The Case Against the Case Against Hillary


"We have no excuse if Hillary Clinton becomes president," Andrew writes. "We know what and who she is." Well, who and what is she? He quotes Elizabeth Kolbert reviewing the two new Hillary bios:

At a retreat for Democratic senators in the spring of 1993, Clinton was asked whether it was realistic to pursue such an ambitious health-care program, given her husband's many other legislative initiatives. She responded that the Administration was prepared to "demonize" those who opposed the task force's recommendations. "That was it for me in terms of Hillary Clinton," Senator Bill Bradley, of New Jersey, told Bernstein. "You don't tell members of the Senate you are going to demonize them. It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. The assumption that people with questions are enemies. The disdain. The hypocrisy."

Fair enough. But even leaving aside whether Bill Bradley's memory of that experience is entirely uncolored by anti-Clinton bias, this exchange took place fourteen years ago, in the midst of Hillary's second, and worst, year as First Lady. I'm certainly prepared to believe that this self-righteous, with-us-or-against-us streak remains an important part of her personality today; on the other hand, she has been a United States Senator for the past six years, and at the very least it seems fair to weigh her record in the Senate against her record as Bill Clinton's health care czarina. My colleague Josh Green profiled Hillary-the-Senator, for instance, and argued that she seems to have taken the lessons of the early 1990s to heart - if anything, he suggested in his conclusion, she's taken them too much to heart:

Yet it is fair to wonder if Clinton learned the lesson of the health-care disaster too well, whether she has so embraced caution and compromise that she can no longer judge what merits taking political risks. It is hard to square the brashly confident leader of health-care reform—willing to act on her deepest beliefs, intent on changing the political climate and not merely exploiting it—with the senator who recently went along with the vote to make flag-burning a crime. Today Clinton offers no big ideas, no crusading causes—by her own tacit admission, no evidence of bravery in the service of a larger ideal. Instead, her Senate record is an assemblage of many, many small gains. Her real accomplishment in the Senate has been to rehabilitate the image and political career of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Impressive though that has been in its particulars, it makes for a rather thin claim on the presidency. Senator Clinton has plenty to talk about, but she doesn’t have much to say.

As a conservative, I see this as an advertisement for a Clinton presidency, not a mark against her candidacy. I like my liberal Presidents to offer "no big ideas, no crusading causes" - particularly after eight years of George W. Bush, Big Thinker. Now obviously being Chief Executive, rather than one of a hundred Senators, might bring her "Saint Hillary" tendencies rushing back to the fore, and give us four years of sanctimonious socialism, part Methodist and part New Age. Certainly the woman who coined the term "vast right-wing conspiracy" is never going to be a unifying force in American public life. And like Andrew I find her personally off-putting in a variety of ways: She comes across as cold and calculating, ambitious without the leavening of charm that made her husband so appealing, and without his gift for gab. Oh, and speaking of the Big He, I don't want Bill back in the White House, and I have absolutely zero interest in their ongoing psychodrama. Which is why when I think about which Democrat I'd be least unhappy to see become President, there's no question that my heart says Barack Obama ...

... And yet, and yet. She has a real record now, and it's no more left-wing than her rivals, and a good deal more restrained. Whether you're a libertarian like Andrew or a social conservative like me, you're not going to be wild about any Democratic president. But better a liberal "Nixon in a Pant Suit," I often think - and whatever her pathologies they can't hold a candle to Tricky Dick's - than the liberal, realigning Reagan that Obama has an outside chance of turning out to be.

Photo by Flickr user Seiu International used under a Creative Commons license.