Monday, August 28, 2006

I Don't Get the Inevitable-Hillary Hypothesis Thing

I've been reading more and more from folks who hold the "Hillary is unbeatable for the Dem nomination in 2008" hypothesis to be strongly supported bordering on the fatalistic. The primary, they argue, is a fait accompli. I don't get it.

I'll grant that she has unparalleled access to BOPOMs (big ol' pots of money) , but I guess I just don't see -- outside of Barbara Streisand and a handful of Manhattan billionaires -- who her natural constituency is. I would love to have it explained to me because it seems like I'm missing something obvious here.

Progressives aren't fond of her because she has run away from virtually every truly progressive stance, including but not limited to her finger in the wind support for the invasion of Iraq, for what appears to be the sole cynical purpose of positioning herself as a "moderate" before her run for the presidency. Mainstream Democrats don't like her describing her with derogatory terms that are nothing short of stunning. In representing everything the entrenched party machine stands for, the on-line Democratic "take back our party" netroots certainly aren't in her corner. While her stances and voting records mirror Lieberman's, the chances of seeing the same sort of sympathetic GOP rally 'round the fake moderate movement that we're seeing for Joementum is about as likely as seeing Billy Barty in the pro basketball hall of fame. Purely conjecture here, but the swing voters (should they still exist) seem like the ones who would be most affected by the perception that her desire to achieve power is really all about her. So is it the working moms who are supposed to identify with her? Who is her natural base? Where would her hard core, unshakable support come from? I mean one does still need votes to win an election*, no?

(*May not apply in Florida and Ohio)

I understand that the current resident of the White House was put there by conservatives who felt that having a president named "George Bush" would be a symbolic repudiation of Clinton's defeat of H. W. Bush in the first place and make it seem that the country had rejected all things Clintonian. I also understand that some think of Hillary's election as the mirror image of this. Bill and Hillary will be swept back into the White House, the Democratic party insiders hope, by a groundswell of Democrats and independents yearning for those simpler times when the worst problems we had in the country had to do with consentual sex between adults and which telephone Al Gore was using. To elect Hillary would be tantamount to a nationwide "oops, I don't know what we were thinking letting him sit in the driver's seat, we should have stayed with the Clinton program" sort of thing. But I don't think that equation works. Bush was widely, albeit naively, seen in the run-up to 2000 as harmless. He was just an affable goofball and the government had a life and inertia of its own and things would run as they always did, so it really wasn't a big deal who was president.

But two things have changed. First, after the twin debacles of Iraq and Katrina, there is now no doubt in anyone's mind that it does matter who sits in the Oval Office, making symbolism far too petty to be taken seriously anymore. Secondly, with Hillary, you get Hillary. She isn't the blank page that Bush was thought to be. Rightly or wrongly, every move she has made in the last six years has been attributed to presidential aspirations -- and, to be honest, it does seem like an inference to the best explanation. The undeniable aura around her is one of a cynical, calculating politician in the most pejorative sense of that term and as a result, I don't think name recognition or nostalgia for the pre-recession dot-com boom era will garner many votes. To the contrary, name recognition is most likely her biggest problem. Even if Bravo came out with a new series entitled "Queer Eye for the Self-Interested, Nakedly Ambitious Presidential Candidate" starring Carson Cressley and Naomi Wolf and Hillary was chosen as their first project, any attempt to change her image would be doomed. Not only is that image so deeply entrenched, but any move to change or soften her in order to get more votes would be widely criticized as just another move to change or soften her in order to get more votes. Al Gore was trashed for "reinventing himself" whenever he was actually being Al Gore, can you imagine the media frenzy if Hillary actually did try to reinvent herself?

In the last go 'round all we heard from the Hillary-wing of the party was that Democrats need to ignore their best judgment about which candidate actually shared their values, was willing to fight for them, and had the authenticity to be a good president in order to look at nothing other than electability. Electability, we were told, was all that mattered and whatever "electability" meant, part of it was immunization from attack by the Republican slime machine. "Vote for a decorated Vietnam vet," we were told by them, "There's no way they could impugn the patriotism of someone like that. If our guy is a war hero, it will mean that they can't say that our candidate doesn't strongly support the troops." Sigh. Now those same masters of prognostication and political insight are arguing that Hillary, without serious opposition, will and ought to be the Democratic candidate? Yeah, those mean old Republicans would never ever say anything bad about Hillary Clinton, after all, she's electable...I just can't figure out by whom.