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Nov 21, 2012

Why it has to be Hillary (but it shouldn't be)

The prospect of Hillary Clinton running for US president in 2016 is delicious to many Democrats. Which isn't to say it's the best idea for a post-Barack Obama era.


Hilary Clinton

No more than a fortnight since Barack Obama was re-elected, another two months until his second inauguration, and then four years during which the world will change immeasurably — and so the talk in America turns inevitably to one thing: who will be in the running for party nominations in 2016?

Yes, believe it or not, discussion has already begun as to the next presidential campaign. Shortlists are being compiled, and the long-suffering burghers and yeofolk of Iowa are already being polled on their preferences. Part of this is pure ritual of course, and a degree of mania. The campaign is so utterly consuming for so many months that even when it’s over, people simply can’t stop. The winners know they will have to turn to the business of government eventually, and the losers have, well, nothing to do — the campaigns dissolve and there is no official opposition at the presidential level. And Republicans simply went nuts, the loss prompting them to a new “find a Hispanic” strategy — Marco Rubio! Ted Cruz! Chico Marx! — like a cleaned-out gambler planning a new strategy for when he gets his pants back. Imagine if a brown guy was selling a policy that treated brown guys as little more than criminals! That’ll fix it!

That’s par for the course for the losers. It’s the mania that forestalls an advancing depression. But this year the Democrats are engaging in it too, out of sheer triumph. Barring a real disaster in the next four years, the Democrats have a far greater chance of retaining power than the GOP have of taking it. Though many of the state margins were narrow, to lock the Right out of all but a couple of swing states is a huge psychological edge. With continued demographic changes in the south and west, swing states can be made safe Democratic holds and other states — Arizona, Georgia and ultimately Texas — can be brought into play. The Democrats dream of another assured eight years from ’16 onwards, and there’s no reason they couldn’t get it.

In that respect one candidacy becomes overwhelming — Hillary.

The prospect of a second-coming of the Clinton family, ushered in by the first woman president, has many Democrats salivating in the aisles. Hillary — the first-name designation has gone from being a clarifying necessity to that denoting legend — would sweep away many of the problems associated with a term-limited president, whose veep will be a little old to be the candidate presumptive. Hillary would bring an immediate authority and claim to the nomination: she banks the expertise of her secretary of state tenure, she would obviously nail the female vote, make inroads in the south and get some of the “good[sic] ol boys” back, those who wouldn’t vote for a Kenyan. She’d have Bill campaigning for her, acting as a force multiplier, and Barack and Michelle rounding up the black vote, to prevent any fall away from its current levels — 96% of 12% of the population — to backstop it.

Though she would not lack for challengers, the Democrat process would hold it within rationale limits. The GOP version will once again be a circus entirely populated by clowns and knife-throwers.

Moreover, if they did select a Hispanic candidate — still a long shot — any gains would be small, since their policies would remain resolutely anti-poor. And whatever gain they made via identity politics would be offset, were Hillary running, by a white flight to the Democrats. Nasty way to gain a vote, but nothing otiose would need to be done to gain it. Simply by being white in such circumstances, a Democrat candidate could be competitive in West Virginia, Georgia and other places that were once Democratic strongholds.

“There is something dispiriting about the idea that the first woman president would be part of a holy family; that marriage, the traditional institution par excellence, would be the means by which such change was achieved.”

There is also a sense that Hillary deserves it. Had Obama stayed a senator (“turns out being Barack Obama is a pretty good gig” he said after gaining that office, with the big house, the best-selling book, the professorship, Michelle, daughters, etc) she would have been selected by acclaim, won easily, and been a more skilled, if less adventurous, progressive president. That people, above and beyond making a selection on policy, had to make a choice between the first woman president and the first black president was heartbreaking to many. Some feel, not unreasonably, that patriarchy proved to be a more deep-seated attitude than racism — by such logic “of course” a black man should be selected over a woman, in terms of elevating the more oppressed group.

Many people feel a lingering guilt over that, and it survived even Hillary’s 2008 primary campaign, which bordered on dog-whistling if not outright racism on several occasions in the south.

Nevertheless, the prospect of a Clinton presidency stirs up some deeply conflicted emotions. On the one hand, there’s no doubt the Clintons were a team, and that Hillary was the more insistent reforming campaigner than good ol’ Bill. She was a leading children’s rights advocate and theorist in her own right as a lawyer, a graduate of the Saul Alinsky movement (when Alinsky himself was still alive) and someone who was simply there a decade too early for a presidential ambition to be feasible, or even conceivable. Her poll position, as an ex-first lady, which put subsequent positions within grasp, merely compensates for the limits she faced in an earlier era. So not everyone gets that second chance but at least she does, so the argument goes.

Fair enough. And yet, and yet … There is something dispiriting about the idea that the first woman president would be part of a holy family; that marriage, the traditional institution par excellence, would be the means by which such change was achieved. It was worse during the ’08 campaign, because a Hillary presidency would have meant the highest office in the land had been exchanged between two powerful families for an entire generation from 1992 onwards — by 2016, no one under 45 would have had much memory of being ruled by either a Bush or a Clinton. Obama will have acted as a circuit-breaker this time round, but that makes it worse, stretching out the dynastic politics to 2024, dominating 40 years of history.

