Monday, March 20, 2006

Breaking a Promise; Talkin' Hillary

I realize now that my promise to avoid writing about the maneuverings of presidential candidates until closer to the 2008 election will be impossible to keep. In general, though, I’m an honest guy. Really. Don’t start mistrusting me left and right because of this. I’d hate for that to happen.

Two Sundays ago, The New York Times Magazine ran a piece by Matt Bai discussing the Democratic hopefuls, and whether anyone will gather the steam necessary to knock Hillary Clinton off the top of the ticket. Bai used Mark Warner, governor of Virginia, as his primary case study.

I had a few reactions to the article:

1. The New York Times not only doesn’t want Mark Warner to be the Democratic candidate in 2008, it might hate him on a personal level. It might want him deported to Gitmo. Warner may have done something inexcusable to every staffer of the Times, even every member of each staffer’s nuclear -- no, extended family. I say this because Mark Warner is, if a little goofy, an average looking person. But the portrait the paper chose for the cover of the magazine (which I can’t find online, unfortunately) makes him look not only like the love child of the most dishonest real estate agent in history and a talking donkey, but a donkey-agent about to uncork a cringe-inducing pickup line in your general direction. Looking at this picture, I don’t just want to keep him off the presidential ticket; I want to keep him at least 300 yards away from any children I might have one day. And this seems unfair, because it really appears that the Times must have digitally made him creepier (the paper has already admitted to altering the color scheme of his shirt and blazer from blue to a hideous pink and purple).

2. Democrats are idiotic. I can say this because I’m proudly listed as an independent voter.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:
The party’s insiders, expecting Clinton to be a virtually unstoppable force, seem to be falling in line behind her, which means there will be only so much additional money and organization left over for those who would challenge her. But more than anything, Democrats will tell you that they are desperate to win next time around, and a lot of pragmatic activists and voters worry that Clinton is simply too divisive a candidate to take back the White House. (In a Gallup poll in January, 51 percent of respondents said they would definitely not vote for her.)
Which leads me to wonder what part of “definitely not” Democrats don’t understand. I mean, we’re at a simple majority of 51 percent here before you even broach the subject of “maybe not” or “we’ll see how I feel after breakfast that day.”

3. (Following directly from #2.) The Democrats are going to lose the next presidential election.

That is, unless the Republicans somehow get together and decide to nominate Jacques Chirac. Here’s the article again:
Clinton encounters ambivalence online because she is a fixture of official Washington, and because she continues to emphasize her cooperation with like-minded Republicans. The party’s online activists don’t want to hear about the compromises it takes to govern; they want someone who will derail the Republican agenda, even if he (or she) has to strap himself to the tracks with two fistfuls of dynamite to do it.
So, the Democrats are split into two camps, as far as I can see: One is the party insiders, who will back Clinton just for the satisfaction of being on the winning team within the party, even if it means not winning the big prize. The other is a clear minority in this country, composed of people who want dynamite-strapped true believers to derail the Republicans, even though no one with that platform would be allowed to enter the larger D.C. area, much less the actual White House.

This is a fairly conservative country, and I don’t even mean that it’s populated mostly by foaming-at-the-mouth Bible-beaters -- I really don’t think it is. They exist, of course, the foamers, but there’s also a vast expanse of centrist people. They are damned hard to please, though, and no one proves that more than Hillary's hubby. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 43% of the popular vote. In 1996, as an incumbent in peacetime, without Monicagate on the public radar, with unprecedented wealth and happiness reigning from sea to shining sea, and running against an uninspired Bob Dole and a dangerously unmedicated Ross Perot, Clinton, a man who’s been praised as the most brilliant natural political talent we’ve ever seen, a centrist from a Southern state, won 49.2% of the vote. Not even half. Against Dole. And Perot.

Now we have Hillary, a smart, successful, hardworking candidate, who 51% of the country would never vote for. Ever. She’s a stiffer public speaker than Bill. She brings almost all of his negative baggage onto the flight with her, and less than all of his gifts.

4. Please, let’s not make this about feminism.

To the article, once more:
It is a perilous mission that Warner and other Democratic hopefuls undertake as they try to cast doubts about (Clinton’s) electability without appearing to attack one of the party’s iconic figures. And it’s risky not just because she is a Clinton, beloved by most of the party’s important interest groups, but also because she is a woman; a lot of voters may wonder if a woman can really be elected president, but they would most likely turn on any male candidate who was crass enough to imply as much.
Reducing this to the electability of a woman is nonsense. It’s like arguing (not quite, of course, but go with me) that the country isn’t ready to elect a black president because Al Sharpton isn’t in the White House yet. I suppose it’s possible that we’re not ready to elect a black president, and that would be sad, but the fact that we’re not ready to elect Al Sharpton is only a sign of collective mental health.

And finally:

5. Democrats are idiotic.

Forgive the repetition. But in the fall of 2000, I was working without pay for a literary-political magazine in New York. As the presidential election neared, a dry-erase board went up in a hallway, and all of the magazine’s staffers wrote down their choice for president. About a dozen people volunteered their preference, all of them writing “Ralph Nader.” These were very well-educated, widely read, socially concerned people, and somehow they had convinced themselves that the necessary response to Clinton’s eight years of success was not the election of his tag-team partner, but of Ralph Nader, a man whose major qualification seemed to be that he once hectored a bunch of us into wearing seat belts more often. They were, in short, insane. (Of course, I’ve come to learn in my ensuing years around these parts that they were likely just participating in a perverse level of self-definition with this vote, like youngish, smart New Yorkers do whenever they self-sabotage an election or buy one cheap beer over another or talk with incredible contempt about something they had enthusiasm for seven minutes ago.) The point is, Bush won, and being in NY and at the headquarters of said magazine, I know how deeply this pissed people off. The benefit of this, of course, was that by the time 2004 rolled around, liberals were willing to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there was more of a difference between Dems and Reps than ol’ Ralphy Boy had wanted us to believe. (The fact that they would have nodded along with Ralphy Boy on this point in the first place boggles the mind, and is reason #3,988 that I’ve vowed to never officially join the lefty ranks.)

