Republicans for Hillary, Part 2
Why conservatives want her to run.
Yesterday, Chatterbox demonstrated that the "Draft Hillary" movement consists almost entirely of conservative Republicans. Liberals are largely indifferent to the idea of Hillary running, and a few oppose it. Chatterbox puts himself in the latter camp. Sen. Clinton plainly lacks experience in elective politics, having served in the world's greatest deliberative body for a mere 32 months. Her one major foray into government policy-making—the shaping of President Clinton's ill-fated health-care plan—was a fiasco. Many people deserve some share of the blame. But Berkeley economist Brad DeLong, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of the treasury during the first two years of the Clinton administration and has a natural sympathy for his fellow Democrats, is blistering on the subject of Hillary:
She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly.
So when senior members of the economic team said that key senators like Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have this-and-that objection, she told them they were disloyal. When junior members of the economic team told her that the Congressional Budget Office would say such-and-such, she told them (wrongly) that her conversations with CBO head Robert Reischauer had already fixed that. When longtime senior Hill staffers told her that she was making a dreadful mistake by fighting with rather than reaching out to John Breaux and Jim Cooper, she told them that they did not understand the wave of popular political support the bill would generate.
The best possible face to put on this is that Sen. Clinton faces a steep learning curve before she can even think about becoming president. Let's check out her progress in four or eight years.
If there's no liberal groundswell for Hillary Clinton to enter the race, why is the right so convinced it will happen? Why, indeed, do they want it to happen? Chatterbox has no single explanation, but rather, six explanations.
- She brings a divided right together. There are all sorts of interesting fissures these days among conservatives. Neoconservatives are divided about whether to remain faithful to Donald Rumsfeld. Supply-siders (a group that, for convenience' sake, Chatterbox lumps with Paul Krugman's "Starve-the-Beasters") are mad at the neocons for waging a costly war that makes future tax cuts unthinkable. The military is mad at the Bush White House for stretching its resources too thin (a subject Chatterbox hopes to expand on later this week). Libertarians are mad at the Bush White House for post-9/11 infringements of civil liberties.
How to reunite these warring factions? Imagine an imminent presidential run by Hillary Clinton. Clinton-hating is perhaps the sole unifying principle left in the GOP.
- Nostalgia. The longing to re-create Clinton-bashing unity isn't based solely on political calculation. The right actually misses its halcyon days of concocting insane Clinton conspiracy theories (remember the Mena airport?). Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive! Now that they're in power, folks like Theodore Olson have to act respectable. It's mostly worth it, but it's a lot less fun.
- Fund raising. Some of the longing to re-create Clinton-bashing unity is based on political calculation. If the rank and file can be riled up into thinking a Clinton restoration is imminent, they will give generously to Republican candidates and causes.
- Belief that American politics is dynastic. For years, Republicans braced themselves for a Kennedy restoration that never happened. With George W. Bush, it did happen. Is this the future pattern of presidential politics? Chatterbox suspects not, but conservatives are temperamentally sympathetic to primogeniture. That's how Dubya got elected in the first place!
- Belief in their own Hillary caricature. The standard Republican view of the former first lady is that she's a power-grabbing bitch. By pretending that Hillary's scheming to seize the presidency, conservatives can claim to offer evidence for their view.
- A longing to make the 2004 presidential race interesting. Conservative journalists are no less inclined than other journalists to root for developments that will spice up political coverage. A Hillary bid would certainly achieve that.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of Hillary Clinton by Pierre Verdy/AFP Photo.