A year from today, Americans will go to their local polling places in schools, community halls, and firehouses around the country to choose the 44th President of the United States. As a lifelong Democrat and a committed liberal on social issues - and as a blogger - I believe Senator Hillary Clinton from New York is quite clearly the best choice as our nation's next chief executive.
I say "as a blogger" because that distinction matters. The 2008 election is our first national vote to be truly influenced by the lightning-quick communications of intertwined social networks, weblogs, and online communities; 2004 and its Howard Dean boomlet was a mere appetizer. That cycle anticipated the digital weave of political organizing but it pre-dated the actual loom itself, and many of the innovations - particularly in the area of video-sharing - that we've all enjoyed over the last three years.
Further, endorsing Senator Clinton as a blogger is in many ways far more important than endorsing her as a consultant, as a writer, as a local Democrat. My small online network of friends, and readers, and correspondents links me to a much wider network of networks, and the link to this endorsement will reach further than any phone call or email or pamphlet. It may not influence a single vote. Indeed, I don't expect it will. But I do believe it will cause some small sub-group of readers to think a bit, and some smaller group of them to write. And so the conversation continues.
In truth, I've been for Clinton since the morning of November 3, 2004 when we awoke to the terrible news that the failed and outrageously immoral administration of George Bush and Richard Cheney would continue for four more long and painful years; the news that we Democrats had failed to nip the neo-con scourge closer to the main branch of Republicanism, that it would metastasize and drag our national reputation farther from the sunlight into the gloom of slow disaster. I thought then (as I do now) that former Vice-President Al Gore would not run again for President, and that he was engaged more successfully farther upriver from electoral politics. And I've been telling people who care about politics for the last three years that I believed the Democrats would nominate Clinton and that she would win election.
Three years ago, I had one overriding reason for hoping Clinton would run for President: her ability to win as a progressive Democrat.
I have to admit that it sounded crazy to many I sounded out on the possibility. Doesn't the right-wing despise her? Isn't she polarizing? Aren't people sick of the Clintons and their baggage?
But I believed then - and frankly, I've been rewarded in that belief - that Senator Clinton was tough enough, and mean enough, and organized enough to deal with what had become the snarling monster in our midst: the conservative smear machine, the ministry of disinformation that has infected the Republican Party. I saw what happened to John Kerry, an accomplished enough liberal Senator from Massachusetts. Money wasn't enough. A resume wasn't enough. And I'd also seen what Clinton accomplished in New York - overcoming the carpetbagger image, brushing aside the snide anti-feminist caricatures, and turning her so-called "baggage" into strength. I saw her polling numbers rise and not just in the city, and when Giuliani stepped aside (sick but also trailing badly in the polls) I saw her easily dispense with a lightweight named Rick Lazio.
I've spoken with Hillary Clinton on exactly two occasions, once in a rope line for a simple handshake greeting and once after a prominent charity dinner in New York the year before the 2004 election. That conversation lasted perhaps 45 seconds, but I was immediately struck by just how far off the media caricature of her personality was; we discussed a mutual friend and talked about the night's speeches. She was engaged and smiling and I recall she made a small joke about another Democratic politician, and then she was moving off to shake other hands and crack other small jokes. Hillary Clinton, I'd just learned, was charming.
And that charm is something of a secret weapon. It accounts for her wildly successful retail politics in New York State, where she took every Republican upstate county save one a year ago. It accounts for her popularity in the Senate, even among political enemies. And it accounts for her performance thus far in this race for the Democratic nomination. Quite frankly, Hillary Clinton is the most compelling personality on the stage.
She is also cunning. Shrewd. Quick. Calculating. Opportunistic. All strengths, you see. Sure, there are those who will say combining those traits with her gender creates an unflattering, unfeminine portrait - the kind of woman Americans instinctively dislike.
To which I say: baloney. There are two answers to the gender conundrum created by the first serious female candidate for President, and neither of them is good for Republicans. The first is obvious, but understated by the national media - it's a demographic strength. In the primary, 60% of Democratic voters are women. And in the general election, the largest group of independent voters consists of women. Hillary Clinton was never going to get the older, male, conservative vote. It literally doesn't matter to her at all. Getting a huge percentage of independent women and an overwhelming turnout from Democratic women is a vital strategic advantage, quite possibly an election decider. Secondly, demographics. Okay, that's twice. But I mean less immediately obvious ones. For the first time in our history, female graduates of U.S. colleges outnumber males. In New York, women have caught up to men in compensation. Women dominate the growing nonprofit sector, increasingly more active in causes and policy than men. And for the first time ever, there are more single women than married women in the United States.
