by Julian X  /  non-fiction  /  11 Jan 2008
Even if we’re only concerned about electablity, not undoing Bush’s fairly open push towards fascism, Hillary’s not our candidate. I know plenty of Democrats who detest her – and even more Republicans. She maxes out nationally under 50%, and there’s no third-party candidate like Ross Perot in 1992 to siphon Republican votes and hand the election to a Clinton again. She’s open to the same charges of flip-flopping that helped sink John Kerry, and she has a cemetery worth of skeletons in the closet that the Republicans will surely dig up and display in vicious attack ads. Whether people have seen them before (some say “she’s been tested” and “we’ve already heard the worst”) doesn’t matter. In a year in which Republicans appear fractured, nothing will energize the Republican base more than Whitewater, Filegate, Vince Foster, and the specters of impeachment.
I’m imagining Bill Clinton saying sternly “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinski,” wagging his finger. I’m imagining Hillary talking about the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” And I’m imagining this, perhaps running right after another flip-flop ad, over and over on the radio and TV.
Hillary is a candidate just waiting to be destroyed, and Republicans are just waiting to destroy her. That’s why they have openly hoped that she will win the nomination. Despite this, Bill Clinton has rather ridiculously claimed the opposite, saying they know she’d be the toughest to run against.
Republicans waited until the very end of the 2004 Democratic National Convention to pounce on John Kerry. Right after John Kerry had walked to the podium, awkwardly claiming that he was reporting for duty, the swiftboat attacks began. Kerry didn’t get much of the traditional post-convention bump in the polls. Republicans knew just when to strike.
In fact, the swiftboat charges were old, going back to the 1970s, and had long been discredited. But it didn’t matter: Kerry had to respond to them, repeating the charges and encouraging the story by doing so. Loathe to do so, he let them fester. When he finally came forward, his lack of likeability didn’t help.
So too was Bush hurt in 2004 – though not as much – by charges that he had gone absent without leave while in the National Guard. While not discredited, those too were old charges – ones he had faced in every campaign he’d ever run.
Lest we think Hillary magically insulated from her own old weaknesses, it should be pointed out that neither John Kerry nor George W. Bush were political newcomers. And the Clintons aren’t the political geniuses they’re sometimes thought. Bill’s charm accounts for most of it. But these are the people who bungled socialized medicine, could have escaped impeachment with a simple mea culpa but were too proud, and who ran Wesley Clark for President in 2004.
Nominating her is exactly what Republicans want. Republicans face division in their ranks, with real Republican opposition to any possible Republican nominee. Their party has already had the White House eight years and their President is wildly unpopular. Because of the odds against a Republican, campaign donations are running heavily in favor of the Democrats. Any Democrat will pose a challenge, but running against Hillary is their best bet – and they know it.
But the big secret about politics and all its pundits is that, in the best of circumstances, elections are half chance. The same statement, with a slightly different tone or a cock-eyed smile, comes off completely differently. A radio show can run with a story that’s all spin but happens to get picked up by the cable shows, dominating the news. People can lean 10% towards one candidate only to have something in the air that swings them the other way on Election Day. This is chaos theory in practice: a few flaps of the butterfly’s wing and New Coke is hip.
As John McCain and Barack Obama have found out, you’re almost better off being yourself – without being stupid about it – and letting the chips fall where they may. For all their idealism, neither is stupid politically. We’re not talking about idealists like George McGovern or Dennis Kucinich here.
Elections are also about governing – which, at some point, is theoretically the end result. Even if Hillary somehow wins the general, she won’t have a mandate. I can imagine Congressional Republicans from conservative districts opposing her on mere principle. She’s a divisive figure.
Of the Democratic candidates, only Obama – barring the Republican nominee killing a girl – is likely to win with a real mandate. Republicans will come out to vote against Hillary. Republicans who vote against Obama will, outside of a few racists, still respect him as President.
Which means that not only does Obama have a better shot at winning the general, but he has the best chance of being able to govern once he gets there.
There are happy times when idealism correlates with practicality. This is one of those times.
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