Hillary will also suffer from a double ageism. Firstly, the harsher judgement and different archetypal meanings applied to a senior woman than to a senior man — attitudes far deeper seated than can be removed by a simple act of thought, or an “-ist” word — and also the fact Obama’s reign may have permanently lowered the age that seems presidential. To go back to 60-something guys and gals now will seem absurd. Future candidates will most likely hover round the age of 48-50. Those are both something of a raw deal for Hillary, but I don’t make the rules, Jesus does.

Finally, there’s also the possibility that, whether she wants it or not, she may not try for it, on the grounds that a second loss would render her a tragic-farcical figure, rather than a heroic or admirable one, cf. Romney, Mitt. A failed campaign is a body-blow; a second one you never really recover from. Such disasters work backwards through time, trashing achievements and memory. It is a huge risk to take with the 20 years you might still have left to live after it.

Personally, I’d like to see a woman president in 2016. It’s obviously well past time. But on the Democratic side, t’would be better new blood (relatively speaking), not blue blood — someone like ex-Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, or Washington governor Christine Gregoire, or New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Of course if women were nominated on both sides then that would settle it, and if they were non-white …

What’s remarkable is how unremarkable such thoughts now are. Which leads to the paradoxical question: has the election of the least traditional president in history — a half-Kenyan, half-Kansan, Indonesian raised ex-postmodernist community organiser — made such a change not a likelihood but a virtual and imminent certainty?


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48 thoughts on “Why it has to be Hillary (but it shouldn’t be)

  1. Daniel Young

    “rationale limits”? Did you mean rational?

  2. Diana Simmonds

    Um…Jennifer Granholm was born Canadian (Vancouver)…I think that rules her out.

  3. Gavin Moodie

    I still think it would be profligate for the Democrats to overlook such a well recognised talent as Hilary.

  4. Guy Rundle

    dang ok, scratch granholm. pity, there’s also this, from a brief time when she was a struggling actress in LA


  5. David R

    On the Republican side Jeb Bush must be one of the front runners. It seems the names Bush and Clinton may have a stranglehold on US politics for some years to come.

  6. TheFamousEccles

    Clinton Family Inc, Bush and Sons Mutual, the list – if I could be bothered to scratch the surface – would go on and on.

    It’s the family business, like Steptoe and Son.

  7. Gavin Moodie

    @ David R

    I agree on Jeb Bush, who as Governor of Texas had a reasonable position on relations with Mexico, and therefore I presume on undocumented residents.

  8. michael r james

    America loves royalty and are always on the lookout for a new Camelot, so, obviously:

    Chelsea ’24

    First gen Y prez (44y)?

  9. michael r james

    @Gavin M.

    Jeb was gov of Florida and the relevant Hispanics/Latinos are Cuban and Puerto Rican (versus Mexican and Central American in Texas, Arizona, NM, Nevada etc). But his wife is one of them, he is a fluent Spanish speaker and he (and Rubio) has already pronounced Mitt Romney’s and the GOP’s policy on minorities as braindead. Since, as Guy says, the GOP is unlikely to reform itself fundamentally on this question, it is likely to remain wary of going all the way to Marco Rubio (other than the sop of Veep) so, yes, Jeb is a distinct possibility. By then the taint of his surname will have receded.

  10. Mike Smith

    A comment from a US list I’m on – “The last thing that I want to see as Prez Hillary boards Marine 1 and
    salutes is her arm wattle flapping in the breeze. Ew.”

  11. Diana Simmonds

    Mike Smith has instantly lowered the tone of this conversation lower than his dangly old balls.

  12. floorer

    Don’t they have to drop before they can dangle?

  13. Gavin Moodie

    @ michael r james

    Thanx; I mixed up my Bush governors.

  14. Mike Smith

    It’s what the US think, Di, and you’re contributing in no small way to the tone yourself…

  15. Diana Simmonds

    Pot calling the kettle something or other Mike. And you’re wrong – check out the polls and figures on Hillary and these days they don’t give a damn about her arms.

  16. Diana Simmonds

    My bet is that Bill will be dead by 2016 …

  17. Western Red

    Unless sense prevails I suspect the GOP will have Paul Ryan at the head of their ticket, he of the unmoving hair and dead eyes. My guess then is Susanna Martinez as VP (Gov, New Mex) although her resume suggests she should maybe be on top.

    I still think Hillary letting her hair down was the big tell that she won’t run again and any talk only feeds the Clintons bank account with speaking appearances and book sales.

    Gillibrand sure, but what would that do to Cuomo’s ambitions? Similar potential conflicts between the Senators Warner and Kaine in Virginia.

    I wouldn’t discount Janet Napolitano , a single woman who was elected Attorney General and then twice as Governor in red Arizona and has been Homeland Security supremo. Apparently her face is in every WalMart!

    Now back to 2012…

  18. Black Spot

    “..It seems the names Bush and Clinton may have a stranglehold on US politics for some years to come…”

    That’s because they are all related and belong to the same Club of descendants.

