What if Hillary Clinton Wins?

Much of the commentary among Democrats about Hillary Clinton's candidacy has revolved around the likelihood of her losing the general election. Why, many Democrats ask, should we nominate someone whom so many swing voters have (unfairly, to a very large degree) come to distrust? Since one of the things that Democrats believe they have going for them next year is the lack of passion on the Right -- with fundraising tilted strongly toward the Democrats for the first time in memory and no Republican presidential candidates looking particularly strong -- why nominate the one person who is sure to rile up the sleeping Republican base? Why miss a chance to move past the "politics of personal destruction" by nominating a candidate who is sure to invite more of the same?

Some of those questions contain a ring of truth, although it is easy to overstate the case against Clinton. If there is concern about an attack machine, after all, it is easier to imagine that machine being re-tooled against another Democrat (John "Breck Girl" Edwards, Barack Hussein Obama) than simply being dismantled or moth-balled should Hillary Clinton go away. Still, there are nuanced arguments about these questions in both directions that I am willing to set aside for the time being.

My concern is not with whether Hillary Clinton would lose the election but with what would happen if she wins. As a liberal and a Democrat, I'm prepared to say that a new Clinton presidency could be not only a colossal failure but a failure that would unfairly tarnish liberals and Democrats for years to come.

Both Clintons have made a career out of distancing themselves from the liberals in their party. (Remember Clinton/Gore's "New Democrat" commercials in '92, bragging about being pro-death penalty, etc.?) After the 2004 election, when analysts were fooled by the supposed "values voters" gap in the exit polls, Hillary Clinton not only began to change her position (or at least her spin) on abortion but even helped intervene to push the pro-choice candidate for Rick Santorum's Senate seat in Pennsylvania out of the Democratic primary to clear the path for Robert Casey, an anti-choice Democrat. This was in a race for a seat with one of the most vulnerable of all Republican incumbents, so the argument that Democrats needed to resist the urge to enforce ideological purity in the name of winning was especially weak.

In any event, the idea that Hillary Clinton is anything but a right-leaning centrist strikes me as being removed from reality-based thinking. (It is possible to be simultaneously a partisan Democrat and a non-liberal. Look at Joe Lieberman pre-2006.) For reasons that are completely beyond me, though, the Clintons are thought of as liberals by the general public. Anything they do, therefore, is associated with liberals. Even if the particular choice that they make is to triangulate on an issue -- or simply to adopt the conservative position -- the calculus remains that "a Clinton did it, so that's what liberals do."

Now that Clinton is leading in the national polls, we are starting to see how she will act as president. Her efforts to straddle issues related to the Iraq war (and her latest obviously strategic vote about the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) are, I fear, just the beginning. As a second President Clinton becomes associated with policies that fail, the spin will be that "liberal Democrats can't govern." Whether we can or cannot, what the Clintons do is not proof of that proposition either way. More importantly, her policies are likely to fail, because they seem not to be driven by a vision of sound policy or wise governance but simply by a gut feeling of how to win elections. We've all lived through enough of that.

-- posted by Neil H. Buchanan