Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Why Hillary will never be President


I am presently reading Hillary Clinton’s autobiography, Living History. The self-aggrandisement doesn’t stop at the title. The book is riddled with false modesty, coupled with a peculiar kind of over-reaching grand vision, a large dollop of self-justification and a number of cautious restatements of friendship, favours which will no doubt be called in on a future occasion.

Let’s be clear: I think Hillary’s a babe. As even Michael Moore commented, “Boy, is she easy on the eyes!” (I think it was in here). How Bill could have overlooked her in favour of the frankly rather frumpy Monica Lewinsky is beyond my comprehension (unless he, like his predecessor and hero JFK, is a sufferer from satyriasis, in which case any port in a storm). And one thing that comes through clearly from her memoirs is her dedication to the rights of women and a determination to improve social justice for worse-off Americans.

So, would I weep if Hillary made it to the White House? Not at all. The Democrats would be back in power, we’d have a female President for the first time, and what’s more it would be one genuinely interested in promoting the welfare of her own sex and not ignoring it in a Thatcherish 'more-macho-than-the-boys' sort of way.

I just don’t think she’s going to make it. (Click 'More' now!)

First things first: the 2008 election is a long way away. We haven’t even had the mid-terms yet. There are several possible candidates for the Democratic nomination. Hillary may be heading the list now, but there is no absolute guarantee that she would seek the nomination. I can’t believe she wouldn’t (and there is a grassroots campaign emerging to force her into standing) but there are other contenders, some of whom have already declared an interest in standing (like Joe Biden) and some of whom haven’t but are expected to pitch in (like Mark Warner). There’s going to be a lot of excitement – possibly even desperation – among Democrats about the prospect of wresting the White House back from the neocons, and there are going to be a lot of people who want to be The One That Does It. Even John Kerry can’t be ruled out of having another go (after all, he came close last time and he may have the example of Richard Nixon in mind – a near miss the first time, then victory later on. Of course, a better example to keep in mind might be Adlai Stevenson, another twice-runner).

However, let’s assume the Democrats do go with her and that she wins enough primaries to secure the nomination. I believe that she cannot win the White House back. She’ll get a decent chunk of the vote, but it won’t be enough to carry the necessary states. Here’s why.

First, the most likely Republican candidates would all beat her. At the moment (and, again, remember that there’s still a long way to go) the likeliest candidates are John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Condi Rice. All three come with baggage: McCain and Giuliani are both divorced and have had cancer treatment. McCain was also vociferous in pushing for the War on Iraq, increasingly looking like a mistake in the eyes of many Americans. He failed to win the nomination against Dubya, and is believed to have run a lacklustre campaign, after a promising start. He will also be 72 at election time, which would make him the oldest ever first-time candidate. Giuliani is pro-choice (and a Catholic), and many in the Religious Right have committed themselves to opposing his candidacy. Rice is closely associated with the Bush regime and with the Iraq debacle. She is also black, which may make a difference to some white voters.

Nevertheless, to my sadness, I believe all three would beat Hillary.

McCain enjoys a popular reputation as a moderate (and sometimes maverick) Republican, the only senator to vote against his party on several key bills. He represents a southern state. Although he has been strong in urging on the Iraq War, he has been critical of the way it has been carried out and famously stated he had no confidence in Donald Rumsfeld. He has a high-profile media image and is widely recognised across the US. His strongly pro-life views may help win the Religious Right round to him, despite his marital history. In any case, even if he loses some of the Christian support that helped Bush over the line in 2004, he will pick up a lot of the centrist Democratic vote because of his moderation in key areas, his co-operation with Democratic senators (including Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold) and his personal charm and appeal. McCain has, as a footnote, toured New Hampshire and spoken in every town there. Although New Hampshire is a small state in terms of electoral votes, and was the only state to swing to the Democrats in 2004, his popularity there may help it back into the red fold - and, in any case, it will give him a good chance in the important first primary (just as it did in 2000).