This is not to say that Senator Clinton should be elected to the Presidency because she is a woman, satisfying as that may be to feminists. It is to say, however, that being an accomplished, charming, well-funded, and eminently capable woman increases the likelihood that she will be President. And it may increase the possibility of an effective administration.
I do not wish to diminish the other Democratic hopefuls. I admire Senators Dodd and Biden and could easily vote for them. Senator Obama is a dramatic big-picture speaker, and his generational view can be compelling. Governor Richardson has not appeared comfortable as a national candidate and may well run for the Senate from New Mexico. Former Senator Edwards has appeared desperate and his strategies have permanently damaged his reputation, but there is some truth in his populist message. And I believe that efforts to attack and diminish Senator Clinton just before the primary season have the smell of panic and failure about them, and they provide ammunition to the right-wing machine to exploit next fall.
Many of my fellow bloggers, Democrats, and progressives will find this post cynical and sadly lacking in both specific policy and greater vision. They have a right to feel that way; nowhere in this post is there a defense of Clinton's Iraq vote, her husband's mixed record as a progressive, her recent Iranian sword rattling, and other areas where my view may diverge from the Senator's. I've written here mainly about Senator Clinton's ability to win. Other posts will follow. But conservatives and Republicans should, I'd suggest, quietly put down that stone if they've cast a vote for President in either of the last two elections. Nothing can equal the win-at-all-costs cynicism and dishonesty - the disgraceful lack of vision - of this administration and its cronies.
Nor should this endorsement suggest any formal connection to her considerable campaign apparatus; there is none. I have blogging buddies in several campaigns, and indeed a considerable number of friends who would prefer Gore, Obama, Bloomberg or even Giuliani. This is just my personal view, a year away from the national election.
Hillary Clinton is not a perfect candidate for President, nor is she the guardian of some imagined liberal purity. She's a hard-nosed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and she compromises on a daily basis to maintain that status. The hard right accuses her of being a socialist who wants to create an all-powerful Federal hegemony over individual liberties. Many on the left accuse her being an extension of Cheney-Bush. In reality, she's a progressive Democrat with wide streak of political realism about what can and can't be accomplished within the realm of national policy - a viewpoint that was hard-earned on the national stage, I might add.
To all the doubting progressives out there, I'd ask: who's your favorite Democratic President? FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Carter, Clinton? Which one was pure, didn't compromise ideals, didn't moderate his personal views? And of that group, who accomplished the most? I'd suggest it was the man who was the most cunning. Shrewd. Quick. Calculating. Opportunistic.
Briefly, to policy. It is my belief that President Hillary Clinton’s administration would mean the following:
- No Supreme Court justices like Scalia, Thomas, Roberts or Alito
- National health care
- A sane foreign policy built upon constant negotiation and real intelligence
- Competent management of the Federal government
- A best-possible-under-the-circumstances exit from Iraq
- No torture and the return of habeas corpus
- A stronger dollar, less deficit spending, and the end of the Bush tax cuts
- A greener national energy policy
- Federal funding for stem cell research
And that’s about it. Compare that list to where we are now. Who wouldn’t take it, nine from years from now? What more do you hope for? Again, think of what Presidents do, and who they are. They're not preachers or wizards or dreamers.
To recover from these eight horrific years, we must be realistic. To pull the United States from its international stagnation and quagmire, we must turn a cool and calculating – and progressive - eye to the world. We need a competent hand at the tiller. We need someone who not only believes in "big shoulders government" but can put that belief into action.
But first, we must win. And that's why this blogger supports Senator Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.
UPDATE: Tons of reaction out there to this piece, almost all of it from Democrats. Starting with DailyKos, where linfar posted a diary consisting of a link here and asked for comments. There were plenty. First, a couple of the anti-Clintons:
Tom Watson does not "say it all". It's a lot of twaddle motivated mostly by the fact that he was for Hillary early and now wants credit -- if not a decent federal job -- for his prescience. But notwithstanding the froth &f oam of the piece generally, he is right about one thing: Hillary Clinton is the most compelling personality on that stage. She benefits from the right-wing caricature because now that people are actually seeing her as she is, she's a lot better than they said she'd be. People are pleasantly surprised.
Read the blog report and didn't find anything in it about HRC that impressed me one way or another over the other candidates. Wow, she's not a republican and wouldn't support torture or whatever, but what's the big deal about that? And even more, it goes on to say that she's electable. Wow, I could go for that if somehow our other candidates were not electable, but that's not the case.
