thanksgiving in the worst possible way, after the Guardian quoted her as saying, basically, that Europe needs to get harsher on migrants and refugees or else people like Donald Trump will keep winning elections.

Just to reiterate this is a bad and terrible stance that only some kind of ultra-warped center-think could come up with. The interview took place before the midterms, according to the Guardian, and was published as part of the paper’s new “The New Populism” series, which might explain why they decided to drop the quotes on Thanksgiving in America instead of when she actually said it.

Here’s the passage, emphasis mine.

In an interview with the Guardian, the former Democratic presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists, particularly on the right, in Europe and the Americas.

“I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message – ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ – because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”

Advertisement

This is like saying “we need to get a handle on gay rights” in favor of appeasing conservatives, which, oh wait, her husband Bill Clinton already tried with the Defense of Marriage Act. Great. The larger point here is that the quote entirely discredits the fact that what Hillary refers to as “migration” is very often “people fleeing for their lives,” as it is in the case of refugees from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Honduras, El Salvador, Somalia, Sudan, and many more countries.

Refugee advocates quickly called her out on this. Per the New York Times:

“I was kind of shocked,” Eskinder Negash, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said of Mrs. Clinton’s comments. “If she’s simply saying you need to cut down on refugees coming to Europe to ask for asylum because they have a well-founded fear of persecution, just to appease some right-wing political leaders, it’s just not the right thing to do.”

Advertisement

And it wasn’t even correct in the context of Britain (Clinton said the Brexit vote was another example of the migration worries fueling reactionary votes.)

Per the Times:

Tanja Bueltmann, a history professor at Northumbria University in Britain who focuses on migration issues, said Mrs. Clinton’s perspective was “tragically misjudged.”

“Ultimately, immigration is not actually the problem that inflamed voters: Much more foundational issues, such as austerity, are the real reason,” Professor Bueltmann said. “Immigrants and refugees are simply the scapegoats populists have chosen to use to drive forward their ideas.”

Advertisement

Regardless, Clinton was in good company: several other “center-left” heavyweights also apparently learned exactly the wrong lessons from the past few years.

Per the Guardian:

The other two interviewees, Tony Blair and Matteo Renzi, agreed that the migration issue had posed significant problems for centrist politics.

“You’ve got to deal with the legitimate grievances and answer them, which is why today in Europe you cannot possibly stand for election unless you’ve got a strong position on immigration because people are worried about it,” Blair said. “You’ve got to answer those problems. If you don’t answer them then … you leave a large space into which the populists can march.”

Advertisement

If Clinton’s defeat proved anything, it’s that you don’t beat racist, fear-stoking populism with cynical pragmatism or by fecklessly chasing some “middle ground” that slides further and further to the right the more you accommodate it. But it sure seems like it didn’t prove that to her!