Giuliani has a strong campaign behind him, even before he runs. He would be challenging Hillary on her home turf, New York (and it would be interesting to see if he could carry that state in a Presidential contest – if he did, it would be all over for her). His handling of the 9/11 emergency is widely believed to have been both efficient and compassionate, and made him a godlike figure among many. He is the subject of a Draft Giuliani for President campaign (like Rice and Hillary). He is widely credited with reducing crime and improving the economy of New York City. A CNN poll last December ranks him even higher than McCain among Republicans.

Both McCain and Giuliani also have the advantage of being male. I’m not sure the Americans are ready for a female President – unless they’re forced to have one, which brings me onto Condolezza Rice.

There is no indication that Rice is considering standing for President (and she is the least likely of the three Republicans I have mentioned to stand), but many former Secretaries of State have moved on to the highest office, and there are many groups attempting to draft her (such as this one). Polls show her beating every likely Democratic contender. She has the Southern credentials which are apparently necessary for any Republican contender these days. Her race may count against her among white voters, but it is likely to push a lot of black voters into her camp. Educated voters will be attracted by her intellectual prowess and her linguistic abilities (though it’s claimed she may not be as fluent in Russian as she appears, leading Fox News to jump the gun on her Presidential ambitions). She was even a Democrat until 1982. Her views on abortion are not known, but are unlikely to be more liberal than Hillary’s.

Perhaps Rice’s strongest suit is her standing on the world stage. She is perceived to have brought gravitas and competence to her office (where her predecessor, Colin Powell, perhaps too nice a man for the job, was often seen to be floundering). As one of America’s faces on the world stage, she has contrasted powerfully with the bumblings of her President, the snarlings of her Vice-President and the inexplicability of her Defense Secretary. (Although part of this is probably the “talking dog” syndrome of which Hillary rightly complains in her memoirs.)

The other person who will beat Hillary is Hillary herself. She’s just got too much going against her to win the election. While she has a strong, vociferous, devoted bedrock of support across the country, she is the kind of person who polarises opinion and there are as many people against her as for her (partly because she’s the kind of person who polarises opinion – after the splits revealed in American society in the last two elections, voters may be looking for a consensus candidate, someone who can bring both sides together. This suggests McCain or Rice, but not Clinton). She is a Chicagoan who represents New York, and the only Southern state she could possibly count on for support would be Arkansas. Rumours, failures and scandal flit around her like evil shadows – Whitewater, the failure of her healthcare plan, her husband’s infidelity, her recent comments on Martin Luther King Day (and more - I can't believe there's an entire Wikipedia page devoted to Hillary-related controversies). She seems to stir up trouble wherever she goes, although it’s clear that most of the trouble is stirred up by her opponents. Karl Rove must have had an anti-Hillary strategy drawn up for years. She’ll be a sitting duck. Furthermore, as one of the many Democrats in the Senate who supported the War on Iraq, support from the left-wing of her core can no longer be taken for granted.

And there's one more thing: how many sitting Senators have gone on to be President? They tend to be elected from governorships (Dubya, Clinton, Reagan, Carter - since the war, only Kennedy made it to the Presidency from the Senate). There's a maxim among political pundits in America that says voters are instinctively mistrustful of Washington insiders, and that they prefer to elect someone who's been 'on the ground' (which swings the balance back towards Giuliani).

I’d love to see Hillary as President, though I’m not at all convinced she’d make a good job of it. McCain and Rice I could live with, if only because they are, respectively, independently-minded and intelligent. But if the neocon agenda, which has already cost the lives of thousands of American and other troops, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, not to mention benefited the wealthy of America to a huge degree to the detriment of the poorest, is to be stopped this can only be done with a Democratic victory. And Hillary is not the person to deliver that victory, alas.

[FOOTNOTE: I should add that I am notoriously bad at predicting elections, so no doubt 2008 will see George Allen taking on Evan Bayh...]


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