Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Will the Real Hillary Clinton Please Stand Up?

In the wake of Clinton's successful venture against GTA, Kevin Drum feels inclined to ask the following:
I do wonder, though, what she's up to. After she finishes her supposed "move to the center," which appears to consist of little more than a few harmless rhetorical flourishes, will she then produce some genuinely big ideas to base her national 2008 candidacy on? If so, what will they be? After more than a decade in the national spotlight, I still couldn't even begin to guess. When will the real Hillary emerge from her cocoon?

I will admit to some confusion. While The Washington Monthly is split both ways on whether Hillary can win the White House, I don't see why Drum thinks that Clinton's centrist drift is in anyway faked, and I certainly don't see it restricted to "a few harmless rhetorical flourishes."

Clinton's "common ground" speech, for example (delivered at NARAL no less), was a tremendously gutsy position to take. Perhaps more than any other issue, abortion has become divided into two sides completely convinced the other is evil. It's murderers versus misogynists. In this environment, any words suggesting compromise or reconciliation could create a brutal backlash amongst the left. This is true even in the presence of such obvious common ground like what Clinton pointed out, that nobody likes abortion, that most people think that society and/or government should take steps in some form to reduce the amount of abortions that occur. Indeed, the primary point of departure is on whether abortion should be criminalized (link: Bitch Ph.D)--and most pro-lifers, when pressed, are unwilling to go all out and say women who have abortions should be sent to prison as murderers. Political waters are most dangerous when there is clear grounds for consensus that people have consciously chosen to eschew. That suggests that positions and sentiments have become so entrenched as to border on irrational. Clinton's foray into the morass says much about character--it was not anything contrived.

It is true that in this (GTA) particular instance, Democrats have been relatively sanguine about Clinton's rightward shift. But it is simply wrong to suggest that on issues of substance, the base will applaud anything Hillary does simply because she's Hillary. It is tough to disregard your core base of support--especially when you're reaching out to a demographic group that has shown its distrust with you personally in the past. Most politicians don't have the guts to do it. Witness GWB's prostration before the Christian right on the Schiavo matter. If a just re-elected term limited president wildly popular with his rightwing base can't say no to them on issue of the most profound stupidity, when can he? Hillary's situation is no different--the base will certainly give her some slack, but not an infinite amount. Look at what happened when she called for a truce amongst warring factions within the Democratic party. As usual, the response was depressingly fratricidal all around (link: Balloon Juice)--showing that even folks with Clinton's rock star status are not immune to being burned when they defy the base.

Simply put, not only do I think Drum is wrong about the superficiality of Clinton's centrist move, I think it's politically damaging as well. Such a critique plays into the hands of GOPers who are trying to portray Clinton's move as pure politics (mostly because they can't disagree with the actual substance of what she is proposing). It's bad enough when they do it--but does our side have to join in too?

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