  19. floorer

    Paul Ryan is a weird little man who’s going to disappear, Elizabeth Warren impressive but surely too close to what the Americans call left. Agree with Western Red about Clinton letting her hair down or grow out, thought the same thing. I’m open to being corrected about the Clinton theory by any women ( I hope I’ve phrased that correctly). A long bow I know but check photos of LBJ after he retired.

  20. arnold ziffel

    Why not Michelle?
    The kids will be be enough, the world will be ready.

  21. arnold ziffel

    I meant ‘big enough’

  22. SBH

    ya gotta love the way in the 21st century a article on the possibility of the USA’s first female president is discounted because of whom she married.

  23. Monash.edu

    Oh, come on, guys — it’s quite possible that both presidential candidates in 2016 will be people that most commenters here have never even heard of. A lot can happen in four years.

  24. SBH

    Of course for those who can’t tell the difference between other presidential wives and Hills, well maybe you weren’t watching.

  25. Edward James

    At the risk of being offensive to wives everywhere. I must ask every time I see Hillary being promoted in MSM I think what was Monica giving that Hillary was not ? Edward James

  26. floorer

    Ah EJ, Hillary was giving lip service while Monica wasn’t.

  27. Edward James

    Love that observation floorer. Edward James

  28. Black Spot

    Mr James. There is a politically correct sniper behind every tree here on this discussion board. But my shoulders are broad and I will award you .5 for encouragement at your effort of humour, although it was bad…very bad!..extremely bad!

  29. Black Spot

    Why does Hillary have crows feet around her eyes? it’s a joke, come on, what’s the answer?

  30. Edward James

    I am aware and weary of those politicians and there supporters who populate the “grassy knoll” Edward James Yes sorry to the Kennedy family

  31. Edward James

    I checked out google and wasted my time. Just as it may be a waste of time for anyone wondering who will live to vie for president of the united states in two years time. Edward James

  32. Rasta Masta

    phfffftt(((((….phfffuuurrr))))), ah, dat better mun.Listen up here Eddy my mun, you gotta chill out ordya gonna bust dat pooper dare. All da politicians are hidin on dat “grassy knoll ” and all dem should be a suckin on da weed infstead of f da white mun trash dey are a dishin up evry day and a masqeradin as decent folk.I gotta go ders a white girl waitin for me over on da beech haw haw haw and she a wanna da soosage a sunk. By mun.

  33. michael r james

    EJ, floorer & BlackSpot and assorted Crikey reprobates.

    If you’re into salacious First Lady jokes I am old enough to remember this Nixon one–for which you need to know that his wife’s name was Patricia, and this was also the era when this famous movie mainstreamed p0rn.

    “Richard Nixon had to watch Deep Throat three times before he got it down pat.”

  34. Black Spot

    hahaha..that’s good, very good!.. but wil someone please go to the fridge for me?

  35. Brian English

    Misogyny is very good. Thanks bro.

  36. Salamander

    What a log of baloney, Guy. Hilary would be great. A novice President takes the first term to understand the game. Hilary would be off to a gallop.

  37. Salamander

    Sorry, spelling – Hillary.

  38. owlcode

    If my math is right HC would be sworn in older than Reagan was.

  39. Salamander

    I think Clinton would be about 2 years younger than Reagan for what it’s worth. In any case, why not break two records at once. Especially if you’re as smart as she is and showing no sign of brain fade (unlike Reagan).

  40. Guy Rundle

    i didnt say Hillary wouldnt be great, Salamander (?). In fact I said that if she had won in 08 against Obama, Hillary would have made a more succesful President if less adventurous. Do read the article before commenting.

    As regards ’16, I said she would face some problematic attitudes towards ageing, one deep-seated, and one more recent.

  41. Laura

    I take your point, but I agree with others who have pointed out that familial connections aren’t unprecedented in presidential (or congressional or state, etc.) politics in the US. There are surely other connections that are less obvious than shared names. So…if the option is to select someone competent and educated in her own right, who knows her way around US politics at all relevant levels (remembering Bill Clinton’s time as a governor), I’m not bothered by the fact she is married to a former president. In fact, it may give her unique qualifications for the position of president, as First Lady is surely as close to the role of president as is the Vice-President, who is officialy destined to be a replacement if necessary.

  42. owlcode

    As an aside, if you want to find people/persons more out there than the birther, Tea Party, Donald Trump, unskewedpolls people, have a look at the hillaryis44 site (use Google).

  43. Salamander

    So Guy you agree that Hillary would make a great President, and your headline that she shouldn’t be elected is just the Ed’s misreading of your article?

  44. Mike Smith

    So you think the Democrats should move to putting up ‘candidates by turn’, that has served the Republicans so well? She wasn’t good enough to beat Obama in the last run for Democrat preselection, give someone else a chance, rather than go for this pathetic calling in of favours. (dare I say it, someone less than retirement age)

  45. Chapman Bob

    Like it or not, the fund raising laws mean that whoever gets nominated will ahve to be either 1) very rich or 2)capale of raising lots of money from corporate interests. I’m wondering if someone like Michael Bloomberg may be attractive to either side (if they can convince him to join their side).

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