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Time Says Hillary Is A “Pragmatic Moderate”

Speaking of how absolutely laughable Time Magazine has become, they have also given us this objective and balanced cover story:

What Hillary Stands For

By Joe Klein

A few days after her roughest night as a candidate — the Oct. 30 Democratic presidential debate — Hillary Clinton could be found ambling along a spectacular bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in a town called Clinton, Iowa, with former Vice President Walter Mondale, a ghost of Democratic disasters past. It was the photo op for an endorsement that seemed a potential kiss of death. Mondale is a smart and decent man, but he ran the worst sort of cautious front-runner campaign for the nomination in 1984, was nearly upended by the younger, more dynamic Gary Hart in the primaries and was utterly trounced by Ronald Reagan in the general election, in part because, in an untypically incautious moment in his acceptance speech for the nomination, he said he would raise taxes.

Clinton has been accused of running a cautious front-runner campaign. She is challenged by a pair of dynamic younger candidates in Barack Obama and John Edwards. She has endorsed higher taxes for the wealthy. And more than a few Democrats worry that she cannot win a general election, even against a disgraced and exhausted Republican Party. In other ways, however, Clinton is the furthest thing from Mondale imaginable. A vote for Clinton is, at bottom, a radical proposition. It is a vote for the first woman to run for President, the most dramatic expansion of American possibility since a Catholic was elected President in 1960. In the past six months, Clinton has transformed herself into a far more dynamic campaigner than Mondale ever was.

But most important, there is a stark difference in political philosophy between them: Clinton is a pragmatic moderate, and Mondale was an old-fashioned liberal. Bill Clinton rode to the presidency as the champion of an organization, the Democratic Leadership Council, that was founded as a direct reaction against Mondale’s disastrous campaign. Indeed, a few minutes after the photo op, Senator Clinton offered the clearest statement of her own — and her husband’s — philosophy that I’ve ever heard. It came during a brisk question-and-answer session with local residents. A retired dairy farmer complained about the deregulation of his industry and asked what she’d do about it. “During this campaign, you’re going to hear me talk a lot about the importance of balance,” she began, after acknowledging that the Bush Administration had gone too far toward deregulation in most areas. “You know, our politics can get a little imbalanced sometimes. We move off to the left or off to the right, but eventually we find our way back to the center because Americans are problem solvers. We are not ideologues. Most people are just looking for sensible, commonsense solutions.”

It was classic Clinton. And having watched both Clintons for nearly 20 years now, I believe it is an honest summation of what they think they’re about: “Getting stuff done,” as Bill Clinton used to say. That means being flagrantly political, working the system, making the compromises necessary to get the best deal possible to enact their priorities. It is the domestic-policy equivalent of Realpolitik, and it drives partisans crazy on both sides of the political divide.

Conservatives go ballistic because they don’t see Hillary Clinton as a moderate at all — she’s a tax-raising, socialized-health-care-loving peacenik feminazi. She and her husband steal conservative memes and tropes to hoodwink the masses. During the political nuclear winter of the 1990s, Yale professor Stephen Skowronek opined that Bill Clinton was the sort of President who inspires a special frenzy in his opponents — Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon were others — because he takes the more accessible parts of their agendas and adopts them. Hillary Clinton inspired an even greater frenzy because she was a gender revolutionary, transforming the cotton-candy role of First Lady into a power position. She wasn’t nearly as charming as her husband either. And she seemed … tougher.

But Senator Clinton has trouble on the left as well, especially in a Democratic primary. The Clintons were always perceived, especially by the populist labor left, as Wall Street fellow travelers on issues like free trade and fiscal conservatism. They were seen as ideological trimmers, betraying the interests of the working class. These days, after seven years of Bush extremism, there is a fury in the Democratic base, an impatience with compromise — with The Politics of Parsing, as Edwards put it in a devastating webcast about Clinton’s performance in the Oct. 30 debate. And so, when Hillary Clinton and I sat down for a chat the day after the Mondale endorsement, I asked her about political balance. Most members of her party would agree that George W. Bush had taken the nation wildly off-kilter to the right, but when had the government been imbalanced to the left? “One would argue that welfare reform was to a great extent a reaction to going off too far in one direction,” she said carefully, acknowledging the success of her husband’s 1996 initiative — although, according to some historical accounts, she had reservations about it at the time. But she quickly moved back to the Bush presidency. “You don’t usually talk about political philosophy” in a political campaign, she said, but the public understands that Bush’s stampede to the right “is exactly what is wrong today … And it has been a dangerous experiment, in my view.” …

