I am sure I am not the only one intrigued by this USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll. For the first time this poll suggests that if Hillary Clinton were to run for president in 2008 a majority of Americans today would vote for her. Of course it’s a long way from 2008. The last we had heard from Hillary Clinton she had expressed no desire to run for the presidency in 2008. But Americans are clearly warming up to Hillary Clinton. Although she still commands high negatives from highly partisan Republicans she is increasingly embraced not just by Democrats but also by Independents.
And no wonder. For many of us Hillary Clinton is one classy, articulate, respected and balanced woman. Unlike our current bumbling and oafish president, Hillary, like her husband, is articulate. She connects with broad sections of America. She is poised and has a certain gravitas. Rather than being extreme, she is seen as mainstream. Although arguably she comes from a family of some wealth and privilege, politics were never her primary calling. In her case this plays to her advantage, and makes a plausible case that she is in politics to help people. The vast majority of politicians are far more into boosting their ego and strutting their power than helping ordinary Americans.
She has made a few political mistakes along the way. She was instrumental in her husband’s national health insurance task force. Pilloried at the time in that role her actions now seem foresighted. Twelve years later more Americans lack health insurance than ever. The costs for those of us fortunate enough to have it increasingly are going through the roof. She is also widely remembered for her remarks about a “vast right wing conspiracy” against her husband. While the conspiracy remark was likely hyperbole, in retrospect there were certainly lots of connected and partisan Republicans busy sharing notes and dirt about the Clintons. Particularly as we watched the triumph of neoconservatism in the last two presidential elections and the clearly bogus case for war against Iraq, her hyperbole no longer seems quite so fantastic. Politicians not beyond making a false case to take this nation into war would have no qualms about pushing lies about the Clintons.
As the junior senator from New York she has made a mark for herself in the Senate by being both tactful and assertive. It would be hard to find anything she has done in her five years as a senator that has hit an off note. She pushes for common sense progressive policies yet she is clearly for a solid national defense. She bends over backward to accommodate Israeli interests. In New York State she is very popular among her constituents, in spite of being a relative outsider. Even her archenemy Newt Gingrich has found many things to admire about Hillary Clinton.
Should Clinton try to run for the presidency we could expect the usual vitriol and dirty tricks from the Republican Party. However, it will be tough to find mud that will stick to Hillary. Unlike her husband, she isn’t a philanderer. She comes across as pragmatic and sincere: the real deal unlike her duplicitous husband. Republicans will likely be successful in whipping up their base. But their base is only so large and the number of independent voters are increasing. That still leave a fair number of Republican women who, if they don’t particularly like Clinton, at least respect her. Some of the progressive and moderate ones will even vote for her.
Democrats that have been polled about potential candidates for 2008 prefer Hillary more than two to one over other likely candidates. So should she choose to run for president it is likely that she would find a natural base of support within her party. Others have suggested that if she had a running mate like General Wesley Clark the ticket would be unbeatable.
The animosity toward the Clintons is easily understood in retrospect. Bill Clinton demonstrated that he could peel apart Southern states through a combination of a good old boy persona and middle of the road stances. This frustrated the Republican Party during a decade that was otherwise very good for them politically. In particular they were frustrated in their aspirations to fill the federal benches with conservatives. As the party of the black and white thinkers they could not deal with a politician who changed his opinions. But mostly, aside from Bill Clinton’s moral failings, he was an extremely deft politician. With a few exceptions Bill was able to dodge around every one of the traps laid for him by his opponents, and the traps were voluminous.
I think in retrospect the Clinton years will be seen with much nostalgia. They were prosperous years for most Americans. During the 1990s we had the longest peaceful expansion of the economy in history. We had nearly a decade of real wage growth and higher stock markets. That has not been the case during Bush’s tenure. While many would argue that September 11th changed everything, it is hard to argue with many other statistics that show overall employment barely changed from when Bush took office. Overall the stock market indices are still down considerably from where they stood 2000. If there was Clinton fatigue in 2000 it will be Bush fatigue, or anyone who sounds or acts like Bush, in 2008. Most likely the Republicans won’t be nimble enough to understand this. Rather than pick someone relatively mainstream like John McCain they are more likely to pick someone from the neoconservative and religious base of the party like Bill Frist. This makes Democratic prospects for recapturing the presidency in 2008 good regardless of the Republican candidate.
But on some other level Bush’s father’s defeat in 1992 by Bill Clinton wounded the pride of the Bush family. And since that election there has been the need to even scores. Bush’s second term win showed that he could do what his father could not. However Bill Clinton also won successive terms. At the end of Bush’s term there will be a total of two Clinton terms and three Bush terms, if you count Bush’s father. What to do for an encore?
Hillary’s successful run for the presidency would settle the score. Should she win a second term then it would be Clintons 4, Bushes 3. But it is likely that brother Jeb would want to try a run for the presidency himself at some point. Should Jeb succeed there is no real response, unless Chelsea decides to take up politics like her parents.
But should Hillary win the presidency, in addition to being the first woman to ever win the presidency, many would perceive her win as the triumph of Clinton progressivism over Bush neoconservatism. As I noted after the last election even though Bush won by the time his term is over he will have wished he had lost. Should Hillary run and win the presidency in 2008 then mainstream and clear thinking policies will have returned to the Oval Office. And hopefully after suffering the Bush and Reagan follies through 20 of the last 28 years, voters will finally understand the real value in electing progressives.