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.
[…] there’s a Hillary vs. Rudy “rivalry” — is another reason that, despite what I see as a lack of substance for Hillary, she leads national polls, as does Giuliani. I think that, to some degree, Americans may not be […]
I appreciate this give and take, as I think it’s fun, and one thing that has come up in conversations and here is the notion that Iowa will somehow be less important now that the other primaries have moved up. I disagree. I think, if anything, Iowa will be more important, as it is distinctly ahead of a blob of primaries – Iowa will be the ONE distinguishing factor a candidate can have going into the new “Super Tuesday.”
Bryan – I am coming at it from the angle of the news cycle. First off, this process has started way to early. She is probably waiting to drop a bombshell in order to shift the debate in her direction, get everybody on the defensive. Third, the Iowa caucus just doesn’t have the same weight it used to. All sorts of states are now bumping up their primaries as well. Any bump from Iowa is living in the past, man.
i do commend you on writing what most people are thinking tho…all in all she might be playing too cool, but she’s got slick willie in her corner. unless he’s gone completely retarded I am sure he still knows what’s up. but he might not – the news cycle is now a completely different thing now with the internets.
TO some degree, the republicans actually know this, and keep getting away with shadier and shadier shit because of it. The news cycle is so short and people are pulling their news off of so many different sources that all that matters nowadays is mobilizing your base. Direct your message right at them through the necessary channels and play it cool in the national media.
Ben, interesting perspective. I don’t think I’ve heard that criticism of Edwards before–although I guess the haircut thing is sort of along the same lines. Just curious, is it a gut reaction thing for you, or is it based on some stuff from his bio, like his work as a plaintiff’s attorney or something else. All this talk has got me excited for the election and change, kind of wish the primaries were next Tuesday.
Chris, why can’t she stand strongly for anything now when all the other candidates can stand for something?
By the way, despite my misgivings about her leading in national polls, she’s way behind in Iowa – she’s going to have REAL problems unless she puts some substance in her campaign once the primaries begin. The Iowa voters do significant research into candidates, and I think that’s why Hillary’s behind despite the Bill Clinton factor. In the end, it’s not us who lose because of the Bill Clinton factor – I’m merely disappointed y it – it’s her. It gives her a crutch. In the end, I don’t think people are going to be fooled.
Hmmm, Rafe, I’m conflicted on Edwards. Beccause while I do agree with you that he has the most concrete policies (many of which I can get behind) I do NOT trust him as much as I wish I could. He creeps me out; I’m just not sure he’s genuine. When I say that I mean not to imply that I disagree with you on Clinton, but of the viable candidates Edwards is the one I struggle with the most on the issue of trustworthiness.
You make a bunch of excellent points here Bryan. I can’t vote for her because I really don’t trust her. She seems very opportunistic-she’ll beat the war drum and the anti-war drum with alternating hands-which was my main complaint with her husband too. If I had to wave a magic wand and pick the president I would pick Edwards–he has the most concrete policies and I do buy what he’s selling. There was a great Economist article this week saying that while he won’t win, his in-depth policy ideas are shaping the issues the candidates will have to address. Once Obama gets some positions to stand side-to-side with his character and charisma I could easily get behind him too.
To be honest I have a bit of a soft spot for Ron Paul. I have always liked many of the libertarian principles he espouses (the same ones that make me HATE Joe Biden). You also have to give him credit for never voting for salary raises for Congress. That’s a case of sticking to your principles when it’s least convenient, which I think is the truest test of character.
Anyways, the most frustrating thing about the race for me is that it has already started. Seriously, can we create a law imposing a moratorium on campaigning until 6 months before the election? I’m already tired of this.
Man are you wrong about this one.
She CAN’T stand for anything too strongly now…its over a year to the election! Are you going to remember one thing that was said during that debate? Or are you going to remember the things that are said when the primaries come to town?
I sorta give you credit for seeing that Hilary doesn’t stand for anything, but that fact is that she can’t, especially on TV, if she is to remain a viable candidate. If she comes off as overeager about anything, then people will think she is being overemotive. The gender construction that this country puts around positions of power is very real, and she has to downplay that at every single opportunity.
Besides – Republicans absolutely LOATHE her. And that, my friend, is why she’s going to get a lot of votes, and possibly mine.