Well-written article, Mr. Watson but, again, most of your support for Hillary boils down to horse-race issues, her "ability to win as a progressive Democrat." What makes her more electable than Edwards or Obama, or Dodd if he had the name recognition? You paint her less-than-progressive votes on Iraq and Iran as being the product of a "wide streak of political realism about what can and can't be accomplished" - how does supporting Bush in Iraq (until the polls turned against it) and on Iran qualify as realism? Basically, it seems that you support her because she's the front-runner and the establishment candidate. I guess it's human nature to do that. But after 6.5ish years of rally 'round the President with Bush, I can't think like that anymore.
But there were plenty of Clinton supporters on a site that generally skews anti-Clinton. Here's a couple of snippets:
That Watson guy is right on ... and anyone who thinks the Clinton agenda would be meaningless, or "not real change," is coming pretty close to the National Review caricature of progressives as well-heeled ingenues who think politics is a philosophers' game without real consequences. Clinton would get the job done--a job worth doing, despite the millenarian views of the Obamistas (who don't see that their candidate is a conservative and compromiser by temperment) and the Edwardsians (who would rather fight the good fight and lose, than fight the OK fight and win).
My theory ... is that the Edwards supporters, God love 'em, skew a good bit younger than the norm here. That's the only explanation I can think of for their constant, vociferous and very literal comparisons of the Clintons to the Republicans. No one who came of age in the '90s or earlier would ever commingle the two.
Meanwhile, Matt Ortega - a blogger I really respect - rejects my arguments here in detail. Please read the whole post and give Matt your comments (he makes some excellent points) but here's the gist, I think:
Senator Clinton is certainly not “an extension of Cheney-Bush,” but she is unquestionably the quintessential Washington insider candidate in what is obviously a “change” election following the disastrous Bush reign. Senator Edwards sees this. Senator Obama sees this. She uses the phraseology about “change” in her campaign and messaging but insiders are less likely to push for the significant change that, in my estimation, is desperately needed in the post-George W. Bush era. It seems to me that many Hillary supporters connect her candidacy to President Bill Clinton’s presidency, but it is a false nostalgic return to the ’90s.
I also got some heated reaction over at HuffPo, where this is cross-posted. Thanks to Arianna, HuffPo is also anti-Clinton territory these days. Some samples:
Hillary's only progressive if you believe her rhetoric and ignore her record. Their idea of electability didn't work out so well in 2004, yet here we go again. You may think she can win without my vote, and you may be right. You better hope so, because she won't get it.
If Hillary is the nominee, you can say good-bye to people-powered politics, the 50 state strategy, and any role for the netroots, the grassroots, or outsiders of any kind in the Democratic Party. With Team Hillary in command, the party will revert to a strict pay-to-play business model favored by Bill Clinton and Terry McAuliffe.
You certainly learned a lot about Hillary in your 45-second "discussion." And we learned two things about you in your incredibly wordy post: 1) you like Hillary and, 2) you are very naive. Hillary stinks.
Some sheep just want to vote for a woman. Nothing else penetrates their thick skulls. I have seen this happen over and over with women candidates. Even the very stupidest and corrupt women get votes just for being a woman.
Yet despite Ms. Huffington's best anti-frontrunner efforts, there was some postive to go with the attacks:
You hit a lot on nails on the head. As a NH Blogger and activist my endorsement of Hillary always brings up the "is she progressive?" questioning. Here in NH all but the most vitriolic lefties are finally looking at her records. I've also met her. She was generous with her time with me. Five minutes following a major policy speech. I had the same reaction that many who have met her privately in NH have. My goodness, she's nice. She's real.
A distinct plus for me, though, is her strength, poise, and mental quickness while "on stage". It's a rare quality, and unfortunately, if a candidate doesn't have it but the opponent does, the opponent often stands a better chance of getting elected. Even if he or she is...well...not exactly presidential material.
Have you ever ridden a bumpy-gaited,startle-prone, stumble-bum horse that you have to guide and prod every little step of the way, as opposed to a smooth-gaited, sure-footed and steady one that can automatically pick the best route? Hillary, for all her imperfections, seems more that second kind of horse.
And Ezra Klein weighed in, as well with a mixed reaction:
Tom Watson makes the case for Hillary Clinton. I don't disagree with much of what he's said. My problem is what he hasn't said. That Hillary Clinton, when she declares that Iran cannot be allowed to procure nukes and military force will be used if necessary, is lying. That and health care are my threshhold issues. Clinton has convinced me on health care. In some ways, I think she's the best of the set on the issue, and the most sophisticated in her political approach to it. But on foreign policy, her advisers, and many of her statements, scare me.