A Major Problem

I’m going to talk presidential politics for a moment. I’m really disgusted that Hillary Clinton is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. It bothers me to no end. I watched the YouTube debates at work and was consistently shocked with her non-answers to, well, everything — it’s as if she won’t commit to any policy lest she win the presidency and be accused of not keeping her promises. I call bullshit. You have to say something outside of “George Bush shouldn’t be president,” if you want my vote, and Hillary fails almost 100% of the time to get outside of this narrative. Yet she still leads in national polls, though not in Iowa (which is telling), because of the one thing she has on her side that no one else does — Bill Clinton.

It’s a tragedy for the Democrats that Bill Clinton is bound by love to support his wife’s nomination. (You can insert jokes about possibly putting “love” in quotes. I won’t.) The Democratic party has a kingmaker, and it’s Bill Clinton, who rocketed to that status with king-sized ideas and a king-sized bed full of charisma. Hillary recites nothing but talking points and, in large groups, is as charismatic as a podium.* Here’s the problem: there’s no way Bill Clinton would support Hillary if they were not married — Barack Obama is far more in the Clinton mold — and his endorsement throws so much false weight behind his wife that it’s impossible to fairly balance it. If Hillary wasn’t running, he probably wouldn’t support anybody (like 2004), and just support the eventual nominee, but now, in the event Hillary doesn’t win the nomination (here’s hoping), his eventual endorsement of the winner will be compromised. Or maybe it won’t: maybe others would come to the conclusion to which I have come. Actually, that would almost certainly happen. But there’s some work to do first.

Hillary is the only candidate on the Democratic side who stands for almost nothing; outside of “being a presidential candidate,” the only policy I can really associate her with is failed health-care reform, but I consider that a positive (hey, she tried), even if others don’t. Barack Obama stands for youth, vigor and new ideas, and is the obvious successor to Bill Clinton; John Edwards stands for the poor (or he did in 2004; I think that was his shot); Bill Richardson, whom I support, and whom I believe will be the vice presidential candidate for either Hillary or Obama, stands for experience; Joe Biden stands for “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” specifically on the issue of drugs (he HATES drugs); Mike Gravel stands for the angry eat-the-rich iconoclast contingent and Dennis Kucinich is the ideological iconoclast. I will actually correct myself here: based on the debates, Chris Dodd stands for perhaps less than Hillary. From what I can tell, Chris Dodd stands for, “Give Chris Dodd a cabinet position when you are elected.”

Sadly, Hillary stands for less than most of the Republican candidates as well. I don’t agree with their platforms, but I know what they stand for, or once stood for. John McCain is the former war hero and iconoclast turned party hack, but trying to overcome the second part; Rudy Giuliani is the tough-talk former mayor of NYC and 9/11 hero; Sam Brownback is the guy who doesn’t believe in evolution; Mike Huckabee, the plain-spoken, fresh-thinking former Arkansas governor (for the record, while I disagree with much of his platform, I recognize that if I DID agree with it, I would love this guy); Duncan Hunter, who Wikipedia tells me stands for pro-life stuff; Ron Paul, the real righty iconoclast; Tom Tancredo, immigration reform; Fred Thompson, the new Reagan and Tommy Thompson, all around nice guy from Wisconsin (because isn’t everyone from Wisconsin nice?). The only guy who truly stands for absolutely, positively nothing is Mitt Romney, who is even more transparent than Hillary in his no-ideas, vanilla upon vanilla presentation of the party-line candidacy. We must do everything in our power to stop this man from being elected president. Really. He’s the ideological successor to George Bush, able to be molded by Republican interests forever and ever. This cannot happen. Giuliani, for all his flaws, has a spine, and McCain would probably cut the BS once in office. One would think.

But that’s not a big worry of mine. The Democrats should walk into the White House. There’s absolutely no reason for them to lose. Things are so much worse than they were in 2004, when they should have walked in, that it seems inevitable. So let’s make really sure to pick the right candidates for the right reasons. If you like Hillary Clinton because you think she’s another Bill Clinton, think again. I’m not telling anyone not to vote for her, but I’m saying, to quote the Geico caveman, “Maybe do a little research.” That’s all. Cut through the fog. Listen to what she says. There’s not much there.

* There is a caveat to this. As a newspaper reporter for several years in New York, I covered many events at which Hillary attended, and met her several times. In small groups, she does extremely well with crowds that often have mixed feelings about her. It’s odd, because I’ve met Bill Clinton as well, and he has almost the opposite effect: on TV, it looks like he loves going through crowds, whereas in person I always got the sense that it’s not so much meeting you that he likes, but the fact that you like meeting him so much. I’m not trying to bring Bill down, because he could and would engage person in this country in a conversation and love it as much as they did, but in those one- and tw0-second encounters, Hillary is extremely good at projecting empathy and happiness. She’s almost always smiling, which works in person, but I think it has the opposite effect on TV — it makes her seem phony.