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The Hillary question

Earlier, I wrote a post about Hillary Clinton's involvement with the DLC:

Hillary aligns herself with the DLC

... this will probably make progressives that much more skeptical of a Hillary candidacy in '08. Clearly, Hillary has cast her lot with the party's 'moderates', and if she faces serious opposition in the primaries, it will probably be from the party's left wing.

This was simply a prediction, not a judgment regarding whether such opposition would be warranted.

Regarding moderates in the Democratic Party, our friend the Liberal Avenger writes:

I am an unabashed far-left liberal. I recognize, however, that we SOCIALISTS aren't going to win today, tomorrow or anytime soon. Given that, I shall throw my weight behind the moderates - on both sides of the aisle.

I may not live to see my Open Gay Sex Public Dope Smoking Free Education Race Mixing Workers' Utopia come to pass, but at least maybe we'll stop killing American troops and Arabs.

I see things the same way, though it depends on what LA means by 'anytime soon' - I think certain events could make a socialist renaissance a reality sooner than we might otherwise expect. But for now, there is no question that the success of some Democratic moderates is critical. For instance, Harold Ford, a paradigmatic moderate/DLCer, is running for Frist's senate seat (Frist is leaving); this is a race we need to win, and no one will be happier than me to see Rep. Ford sworn in to the Senate come January '07. (Well, that might be an overstatement, but I'll be pretty pleased.)

This all gets me thinking about the '08 campaign. It's so far away I probably am just wasting time, but oh well. Well, you can't think about '08 without thinking about Hillary. Jami of Hillary Now says:

I'm tired of people hating on Hillary as if she's Zell Miller or something. She isn't.

...Hillary's record is not painful to any progressive who cares to look.

Hillary is certainly no Zell Miller. But is Jami right about Hillary's progressive credentials?

This is a very difficult question, in my opinion. There is a sense in which Hillary is unproblematically liberal. On health care, Social Security, taxes, etc., Hillary's stated position is the 'right' one. But some progressives/liberals consider her history to be a mixed bag at best. John Nichols:

Hillary Clinton's status as a liberal icon has always been based on leaps of logic, as opposed to her record.

As the first lady, she actively supported Bill Clinton's anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-human rights trade policies, from the North American Free Trade Agreement to permanent most favored nation trading status for China.

She defended the Clinton administration's draconian welfare reform schemes, which her old allies at the Children's Defense Fund correctly identified as the shredding of the social safety net for America's poorest children.

And she took the lead in drafting a bureaucratic health care reform plan that rejected the sensible single-payer model in favor of a scheme to funnel federal money into the pockets of some of the worst players in the for-profit health care industry.

...Hillary Clinton always refused to ask the tough questions, take the tough stands or abandon the risk-averse course set by the Clinton administration.

...With other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, she has stood up to some of the worst of President Bush's judicial nominees, and like the vast majority of Senate Democrats she has voted against the worst elements of the Bush economic agenda.

But no one is going to confuse Hillary Clinton, who has cozied up to the conservative, corporation-funded Democratic Leadership Council, with a progressive reformer. She remains the conventional inside-the-Beltway pol who angrily shouted, "Russ, live in the real world," after U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., tried to explain why Democrats should embrace campaign finance reforms he had proposed.

Hillary Clinton's determination to remain in the cautious, unquestioning center was very much on display last fall, when the Bush administration came to Congress seeking a blank check to wage an unnecessary and unjustified war with Iraq. While other senators expressed concern over the failure of the Bush administration to make a credible case that Iraq posed a serious threat, Clinton bought the White House line.

Putting aside the issue of the war - a similar case criticism could be made of Kerry, Edwards, and other Dems whom progressives found reasonably acceptable in '04 - this hits on a crucial point: Hillary is inevitably evaluated partly on the basis of her husband's administration, and progressives are hardly nostalgic for the Clinton administration, for all the reasons mentioned above as well as a few others (a major one being Clinton's support for the Iraq sanctions regime).

But keeping in mind the Liberal Avenger's point about lowered expectations, one might ask: surely you would be willing to trade Bush for Clinton, right? Right. And this is why you don't hear most progressives saying that they won't support her; if Hillary's the only thing standing between Jeb Bush (or whoever) and the White House, then give me President Hillary. But is she our best bet?

It remains to be seen, I guess. More and more I am convinced that the likeliest way the Democrats win in '08 is by putting forward (and this is fast becoming my mantra) a credible message of economic populism. This is the way to neutralize the GOP's advantage in the 'culturally conservative' areas of the country. In my view, issues like gay marriage are making a significant electoral difference only because rural folks who are members of the working and middle classes don't see either party as looking out for their economic interests. If we can convince them otherwise, we'll get a good chunk of those votes.

But I'm highly skeptical that Hillary is the one who can do this. To a significant extent, Bill Clinton abandoned these folks and (along with the DLC) advanced an unabashedly pro-business agenda. Clinton's personality was likeable enough to overcome this; Hillary doesn't have this advantage. We need someone who can say to rural, working class voters: "We are on your side; we will fight for you" - and have them believe it.

Will people buy this message if it comes from the mouth of Hillary Clinton? It seems unlikely; at the very least, Hillary needs to prove she can be credible on this count. For now, Neil the Werewolf's favorite, John Edwards, is looking pretty good...

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