28 November 2006

What counterattacks are missing from "The Clinton Battle Plan"

Thought I'd take a few moments today and comment on a very interesting article I read from Newsweek magazine, entitled "The Clinton Battle Plan". Essentially it lays out how the ex-President Bill Clinton still wields enormous political power, and will certainly use it to help his wife, Democratic NY Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton if (but more likely when) she decides to run for President herself. She won her recent re-election to the Senate handily, has a war chest of campaign funds set up with additional excellent fundraising avenues, and is considered by many to be the presumptive nominee for 2008...again, providing she decides she wants to run.

The article also features some potential roadblocks to that presumed Democratic nomination...everything from her lack of Bill's charisma, to her position of initially (and, in many ways, still supporting the Iraq war), to a very likely fellow candidate in the popular (and African-American) Illinois Senator Barack Obama. It also touches very briefly on some of the political missteps as a First Lady with Bill...namely, her very revolutionary yet heavy-handed proposal of universal health care (a concept that was not embraced by many in Congress back in 1992, but now, 14 years later and with medical costs and the numbers of uninsured Americans skyrocketing, it would now get a far more sympathetic ear). While Newsweek has put together a pretty thorough argument, I kept waiting for its discussion on the issues that really seem to make Hillary such a lightning rod of division here. Issues that, unfortunately for her and for the political values I support, I think will lose her the general election if she does run for President in 2008.

Here are some of the unmentionables that Newsweek failed to tackle:

  • In some areas of this country, she is vehemently hated. Regardless of political affiliation, economic situation, educational background, or countless other factors, she is just hated by some and has been for a number of years, to a degree even that elicits more emotion than expected. Whereas her husband seemed 'down home' enough to be able to talk to voters of perhaps a 'lesser status' than he, Hillary has never been quite able to pull that off and many times not really tried. She will have a problem obviously with conservative swing voters (which she will need in 2008, as the country is hugely divisive still), she will have a problem with the less-educated because she comes off as 'better' than them (unless Bill does all of her campaigning in that area, which then poses the question just exactly who are they voting for? Hillary? Or Bill again?), she will have a problem with the rural voters because she seems 'out of touch' with their concerns. The heavily dominant 'blue' Democratic states on either coast hold vast number of supporters for her; but in the 'flip flop' states or 'red' Republican states, she faces a huge PR battle that far outweighs the political one.

    At the end of the day, she is seen as elitist liberal Democrat to many. This is unfair on many levels, but within the working-class party of Harry Truman, an 'elitist' tag can be as beneficial as carrying an 'gravedigger' one during the Plague. Like John Kerry, she does not seem at ease with the 'country folk' of this nation...and with all due respect to my friends in NY state, farmers in New York are not the same as farmers in Oklahoma, or Iowa, or Colorado, or Louisiana. And in a time when the word 'liberal' has been vastly overused in the popular media, the fact that Hillary can be quoted from Bill's impeachment investigation days about the"vast, right-wing conspiracy" is going to make her look like the liberal poster hellion every Republican warned you about. Former President Clinton was right when he told Democrats that the voters had given them a chance, and not a mandate. He stressed how the country wants unity among the parties and things to get done for a change. That said, remaking battle-warrior wife Hillary (a warrior who got him elected through her tough 'in the trenches' mode approach, frankly) into something more 'equally appetizing' for all affiliations is a tough row to hoe. The plus side: she may just get elected President. The negative: she may look like she will change her current position from her old one just to get elected, i.e., the old 'flip flop' politician we all have come to love to hate.

  • Then there comes the 'woman voter' issue. For the life of me, as a female American voter from a family who takes our past and present contributions and duties to this country very seriously, I am always a bit flabbergasted when I hear fellow women state they would gladly vote for a female President...as long as it was not Hillary. Logic could lead one to think women voters would support, perhaps even campaign for and be happy for, a female candidate for the highest job in the land...but apparently not in this case. Regardless of the issues, regardless of her opponent, regardless of the race...just a steady, unswervingly blanket 'no' if Hillary is involved from some.