The propensity of Democrats to be chuckleheaded in ways easily exploited by Republicans is what Clinton, in most cases, is trying to avoid with her lawyerly answers. Her refusal to support higher Social Security taxes on the wealthy is a perfect example. “For the life of me, I don’t understand what my opponents are trying to achieve,” she said. “It is potentially a trillion-dollar tax increase.” Clinton’s point seems solid on several grounds. There are higher priorities than Social Security in 2008, especially if you want to enact universal health insurance or a real energy-independence plan, both of which will require revenue increases. And why start the negotiations now, in the Democratic primary? History shows, as Clinton attests, that the best way to deal with this issue is through a bipartisan commission, where both sides can share the blame for doing the right thing.

There is a larger problem with the conventional wisdom that Clinton has been too careful and calculating in this campaign. That charge is often expressed as a question about her “authenticity” — that foolish journalistic cliché meant to denote the appearance of informality and spontaneity. But authenticity is not the same as courage. You can fake authenticity. You can’t fake courage. Clinton has always had a problem with authenticity. Her laugh, sometimes awkwardly manufactured for public use yet always delightfully raucous in private, is Exhibit A. But her plans on the big domestic-policy issues — health care and energy — have been courageous and detailed, more sophisticated than her opponents’ — and very, very smart politically

Clinton’s actual foreign policy positions haven’t been much different from Joe Biden’s or Obama’s. She is rhapsodic about the possibilities of diplomacy, and she has earned the trust of the military because of her hard work on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Her refusal to be pinned down on her exact plans for leaving Iraq has been the subject of recent attacks by Edwards. But Edwards’ proposal to immediately withdraw 50,000 troops from Iraq — without saying which troops, from what regions and what the remaining troops would do — demonstrates a careless political expediency on an issue that demands the utmost care

The prospect of a woman President is so unusual that there is a real need to sell a textbook political image, the notion that Clinton wouldn’t be much different from, or less tough than, any of her male opponents. There is a need to show her as solid and personally conservative — the sort of person who won’t go crazy on us. And there is the ever present all-too-textbook reality of the Clinton machine: a campaign awash in the dark arts of polling, market-testing and fund-raising…

As I’ve watched Clinton perform over the past year, it has been hard not to admire the sheer effort she’s made — to know the issues, to become a more effective speaker on the stump, to be more personable, to loosen up a little. It is also hard not to admire the sheer, pellucid quality of her intelligence. She has already proved herself an indefatigable campaigner and a deft debater, with a personal confidence that Bill — who always seemed desperate for approval — never had. Rather than collapse under the pressure of what promises to be a tense and thrilling campaign, she seems more likely to break free from the cocoon of her stereotype and emerge from the shadow of her husband’s brilliance

“Who knows?” said Karl Rhomberg, a former Scott County Democratic chairman, after watching Clinton perform in Davenport, Iowa. He pointed out that four years ago, in November, Howard Dean was inevitable, and John Kerry was over. “But 40% were undecided going into the last week of the caucus. It’ll be the same this time. Hillary is 20% smarter than the guys, but a woman has to be just to pull equal. And I can’t stand thinking about what Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are going to do to her. People are just sick of that. They love Obama. He’s very inspiring. But in the end, Iowans vote on electability. I hate to say it, but my guess is they’ll vote for the white guy — Edwards — this time, just like they voted for the war hero last time.”

It was a chilling thought. I’m sure Edwards wouldn’t want to win that way, and I’m not so sure he will. But Rhomberg’s scenario wasn’t at all implausible.

It certainly raises the central issue of this Democratic campaign: whether Hillary Clinton’s excellence as a candidate will be enough to overcome her family’s garish political history, the undiluted hatred that will be directed against her and the demons that still haunt our nation.

Even madam herself must find it hard not to laugh at such preposterous mendacities and shameless, vomit-inducing fawning.

Again one has to ask, will Mr. Klein’s contribution in kind be reported to the FEC?

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, November 14th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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