Ghosts of Un-Hillarys Past

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 13 2013 10:59 AM

Ghosts of Un-Hillarys Past

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Remember former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen? Of course you do, because he's president of the United States now.

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Jason Linkins takes one last swing at TNR's "Elizabeth Warren 2016?" cover by reminding us of the time TNR profiled Russ Feingold as the Un-Hillary to Watch. I'm remembering the Great Lost Un-Hillary of 2005, profiled by Clay Risen about the time the magazine profiled Feingold: Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. Bredesen had won a close 2002 election, then thrived in office with an "un-glamorous agenda" consisting largely of taking 300,000 people off the state's Medicaid program.

Earlier this month, he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) regional caucus, and he has quietly begun laying the groundwork for a possible presidential bid. Given his background, Bredesen is the last person you would expect to find shooting trap on an East Tennessee farm or leading an increasingly red state. And yet there he is. Now some Democrats are beginning to think Bredesen is exactly the sort of person they want to see leading the party in 2008.
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Well, yeah, that didn't happen. Nor did the Mark Warner for President campaign that was actually getting staffed and vetted throughout 2006. Both were predicated on a Democratic fear that quickly became outdated—that the GOP's Bush-era appeal to middle America meant that the Democrats needed some Southern, white face to win back voters. Hillary 2008? She was too divisive! She'd lose.

When Bush's approval numbers collapsed and the Iraq War festered, it became clear that basically any Democrat could win the presidency. Hence the Obama movement, and hence the lack of real oomph behind any 2016 un-Hillary. Democrats now think/know that the path to victory is turning out more nonwhites and winning just enough of their old base.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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