Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean we all don’t think you’d a make a lousy president

Writing in today’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd (I know, I can’t believe I’m referencing her column, either) describes how surprised she was to see Sen. Hillary Clinton stray from her practiced unflappability.

[O]n Sunday in New Hampton, Iowa, Hillary lost her cool at last. Sparring with a voter on Iran, she sounded defensive and paranoid.

A Democrat, Randall Rolph, asked Senator Clinton why he should back her when she did not learn her lesson after voting to authorize W. to use force in Iraq. He did not understand how she could have voted yea to urge W. to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, possibly setting the stage for more Cheney chicanery.

Hillary said that “labeling them a terrorist organization gives us the authority to impose sanctions on their leadership. ...I consider that part of a very robust diplomatic effort.”

Fearful that her questioner was an enemy spy creeping into her perfect little world, she suggested that he had been put up to the question and did not have his information right.

“I take exception,” Mr. Rolph insisted. “This is my own research. ... I’m offended that you would suggest that.”

Hillary apologized and said that she had been asked “the very same question in three other places.”

Though Clinton’s vote on Lieberman-Kyl is worth every column inch of criticism that MoDo and I can heap upon her, I want to remark on a related issue—this idea that because Mr. Rolph had the same question as three others on the campaign trail, he, as Hillary saw it, had to have been put up to it. Perhaps space limitations prevented Dowd from expanding upon this, so let me express outrage for the both of us.

Does it strike anyone else out there as odd that Sen. Clinton’s first reaction to being asked repeatedly about her unsavory vote is to assume that there is some coordinated and, thus, insincere campaign to “get” her rather than to understand that a large number in her own party were seriously troubled by her position?

For my part, “odd” isn’t the half of it.

It shows me—once again—that HRC’s default position is a political one. Instead of thinking that her questioner—questioners—found her vote an example of poor judgment, or to be wrongheaded or just plain wrong, the Senator assumes that her antagonists are staging a political spectacle. Instead of thinking that Mr. Rolph is in sympathy with others who asked the same question, Ms. Clinton thinks he is in league with them. Instead of understanding that some voters have a core belief, Hillary can only see that they might have a coordinated strategy.

The Junior Senator from New York can’t grasp any of that because it is completely alien to her way of thinking. The reasoning of a Randall Rolph—that a yea vote on Lieberman-Kyl is bad for the country—is too abstract for Clinton. As Hilary sees it, her vote was good for her candidacy.

In her final analysis, Dowd sees plenty that backs this up:

When Hillary voted to let W. use force in Iraq, she didn’t even read the intelligence estimate. She wasn’t trying to do the right thing. She was trying to do the opportunistic thing. She felt she could not run for president, as a woman, if she played the peacenik.

By throwing in with Joe Lieberman and the conservative hawks on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard issue, she once more overcompensated in a cynical way.

This does not bode particularly well for Clinton the candidate—in the primaries or the general election. As MoDo puts it, “Voters seem more concerned with Hillary’s political expediency—which the vote underscored—than with her ability to be manly.”

But, as bad as this looks for candidate Clinton, it makes for an even more troubling picture of the possible president. A vote like the one on Iran, and the reasoning behind it, doesn’t show leadership—or at least not the kind that is going to lead us out of the morass in which we now find ourselves.

It was that other Clinton, you know the one, that triangulated his way to and through a two-term presidency. Along the way, he lost his party control of both houses of Congress, failed to reform healthcare, succeeded in deforming welfare, signed the death warrant for a diverse establishment media, and gave years of life to a largely unprincipled (oh, I’m sorry, “pragmatic”) group of sell-outs called the Democratic Leadership Council. Bill Clinton’s personal strategic success came at the expense of his party’s popular appeal. Big Dawg may have won his prize, but, under his leadership, the Democrats lost their way.

It has taken the democratic wing of the Democratic Party the better part of this decade to recover (or begin to recover). After two terms of Clinton’s successor, it will take the US much longer. If the party and the country are both to flourish, our next president needs boots on the ground, not fingers in the wind.

But Hillary Clinton’s triangulation 2.0 won’t mobilize the party faithful (or the body politic, for that matter) the way hating George W. Bush has. I’m not even sure it will win her many extra votes. If the Bush years have taught us nothing, they have taught us that values are tough to finesse, that cynicism breeds cynicism, and that standing for something beats sitting on the fence.

If a President Hillary Clinton wants to accomplish any of the things on which she is campaigning (besides making war on Iran)—if she is going to drawdown US forces in Iraq, restore integrity to government, cover the uninsured, or help the poor—then she is going to have to spend some political capital, take some risks, and make a stand. She is going to have to choose definable sides rather than shoot for the amorphous middle. She is going to have to teach and she is going to have to lead.

The way HRC is voting, talking, and campaigning, I don’t get the feeling she is ready to do any of that. Worse, I’m not sure she understands that she has to.

No, Senator Clinton, I’m not out to get you; I just don’t get your thinking.

And neither does MoDo.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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