Friday, 14 December 2012

Will Hillary run?

Already, terrified Republicans are ginning up their playbook, to fight another battle against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“Don’t you remember all the scandals from the Clinton era??” Hmm. Take a pop quiz regarding the alleged “scandals” following Hillary Clinton around. Which of these five is not like the others?

  1. Whitewater “scandal”
  2. Travel-gate
  3. File-gate
  4. Vince Foster case
  5. Cattle futures “scandal”

The answer is “e”. In the first four cases, Republican investigators tried to prove Clinton did anything unethical or illegal, and came up totally empty. In the cattle futures case, it was so obvious that she had done nothing wrong, that they didn’t even try to investigate. Clinton is clean as a whistle.

“Her health care plan was a secret plot to impose socialist bureaucracy on us and take away all our choices! Just ask Harry and Louise!” These are not only lies, but lies that are almost twenty years old. Hillarycare was essentially just a plan for get employers to help find coverage for their employees, just like most of us have already. Obamacare goes much farther than Hillary did, in many areas, and Obamacare isn’t socialist dictatorship either.

“Clinton is so liberal she practically sleeps with a copy of the Communist Manifesto under her pillow!” Um, no. Things Clinton has supported: nuclear power, Israel, resisting the aggressions of Iran, the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iraq war, releasing oil reserves to the market, the Cuba embargo, increased homeland security measures, putting national security ahead of human rights, the Patriot Act, a ban on flag burning, giving the president the benefit of the doubt on executive authority, three strikes and you’re out for violent offenders, the death penalty, Bush’s No Child Left Behind plan, and the right to pray in public schools. She also dislikes same-sex marriage and opposes sex and violence in video games. In the Senate, she was constantly reaching out to Republicans, working with Newt Gingrich and Bill Frist on health care, and even hooking up with Republicans at the Senate Prayer Breakfast. Some liberal.

“She doesn’t know how to be an executive!” Well, four years ago I would agree. A key goal for an executive is to choose the subordinates immediately beneath you, and on that score, Clinton did a poor job in 2008, choosing Patti Solis Doyle and Mark Penn as key leaders of her campaign team. Both were incompetent and both were gone by April 2008, but by then it was too late.

However, Clinton has totally redeemed herself in this regard, during her tenure at State. When she arrived at the State Department, the Department was arguably in its worst shape in the history of the Republic: the Department’s foreign-policy functions had been entirely usurped by White House advisers and the Pentagon. Secretary Powell was forced to do Bush’s dirty work at the UN and was eventually fired after squabbling too many times with Cheney and Rumsfeld. Secretary Rice was treated with open contempt by Rumsfeld. Morale at State was at an all-time low.

Clinton turned the State Department around. She improved morale, launched reforms, got the Department involved in social media, and persuaded Defense Secretary Gates to help her to get better budgets for State; meanwhile her demonic travel schedule helped her to restore America’s reputation and helped the President to manage a number of international brush-fires. She is arguably the best Secretary of State we’ve had since Dean Acheson. And it is absolutely an executive job, a very challenging one.

“America isn’t ready for a female president!” Well, some people aren’t ready, of course. But a lot of the people who would never vote for a female candidate will never vote for the Democratic candidate regardless of who it is, so the Democrats wouldn’t lose much in picking a woman. And meanwhile, there are a lot of motivated women out there, women who remember the way Clinton was treated as First Lady and as presidential candidate, and who remember the Republican efforts in 2012 to ridicule the notion that women have a legitimate need to be able to manage their own lives and get access to health care on their own terms.

Also, for decades the national bias against women in national leadership has stemmed in part from the desire to elect leaders who can put on a strong image in staring down global adversaries such as the Soviets and al-Qa’ida. But in recent decades America got a good look at women such as Hillary and Madeleine Albright playing creditable roles in national security, and the most testosterone-laden officials such as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Bolton leading America into quicksand, LBJ-style. Plenty of people decided that comparatively speaking, women haven’t done too badly. Clinton in particular has shown up well, performing superbly on the Senate Armed Services committee and staring down the Chinese as Secretary of State. In any case, national security issues are less likely to be major drivers for policy in the next decade or so, as America looks more inward to figure out its internal economic and social problems.

