Friday, July 11, 2008

The Case for Hillary

(disclaimer: this was written in February 2007, a time before Barack Obama had sponsored and passed the Sudan Divestment and Accountability Act, the Iran Divestment Act, and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, and also before Hillary Clinton's inept campaign managers steered her towards embarrassing lows. This is one of my more eloquent pieces yet, and in hindsight one of the more regrettable)

It was once noticed by a young Governor of Arkansas that whereas Republicans tend to fall in line in presidential politics, Democrats want to fall in love. And last summer my heart was won by an assertive, intelligent woman named Hillary Rodham Clinton. While working as an intern in her Washington office, my conversation with the outside world usually began with a single question: “Is she running for president?” The unfortunate truth is that even such an influential figure as myself, the Deputy Secretary of the Copying Machine, was not quite in the loop. But as I spent my summer delivering her mail and alphabetizing her files, I did acquire much admiration for the way she does business.

To begin, the Clinton operation has perfected politics to a science, and it goes without saying that this team is capable of running things on a larger scale. But before delving into what policies might be enacted in any future Clinton administration, we must determine whether such a thing is even possible. When deciding upon the best standard-bearer for any particular election, the smart thing for a party to do would be – in this order – to first determine whether a candidate actually has a shot of winning, and only then choose from the possible victors he or she whose policies are the most to your liking. According to my calculations, Hillary is not merely the best candidate, but she is the only candidate that Democrats can put forward if we are to win back the White House in 2008.

The most widespread myth about Hillary Clinton is that she engenders so much antipathy among the population at large that it would be foolish to choose such a lightning rod. There is indeed a vast, right-wing conspiracy which really, really hates her. And these same people hated the supposedly “electable” Gore and Kerry, and they will similarly spout no less vitriol at Obama, Edwards, and any other non-Republican candidate – because that is their job. Yet these hacks are irrelevant, because their audience is a segment of the population which is never going to cast their ballot for a Democrat anyway. Among liberal and unaffiliated swing voters – the much larger segment of the electorate whose ballots decide elections – polls show that Clinton remains a very popular figure. In fact, if the election were held today and Hillary Clinton were our nominee, all evidence suggests that there would be a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office.

The response of most self-ascribed liberals in regards to Hillary runs along the lines of “I like her, but I don’t think that she can win.” The conventional wisdom that Clinton is simply unelectable must be shattered immediately. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll taken the day after she announced her candidacy, Hillary Clinton was the only Democratic candidate who would be able to beat the most competitive Republican, Rudy Giuliani. The same poll finds that she would beat the presumed Republican nominee John McCain by 6 points. No other Democratic candidate comes close. One can argue that any current data is skewed by early name-recognition, but the fact is that Obama and Edwards are running considerably to the left of Clinton – too far for the comfort of many swing voters, and that all evidence suggests that they are more likely to lose the general election.

Rhetoric about hope and transcendence is certainly moving, but if you want to hear inspiring rhetoric, go to church. If you want to be inspired by politics, go for someone who knows how to change public policy. Barack Obama and John Edwards have put forward worthy proposals, but during their tenures in Congress neither of them have demonstrated any ability to get things done. Though after slightly more than six years in the world’s most august deliberative chamber, the junior Senator from New York has been able to work across the aisle in a hostile Republican Congress to pass legislation on issues as various as homeland security, health care, pharmaceutical safety, emergency contraception, veterans benefits, education, and economic development. The measure of a politician is whether or not they can get things done, and by that standard Hillary Clinton is as good as they come.

Naysayers on the right claim depict her as a sort of socialist peacenik, and her detractors on the left accuse her of being acquiescent with the forces of reaction – both are wrong. A good bet is that if someone in public office is being met with enmity from the ideologues from both sides of the aisle, it is an indication that they are doing something right.

The Clintons’ governing philosophy is that “government can be a positive force in the lives of Americans”, and this modest truism is more refreshing than you might think. By November of 2008, the American people will have been living through their eighth year of an administration which deliberately runs up debt in order to justify its underfunding of all non-military spending programs, has nonchalantly overseen a rise in Americans living without health insurance and in poverty, has failed to protect its own citizens from natural disaster, has botched not one but two wars and has then proceeded to neglect our veterans. This is what happens when we are cursed with public servants who willfully demonstrate the Reaganite dogma that government itself is the problem. Our country does not need a revolution; what we need is a government that works, and that is what Hillary Clinton’s brand of substantive politics promises to deliver.

