Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 2, 2005
POLITICS: Weisberg's Makeover
Yes, the same old voices in the media are lining up already to say Hillary's not that liberal. Slate's Jacob Weisberg takes a crack:
One facile argument, often voiced by Hillary-loathers on the right, is that she's too far to the left. The "real" Hillary is closer to Howard Dean than Bill Clinton, a recent piece in the National Review asserted. Wrong! An unhedged supporter of the war in Iraq, Sen. Clinton stands at the hawkish, interventionist extreme of her party on foreign policy.OK, she's not a Deaniac on foreign policy. But then, this comes from the same people who ignored foreign policy when they were trying to convince us that Dean himself was a centrist, 19 months ago.
Despite her pandering vote against CAFTA, she's a confirmed free-trader and deficit hawk.
Well, voting against CAFTA is one of her first major public stances on free trade - and as Weisberg's old boss Michael Kinsley has pointed out, you can't cast a vote like that and be a free trader.
And, "deficit hawk"? She's for tax hikes, yes. She's probably against pork, if it goes to Congressional Republicans. But when has Hillary stood up for spending cuts? Liberals constantly argue that their people are "fiscal conservatives" if they can balance a budget by jacking up taxes. That's not conservatism; real fiscal conservatism is keeping taxes and spending low. A candidate who keeps only one of the two low - like Bush - may be faulted for insufficient conservatism, but there's a word for a candidate who wants both to be higher: liberal.
On the cultural issues that often undermine Democrats, she seeks common ground, sometimes with flat-earth conservatives like Rick Santorum, and has been nattering about the "tragedy" of abortion.
This is, in the main, symbolism and empty rhetoric; look at Hillary's pronouncements going back decades and what you will actually see is the worst combination of preachy judgmentalism and leftist cant.
Even Hillary's notorious government takeover of health care was misconstrued as an ultra-lib stance. In opting for a mixed, private-public managed-competition plan, the then-first lady was repudiating the single-payer model long favored by paleo-liberals. Her plan was flawed in many ways, but it wasn't what Ted Kennedy wanted.
OK, it wasn't single-payer, but it sure as heck was a big government takeover of one seventh of the economy. And probably would have ended up as a single-payer plan.
What, then, of the complaint that Hillary is doomed by association with her husband, or perhaps by their marital issues? This problem encompasses various assumptions - that voters don't want to be embarrassed by the name Monica Lewinsky again, that they don't accept Hillary's marriage as authentic, or that another 50,000 late-night comedy jokes about her horndog husband would somehow crush her chances. The conservative attack machine would surely make the most of all these vulnerabilities. But let's not forget that Bill is an asset as well. Swing voters feel positively about his presidency, and increasingly about his post-presidential role. Many would welcome his policy acumen, experience, and political wisdom back to the White House. And, let's admit it - our culture plainly can't get enough of naughty celebrities. Would Florida and Ohio really choose a dull opportunist like Bill Frist over four more years of excellent Clinton drama?
I agree that the public won't want to be reminded of all the old scandals, but it wasn't all just Monica, and some of the scandals - like the Marc Rich pardon - can't be dismissed as old news when the Clintons haven't faced the voters since then.
On the other hand, at least Weisberg does acknowledges that her personality is poison:
Yet Hillary does face a genuine electability issue, one that has little to do with ideology, woman-hating, or her choice of life partner. Plainly put, it's her personality. In her four years in the Senate, Hillary has proven herself to be capable, diligent, formidable, effective, and shrewd. She can make Republican colleagues sound like star-struck teenagers. But she still lacks a key quality that a politician can't achieve through hard work: likability. As hard as she tries, Hillary has little facility for connecting with ordinary folk, for making them feel that she understands, identifies, and is at some level one of them. You may admire and respect her. But it's hard not to find Hillary a bit inhuman. Whatever she may be like in private, her public persona is calculating, clenched, relentless - and a little robotic.