“America doesn’t want a Clinton dynasty!” Um, yeah. I guarantee you that the whackaloons who peddle this argument will be the same guys who screamed “Don’t count the votes!” in Florida in 2000, to get Bush II into the White House, and who are touting Bush III as the best man for 2016. So, there’s that.

“The Democrats have other choices!” Well, sort of. Biden was born in 1942; if he ran twice for president and won, he would leave office at age 82. O’Malley and Warner are pretty unremarkable and uninspiring.  Andrew Cuomo has angered a lot of Democrats by cozying up to Republicans in New York; some see him as Lieberman II. Brian Schweitzer would be a superb choice to go out and re-plant the Democratic flag in southern and western states, but he makes more sense as a vice-presidential candidate. Antonio Villaraigosa has serious ethical baggage.

The Democrats have other women in the pipeline, but none can really compete with Clinton. Elizabeth Warren is a law professor and an expert in one field, finance; four years in the Senate were enough to get Obama into the White House, but trying that a second time might be pushing it. Sebelius is absolutely brilliant but she is also the dullest speaker since Elmer Fudd. Gillibrand has nothing that Clinton doesn’t have. Jennifer Granholm would be president already if she hadn’t been born in Canada – crap!

It’s hard for a party to win three presidential elections in a row. In the last century it’s only been done three times: in 1928 because the Republicans ran an ugly smear campaign against their Catholic opponent, and during the Roosevelt revolution, and at the tail-end of the Reagan revolution in 1988, which again involved an unprecedented effort by the Republicans to smear their opponent. In 2012 Obama, an incumbent running against an unlikeable opponent with a weak strategy and a lot of baggage, still only won by 4 points, and in 2016 the Republicans may wise up, pick a better candidate, and maybe even rein in the influence of the tea-party wingnuts who crippled the GOP in 2012. So in 2016 we could have a real horse race.

And while we’re assuming that the Republican nominee will be someone with serious baggage (Christie), a thin resume (Rubio), or a toxic name (Bush), or someone who’s far-right views have already gotten harsh scrutiny from the electorate (Ryan, Huckabee, Palin, Perry, Santorum), the Republicans have four years to figure out a strategy for the one thing all Republicans agree on: they want to win the next one, bad. So, more than ever, 2016 would be a good year for the Democrats to put forward their obvious top pick.

Another reason to pick Clinton: the Democrats need a fighter. The last time the Democrats had an honest-to-God fighter running the party, was Lyndon Johnson. The Blue Team needs someone who will call a liar a liar, who will throw an elbow when they get crowded in the paint, who will defend democracy from the people trying to wreck the system, who are willing to compromise but only up to a point and only with people who negotiate in good faith. Obama and Kerry were not fighters. Harry Reid, not a fighter, or Hoyer or Durbin. The Democrats need wartime consiglieres like Schumer and Pelosi. And Clinton. People who don’t have their lunch money in their hands as soon as they see hungry linebackers march into the cafeteria.

And another reason: Bill Clinton. Bill steered Obama’s campaign out of torpedo water with a single speech at the convention in the 2012 race. Imagine him making speeches like that every day in the 2016 campaign, for his wife. Imagine the fundraising power he brings.  As we remember from the 2008 race, both Clintons want very badly to go back to the White House. Hillary’s disavowals of interest in another campaign are distinctly less than Shermanesque, and she has not said or done anything that would jeopardize her future options.

Here’s another indicator that she might run. Clinton wrote her memoir, “Living History”, in 2003. A lot has happened to her since then. Currently she is thinking of writing another memoir. But not about her 2008 race, which would be a really entertaining read, but could very well end her presidential ambitions right there. She wants to write about her time at State, the perfect vehicle for launching a White House bid. Retirees can be frank about their failures, and burn bridges by dishing out the blame; candidates who are still in the running want to talk about their successes and unite all their old allies. By skipping right from “Living History” to her State tenure, she not only skips over the 2008 loss, but also tricky stuff like her Iraq vote as Senator.

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