Friday, May 02, 2008

Time for a Hillary Holiday

Here comes an instance of the unthinkable. This essay will focus on a substantive electoral issue, demonstrating at long last why Hillary Clinton and John McCain are unpresidential panderers at best and should not be nominated as candidates for their parties, nor much less elected.

All right, yes, McCain is at least in sync with his party's demagogic spiel: he can spin big lies into oversimplistic packages at least as well as George W. Bush could, perhaps even better. We'll leave the details for later.

Clinton, however, had me doubting.

In 1992 I would have voted for her, over her husband -- in a heartbeat. She was articulate, obviously intelligent, seemed focused on important issues -- including poverty -- and seemed (I did not know of her past as a Goldwater Girl) a truer exponent of the Democratic progressive tradition than William Jefferson Clinton.

You remember President Clinton? The guy who gave us big business' job-exporting NAFTA over the objections of unions and Newton Leroy Gingrich's pauperizing 1996 welfare reform bill over the objections of a half-dozen key advisers in his own cabinet agencies, but failed to deliver on the signature issue of his campaign, health care reform? That Clinton.

So, this election, I was looking forward to a seasoned version of the Hillary Clinton I thought I knew. A Democratic candidate willing to undo three decades years of GOP Thatcherist class war against the middle and poorer classes, in other words, the majority of this country.

The first tingle in my stomach was when I saw the rogues gallery of Clinton Administration expediency wizards pop up in her team. One of my friends had worked with Hillary Clinton in the White House and I had a pretty good idea of that inner circle; they were not my concern.

Rather, I worried about the expert advisers, the less-well-known crowd associated with high-profile substantive thinkers, such as Gene Sperling and Robert Rubin. I'd seen many of them in action and I knew they were brilliant. Yet, at heart, in my experience they have proven themselves arrogant pragmatists capable of anything to get a short-term win.

Winning in politics is important, but you win in order to accomplish something -- not the other way around.

Slowly, layer after layer of Hillary Clinton's Democratic skin began to peel off, like those of an onion. You know how onions make you cry? That was my response.

She'd been for Goldwater? She voted for the war in Iraq and still thought that was the correct vote? She was proud of what she'd done during the Clinton Administration?

She sure wasn't seeking my vote.

Now comes a real actual crisis -- a fuel price spike that hurts everybody's pocketbook (another post) -- and what does Hillary Clinton do but steal a play right out of the Republican book: let's have a gas tax "holiday."

In a nutshell: this would increase demand and raise prices further. It's the Exxon-BP plan. And, oh -- surprise, surprise -- it's also the McCain plan. It's the immediate gratification many people want.

It's what Barry Goldwater told Meet the Press in 1973, during that other oil crisis. I was watching that day and I remember him saying: "I want what every American wants: to go up the pump and say 'fill 'er up.' "

That's not what a great president says.

Great leaders are capable of offering "blood, sweat, toil and tears" (Winston Churchill) and proposing that we ask what we can do for our country (John Kennedy) or remind us that it's "fear itself" that we must fear (Franklin Roosevelt) -- and still have people eager to follow.

Leadership is the capacity to step ahead of the crowd and take it to new places, to become better people. Leaders help us abolish slavery, embrace the 8-hour day, end racial discrimination and feed the hungry among us.

Hillary Clinton has met her first real life challenge as a presidential leader -- escalating gas prices in an economic slowdown -- and has failed abysmally by setting aside sound economic policy to pander shamelessly to the crowd with the opposing party's all-purpose solution: cut taxes.

This is not a matter of what she wears on her lapel or what church she goes to or with whom she has sex -- all utterly irrelevant to the task of choosing a suitable president. At last we have a substantive question about which -- miracle of miracles! -- almost all Americans care.

Hillary Clinton had an opportunity to show the stuff of which she is made. She has failed. She is wrong on the policy substance. She is unpresidential in her response. She is a poll-follower, not a leader. She has failed to show that she is, in the one phrase of Dennis Kucinich's that I loved, "a Democrat from the Democratic wing of the party."

Therefore, to borrow from her prescription on gasoline, I propose that we all take a holiday from the Hillary Clinton candidacy.

1 comment:

george said...

Bravo! For a change, I agree with everything you have said about Hillary. I also shared your opinions regarding the 92 Bill/Hillary election. My earliest impression was that she would have made a better president than her husband. Over time, however, as I learned more about her and the way she conducted her campaign, I may a 360 turnaround.