Now it’s almost time for the 2008 frenzy. Bush’s second term is widely regarded as a disaster, and it’s not even close to half over. If there’s a lesson in what will be the past eight years by the time we vote for prez again, it’s twofold: The Republicans know how to win this thing, even when the chips are down; and “electable” means something different for the Democrats than it does for the Republicans. The party’s got to figure out just what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Hillary Clinton.

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Blogger Dezmond said...

Good stuff, JW. Nobody wants Hillary to be the Dem candidate more than the Republican faithful.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

I'm still considering putting money on Hillary. I think it depends upon which Republican she runs against and that is unclear at this point. She's shrewd and connected and willing to do anything to win. She's a Clinton for God's sake.

What about those veneers on Warner's teeth? And how cyborgian we look when we get veneers on the front 8 teeth but not the ones behind and then smile wide and these scary mustard-colored teeth emerge in close-up portraits? Yes, that was mean on the part of the Times.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

You should ask anyone not living in California or the northeast whether they would even consider voting for Hillary. She is a Clinton, much like Randy Quaid is related to Dennis Quaid.

3:46 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Whoa, whoa, politics are one thing, but are you disparaging Randy Quaid? I like Randy Quaid. Quaid-Quaid in '08!!

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that I do think anti-hillary sentiment does involve fear of a pushy broad planet. not all of it. but some of it. on some level. watch me as I speak without specific evidence at hand and having not read the times piece. I really don't think american men--and I'm talking american dads (my own included) and young and youngish american men with middle management jobs and middle-aged beer guts, say--don't know what to do with women politicians, with women in charge in general. see leslie fiedler's "love and death in the american novel". even worse, I don't think american women, largely mothers who weren't raised to be pushy broads, respond well to pushy broads either. (my own mother and relatives included.) it has long seemed to me that the only way we'll ever get a woman president--and I don't need to have one to feel like a fulfilled humorless feminist, I'd rather have as much reproductive freedom for all as possible--was if oprah decided to run. she probably will. only she'll ask that we refer to her as queen, not president.

I will accept charges of being full of bull&^%*&*.

as a democrat, though, I will agree with you that democrats are, in fact, idiots. I don't want hillary to run. I think she's an amazing woman, but I'm not sure that she's distinguished herself from her fellow congressional lemmings in any way other than her predictable (though necessary) outcry over the FDA's dicking around on the over the counter availability of the morning after pill. the republicans killed john mccain, sacrificed him--yet the democrats won't eat their own star player for a larger good. i.e. winning.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

I like Randy Quaid too, but you know what I was saying. There are varying levels of Clintons. Bill is smooth and can win many people over with his charm and empathy (even when he's full of shit), whereas Hillary is shrill, abrasive and divisive. I do not see the political acumen in her like I did her husband. Even happier than regular republicans if Hillary ran: Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity...those guys are salivating at the thought of the wonderful bevy of sound clips of Hillary to come in this election. They already take much glee in disparaging her, and so are well practiced and ready for the big race. I must admit, I often enjoy their roasting of Hillary, it is often very funny and witty. And she gives them oh so much to work with.

I do not have a problem with a female president, or a black one, or whatever. Just not Hillary. I do not find her impressive at all. It is like JW said earlier, just because I would not cast a vote for Al Sharpton does not mean I would never cast a vote for a black candidate. Just not him. Same with Hil. The majority of this country, I think you will find, feel the same way.

I personally would go with John McCain if he broke off and ran as an independent.

11:15 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

I actually don't find Hillary shrill and abrasive, Dezmond. I think you just hate women. (Kidding.) I find her deathly dull. I couldn't believe how lifeless her speech at the convention was in '04. I also find her so utterly political as to be often unprincipled, which is essentially the same problem I had with Bill. They're politicians as rock stars, and while that's exciting from time to time, it's just as often pretty sleazy.

And that's why I liked McCain so much. I still like him, but "anonymous" makes a great point about Republicans eating him alive. The way the Christian right attacked him, and the way that more mainstream Republicans went along with it and threw him under the bus, was disgusting. Completely shameful. And thus the other side of the coin: Republicans (in their current form) are loathsome. They're winners, but they're loathsome, and thus my independence remains unthreatened.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

You probably don't find her shrill and abrasive because of the region of the country in which you reside. You can get used to anything. =) (Please note smiley face). I actually thought Bill was alright, Hillary is a completely different animal.

The Rebublican machine turned against McCain for the simple reason that they knew they could not control his message and count on him. Bush has proven to ruffle Rebublican faithful feathers as well on some issues, but at the time they felt they could control him more than McCain. I would love to see a GOP ticket along the lines of McCain/Rudy G, but they wouldn't make it past the Repub primaries.

2:52 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Yes, I agree. The "machine" turned against him because it couldn't "control his message." Perhaps you define loathsome differently than I do.

Of course, a different way of saying they turned against him is saying that the most agressive, narrowly interested, and homophobic wing of the party denigrated a war hero who was managing to appeal to, you know, non-ideologues.

5:24 PM  

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