The primary duty of the government is to ensure the health and safety of its citizens. These self-interested, even conservative ends might not sound particularly romantic, but they are the paramount concerns of the vast majority of Americans – and also just happen to be precisely the fields in which Clinton has demonstrated her prowess. This is hardly a concession to the right; if anything, it is central to the understanding of the need for effective public policy. Clinton has found not only found a sound agenda but also a winning campaign formula of national security and economic security, and if elected, she will dedicate her administration to stabilizing the health care, energy and job markets as well as the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.

Health care is an issue which Hillary Clinton has essentially owned since she chaired the commission on health care reform in the 1990s. Then she proposed a great increase in government intervention, but such pipedreams have laid dormant while Congress has been in Republican hands. Reading the political environment as it is, she has successfully achieved more incremental reform in the realm of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, computerizing health care records, stem cell research and over-the-counter birth control than her grand ambitions of universal health insurance. But America’s health care crisis is still one of the most poignant issues in the public sphere, and now that Congress is in Democratic hands Senator Clinton will probably take the lead on a major initiative in the near future to expand government subsidies for health insurance, legally compel individuals to purchase it through the private sector, or both.

Clinton is squarely among the most hawkish members of the Democratic caucus, and rightly so, for as a Senator whose constituents were the primary targets of the 9/11 hijackers, New Yorkers are particularly concerned about homeland security. Too many liberals are wont to scoff at this subject as to do so it to at least recognizes the intentions of the Bush administration in its failed policies, and – in a few instances – where they might have even gotten things right. But the fact is that anyone who wants to be considered for the role of Commander in Chief must be well-versed in the duties that entails. On the home front, Senator Clinton has been especially attuned to the issue’s steak and potatoes; enhancing security in airlines, railroads, ports and nuclear power plants, and one of her biggest fights as of late has been to scrap the absurd formula which allocates more counterterrorism dollars per capita to small states Wyoming than those like New York which were actually struck by al-Qaeda and replace it with a rational, risk-based regime.

Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy is essentially the War on Terror liberalism espoused in Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight. Clinton aptly grasps that the enormous challenges which our country faces cannot be avoided with the puerile instincts of isolationism and narrow self-interest, but that these generational endeavors require a robust government to lead the nation in collective action, harnessing the power of democracy and free markets to secure the greater societal interest. She welcomes the integration of the world market as an incentive for the increased competitiveness of the American economy, sees global warming as a test of our ability to reform our means of production, and she maneuvers on our mission in Afghanistan to enlarge our military and humanitarian presence.

In regards to the single most controversial and consequential foreign policy issue of the day, Senator Clinton can be fairly described as a hawk as she voted for the resolution which authorized the President to use force against Saddam Hussein. Peacenik activists have used the fact that Clinton has not explicitly apologized for her vote as alleged proof that she is not sufficiently antiwar, but this is petty theatrics. The real question at hand is what, if elected, Hillary Clinton would do in regards to the current situation in Iraq, and that she stated pretty clearly at this winter’s DNC meeting, “If we in Congress don't end this war before January 2009, as president, I will." In all fairness her promise is quite vague, but then again, Eisenhower ran on no more than the simple pledge that “I will go to Korea.” And he won, and he did, and so will Hillary.

Hillary Clinton has been skeptical about a firm timetable for withdrawal, and for this she has been decried by the leftist blogosphere as undifferentiable from the status quo. That is not the case, for Clinton has since called for the government to “change the course in Iraq” and supports the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations to withdraw the majority of troops by 2008 – which is essentially a timetable in all but name. And instead of retreating from Iraq with a pacifist worldview, Senator Clinton believes that there are still wars worth fighting; namely the war in Afghanistan, the Darfur genocide and the rest of the Global War on Terrorism.

The other lingering concern about Hillary is the role that will be played by her spouse in her campaign and administration. Will she run as her own woman and distance herself from the memory of the peace and prosperity of the prior Clinton administration, or will she let the aspiring First Husband publicly work on her behalf and essentially assume the role which she played in 1992 and 1996? Let us just say that it would be laughably absurd for Hillary Clinton to run away from her political mentor and the man who gave her last name. There are few individuals with a greater understanding of the federal government than infamous policy wonk Bill, and it would not be unfathomable to picture the relatively young ex-president as Secretary of State, diplomatic envoy to the Middle East, or some sort of advisor to the President. In comparison, instead of receiving advice from his accomplished father and former President George H.W. Bush, current President George W. Bush consults “a higher father”. Who would you prefer to lead the free world; someone who takes their advice from God, or someone whose chief political advisor is Bill Clinton?
I rest my case.

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