    Back in the 1990s when I first heard this, I wrote this off as some women believing Hillary had gotten her role with then Vice-President Al Gore (or perhaps even that of Bill's) confused and emotions would settle down. Unfortunately, I was in error to shrug this off so quickly. Through the Lewinsky scandal, through her initial campaign to become a NY Senator, through her current tenure as one of the most powerful Senators in the country...the animosity among some women against Hillary has remained strong. A sampling of responses I've had over the last 10 years on this subject: Hillary's seen as anti-religious among the God-fearing set due to some of her political and moral beliefs (especially abortion rights and stem cell research); too ambitious and 'ballsy' for a woman among the traditional set due to her determination to be a 'heavily-involved with policy' First Lady; too 'stand by your man' (oh the irony) from the feminist set due to all of Bill's alleged affairs; and too unwilling to put her husband and family first (and presumably giving up her career) among the soccer mom and mini-van crowd. And here's a capper: almost entirely, these comments came from Democratic and/or liberal women voters, and not even from the base groups most likely to complain about Hillary. There never seems to be a shortage...I'm sure I could go out today, have the same discussions, and come back with some new complaints. I don't even know how to address the arguments of women who say Hillary shouldn't be elected 'because a woman President would be too weak in times of war'. Who actually knows what's valid or not with any or all of these theories, or what will eventually play in the hearts of women if (when) faced with a Hillary nomination for President in the voter's booth. But, as any man will tell you, women don't change their set opinions easily...and to carry her own gender, Senator Clinton will have to do a lot of campaigning to convince these women they were and/or wrong about her.

  • And finally, let's not forget about sex. Yes, folks, I said sex. The public relations images of Bill possibly of (a) getting too much, or of (b) getting not enough, or of (c) 'degrading' the American public with his oral sex/Monica Lewinsky antics, or of (d) trying to do everything he could (in fact, perhaps trying to change the dialogue of what is is, among other classics) to not have to admit he had extramarital 'relations/non-relations' with any woman, let alone Monica. As much as Bill is charismatic and smart and well-prepared, Hillary will always be the cold, aloof-like, statue of a long-suffering wife shackled to his unsavoury past, no matter how much is true or not. To survive the tawdriness of the attacks surely to come, she will have to appear to be even more stoic, even more down to business, and even more detached from the past scandals...and how does that approach win any more voters then? It's beyond ironic when one realizes Hillary's best asset...Bill...is also her biggest Achilles' heel.

    In a country as uptight about sex as ours is, far lesser people have been brought down (and far more recently) with far, far less sexual 'ammunition' (whether implied or real). In Europe and in even in many parts of Asia, Bill's indiscretions would never have caused anything more than a small blip on the political radar. 'Boys will be boys' and all that standard shrugging. But this is America, where guilt is not only first assumed of our public figures and celebrities, it's searched out, propagated, and fertilized at an amazing pace. We, as a society, don't seek out the Jimmy Stewart characters anymore...good is dull...but we want the Jimmy Hoffas. As good as her policies may or may not be if she's elected, Hillary's going to be overshadowed by the image of a woman who couldn't manage her own private affairs at home, affairs that are so 'public' now that she can't hide behind the 'privacy' gates anymore (not that certain members of the current 'press' would abide by that request with anyone these days). True, marriage stress and public questions about infidelity are extremely unfavourable situations for anyone...and not something foreign to countless millions of American (nor international) households. But women, and especially women public figures, are held to a higher personal standard than their male counterparts...I doubt seriously if anyone even cares if John McCain needs a facelift, but online polls by the dozen dissect Hillary's appearance regularly. Hell, questions about her rumoured new use of Botox® even made her re-election campaign and the hallowed print of Fashion & Style in The New York Times. Hillary is not only supposed to be smart and savvy, but it's also expected that she be desireable, too. Politics is always full of mud-slinging, but it's tougher to remove the dirt if it's caked in with the lipstick and blush.

    How will this whole affair end? Will she run, or won't she because of the above, and other reasons? Time and more importantly, money, will tell. For what it's worth, though, I think she should hold off until 2012 at least...if she ever does run. Get some more experience under her belt and perhaps garner even more political clout under her own wings...and becoming a tad bit more centrist wouldn't hurt her in the pursuit of the undecided/independent voters. By 2012, Hillary's public experience will be equal to that of Bill's (counting his years as Governor of Arkansas), and she'll also have more time to 'distance' herself from the constant controversy that dogged his Presidency. Time may be a healer, after all...but who's to know if it can also create forgiveness. With any luck, though, by 2012 the world will be an improved place by then and America will be back on its way to reestablishing a positive respect with its global neighbours. Besides, given the holy mess that Bush, Cheney, and Halliburton et al, have done for us so far to date...who really would want the job in '08, anyway??
  • 1 comment:

    Liz said...

    I think you are so dead-on about so many things in this post. It's so interesting how we women have an internalized sexist attitude toward each other. I think she'll probably run but I don't know if she'll get the nomination. We shall see.