A number of readers emailed about yesterday’s post on why, for reasons I myself find baffling, I’ve started feeling sympathetic toward Hillary Clinton. None of the emails were friendly, but they raised a lot of good points. (I would note here that I said I sympathized with Hillary for certain reasons—mostly because the media, in general, hate her. I didn’t say I preferred her to Obama. Even though I’m not sold on Obama, his politics are far more interesting than Hillary’s, and the latter’s 2002 vote on Iraq was unforgivable, as I’ve written before. Beyond that, the idea of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton is too much to bear.) Below, I include a particularly interesting note, from a reader who wished to remain anonymous, that makes a strong case against Clinton and for Obama.
I think, as is often the case with political leaders, people are using Hillary Clinton as a random “projection field” for their own read on how the system should work. That is to say—as I think I’ve mentioned to you before—the strongest segment of Clinton’s base seems to me to be the people who want to re-fight the battles of the 90s: to punish the Republicans at the polls, to strong-arm them in Congress, to dilate on all the noble liberal motives that were thwarted by Gingrich and company. While I sympathize with and in some ways share these impulses, I also think they’re spectacularly ill-suited to this political moment, when even stout conservative partisans concede that they’re likely to lose ground in both the House and Senate, and the Democrats have the wind at their backs.
Put in simplest terms, I think Obama understands this moment in a way that Hillary doesn’t (and cannot afford to) understand. Hillary’s skill set, like that of her husband, works only when she can present herself as beleaguered, hemmed in by irrational opponents who deride her personally. It’s true that I find such politics distasteful—both the dumb-ass pursuit of centrist Democrats pushing a Republican agenda in power as though they were some kind of violent cohort of secular socialist revolutionaries, and the no-less-oafish effort to depict conservative political power as a dark mystical force that can be defeated only by an authentic battle-tested victim of the right’s predations (or a bloodthirsty monster, if you will).
What’s frustrating in all this is that it seems almost beside the point to object to Hillary’s candidacy—which I most emphatically do—on grounds of her policy positions. There’s her purist posturing on the health-care mandate she all but single-handedly destroyed in 1993; her pandering on the “gas tax holiday”; and—worst of all in my book—her hollow symbolic pose as a fire-breathing populist when she actively backed all sorts of worker-damaging policies in the White House, from the ratification of NAFTA to the repeal of Glass–Steagall.
A lesser but still baleful strain of her ideology is what a friend of mine calls “pedo-centric liberalism”: the effort to define liberal governance as an extended exercise in kiddie protection. Hence, her epically time-wasting hearings in the Senate (abetted by that equally self-regarding thug Lieberman) on the graphic content of videogames; hence, her long tutelage at the child-fetishizing feet of Marion Wright Edelman. I’ve got nothing against kids per se, mind you—it’s just that their recruitment as “poster children” in the effort to resuscitate liberal politics diminishes both them and whatever remains of liberal thinking and legislating in these dark times. It’s also empirically untrue that this generation of children is in some grave moral peril thanks to the digital gadgets they covet. There’s no shortage of real problems—like trade, energy policy, the real costs of environmental upgrades, a national industrial policy—that the Dems haven’t even started to address in any elementary fashion. As Roger Waters said, leave those kids alone.
At the end of the day, I don’t give a shit whether candidate A or candidate B has a self-image as a fighter, a reformer, a hope-pusher, or what have you. I just care about their ability to deliver some semblance of economic equity while forthrightly acknowledging that imperialism in the service of daft efforts to re-engineer parts of the world and systems of belief we know nothing about is a really, really bad idea. (Don’t get me started on Hillary’s mind-bending efforts to reel back her 2002 vote on the Iraq use of force resolution without conceding it was a mistake.) Obama, while no angel himself, stands a far better chance of delivering on some of these basic agenda items, by virtue of record, temperament and—most of all, I think—his salutary impatience with the dorm-room tenor of Boomer politics. Also—no small thing, this—he’s shown a striking ability to bring more people into the party. Hillary at best mobilizes a pre-existing Dem base that is, in all sorts of demographic measures, shrinking. If you cleave to the sentimental notion that the Dems should be the party of the ordinary people’s interests, counterposed to the G.O.P.’s standing as the party of money and business, then you want candidates at the top of the ticket who can use a broader voting base to fight the influence of today’s robber-baron class.
Anyway, this is all pretty much academic, since Obama’s going to be the nominee, barring a Michigan-Florida floor fight that would basically destroy the party. I have no doubt that Clinton, bloodthirsty monster that she may be, is contemplating such a measure—just as I have no doubt that, should she go through with it, John McCain would have the presidency locked down by the time the Democrats leave Denver.