Friday, May 27, 2005

There's going to be a lot of talk about this:

For the first time, a majority of Americans say they are likely to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton if she runs for president in 2008, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday....

In the poll, 29% were "very likely" to vote for Clinton for president if she runs in 2008; 24% were "somewhat likely." Seven percent were "not very likely" and 39% were "not at all likely" to vote for her.

Her strong support has risen by 8 percentage points, and her strong opposition has dropped by 5 points since the same question was asked in June 2003....

I know, I know -- "Hillary can't win." Except I've stopped believing that. As a lot of people have pointed out, the Bush win in 2004 proves that being utterly despised by huge chunks of the population is no longer a barrier to victory in a presidential election. (Arguably, we should have learned that in '72.)

I wouldn't say she's my ideal candidate, but I'm not sure I could identify my ideal candidate. Can a true progressive ever actually win a presidential election? I doubt it, at least in the current climate. Far too few Americans identify with progressivism (even though they may support a lot of things that would be described as progressive).

The worst thing about President Hillary could be that she'd fail to do just what her husband failed to do -- she'd fail to build a counter-narrative that removes the stigma from being liberal. I supported Clinton in the '92 primaries (rather than Brown or Tsongas) largely because I thought he could win and then, skilled speaker that he was, begin the process of undermining Reagan's narrative of America the Right-Wing with a narrative of his (our) own. He did a little of that, but not nearly enough; Limbaugh and Gingrich and, later, Fox News did a much better job of building on the Reagan myth than Clinton did in countering it. I'm afraid Hillary might fail at the same task -- and we can't change the course America is on until we reduce the number of people in this country who believe that patriotic = conservative and liberal = bent on America's destruction.

Then again, Greg Sargent of The Nation thinks Hillary might have the chops to make liberalism seem American again. Here he describes a speech she gave in Albany, New York:

"We're seeing the slow and steady erosion of what made America great in the twentieth century," Clinton told her audience in an even tone. "When I got to the Senate I asked myself, What's going on here? At first I thought the President just wanted to undo everything my husband had done." Clinton waited a beat, then added, "And I did take that personally."

The audience laughed. "But then I thought, Wait a minute. It's not just about turning the clock back on the 1990s.... They want to turn the clock back on most of the twentieth century. They want to turn the clock all the way back beyond Franklin Roosevelt. Back beyond Teddy Roosevelt. That's why they're trying to undo Social Security. Make no mistake about it.

"What I see happening in Washington," Clinton continued, "is a concerted effort by the Administration and the leadership in Congress to really create absolute power. They want to control the judiciary so they can have all three branches of government. I really don't care what party you are--that's not in the American tradition.... Right now young men and women are putting their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for the America we revere. And that is a country where nobody has all the answers--and nobody should have all the power.... We all need to stand up for what made America great--what created a wonderful set of values that we revere, that we exported and tried to really inculcate in people around the world!"

Wild applause rolled over Clinton now, although it was unclear whether the crowd had appreciated the political subtleties of what they'd witnessed. She had offered a critique of the GOP sharp enough for any progressive--even as she'd given an approving nod to American exceptionalism and a paean to US troops defending our "values" abroad. She'd stoked the partisan passions of her audience--even as she'd sounded an above-partisanship note of concern about the state of the Republic. Indeed, she'd managed to pull off what many Democrats struggle to do these days: She'd weaved her criticisms into a larger narrative about America's past and future, criticizing the GOP leadership without sounding as if she wanted America to fail--when she said she was "worried" about America, you believed her.

Works for me.

Yeah, I know -- she voted for the frigging war. But if she had been president, would she have started the war? Would she have decided that that was the next step to take, with bin Laden still at large and no believable evidence that Saddam had any links to 9/11? Would she have taken the course recommended by Chalabi and Laurie Mylroie -- people who urged the same course on her husband (who kept them at arm's length)? I strongly doubt it.

Read the Nation article -- it's a thoughtful attempt to assess what she's doing, whether it can work, and whether it's good for progressives. There's a lot to chew on. And I'll understand if you're still a skeptic; it's quite possible that I'll change my mind between now and '08 about whether her candidacy is a good thing. But if nothing else, ask yourself this: Is any other Democrat even close to figuring out a way to challenge the lock Republicans have on voters who tear up when they see an American flag? (A way other than Liebermanesque liberal-bashing, that is.)

No comments: