As an Obama guy, I’m obviously disappointed. But given how insanely unpredictable things have been, I’ll pass tonight on predicting what it all means. My first thought was that it’s a body blow for Obama given that Clinton is the establishment candidate. But that’s probably premature – as several commenters in the last thread have reminded me.
Instead, I want to focus on the gender backlash theory that’s gaining traction as the explanation for Clinton’s win. The nickel version is that women went overwhelmingly (and seemingly suddenly) for Clinton in response to the excessive HRC-bashing following Iowa, and more specifically, following the tears. These specific events, in turn, took place against the larger backdrop of frustration that many women have felt about Clinton’s media treatment throughout the election. The theory may be rubbish, but I’m assuming the theory is correct for purposes of this post (and, frankly, I think it is correct).
With that disclaimer, one positive result of Clinton’s victory is that it will force the media (and me) to pay more attention to women’s grievances about the election coverage. For this very reason, I’ve been reflecting tonight on why exactly I oppose Clinton in the primary. Frankly, I wanted to make sure I opposed her for the right reasons, and that I wasn’t holding her to unfair standards. And for reasons I’ll explain, I sincerely believe that I am doing it for the right reasons.
I fully concede that sexism (perhaps subconsciously) is playing a role in her wretched media coverage. This many women this angry can’t all be wrong. There’s definitely some there there – some “there” that I wasn’t seeing (or perhaps ignoring).
But that said, I personally find that a lot of my opposition to Clinton has less to do with her than with an emotional attachment to Obama. Against my better judgment perhaps, I truly believe that Obama could be a game-changer. Ezra Klein caught some crap for it, but I understand the emotions that led him to write those words.
Coming of political age in the Gingrich/late Clinton era, I’ve never really been inspired by any politician. It’s been a mix of outrage and ironic detachment from ’94 on. So you should forgive Ezra – and our generation more generally – if we use some flowing rhetoric from time to time. It’s a newfangled thing for us – and we’re not that good at it. It’s like getting drunk for the first time. You may utter some stupid stuff, but it’s still fun, so you don’t really care.
When the primary fumes pass, we’ll all come around to Clinton, especially compared to the GOP monstrosities. But with Clinton, my perception is that none of this inspired future is possible. Hers will be a competent, moderate, K Street-friendly administration. But I want more – and I think the nation could get more. Thus, my frustration with Clinton’s victory probably has less to do with her personally, than with the fact that I see a very different sort of future slipping away if she wins (or if Edwards wins for that matter). Sure, I’m probably overestimating Obama’s potential energy, but so what. I think it’s just as possible that people are underestimating it. I’m with Andrew Sullivan on that point.
But even putting Obama aside, I want to emphasize that my opposition to Clinton herself is policy-based rather than personality-based.* The problem is that the specific types of policy disagreements I have with Clinton are ones that generate strong emotions. Thus, it’s easy to mistake emotional-yet-ultimately-policy-based critiques with unfair sexism (though I’m not denying that sexism plays a role for many opponents). Here then is a brief rundown of those policy disagreements.
First, and most fundamentally, I think her actions on the national security front disqualify her. The Dems should not reward radio silence on Iraq, torture, etc. during the years it mattered with a presidential nomination. Period. It doesn’t make her a monster, or even a bad person. But it should at least mean you don’t get to be president. If you make an insincere political gamble, you have to pay that bill if you lose. Kerry paid it, and Edwards did too.
Second, and relatedly, I have fears about her national security judgment going forward. Specifically, I fear that she’s so afraid of looking liberal that she either won’t attempt bold change (e.g., Cuba, Israel/Palestine), or will be bullied into doing something foolish (Iran). Her past positions are strong evidence of what she’ll do in the future – see, e.g., Kyl-Lieberman – and it’s not good.
Third, on domestic policy, I think she’s got all the right stuff – she’s brilliant and has great policy proposals. But the fear is that those proposals will just collect dust in the White House policy shop. I’ve seen nothing since 1994 that indicates the slightest willingness to take political risk for something she believes in. She’s too cautious and scared (just like Kerry). Turning back to Obama briefly, I’m more convinced that he’ll at least try to aim high. I also believe that an Obama victory would create more favorable underlying social and political conditions for real progressive change.
Fourth, I detest her administration-in-waiting. Well, it’s not so much I detest it (it will be better than Bush’s), but I think the country would do better with a fresh start. I’m not really talking about the Secretary of State, but the next tier down – i.e., the players who will run the executive branch on the micro-DC level. Edwards’s remark the other day was abhorrent, but he is right that a Clinton administration would be extremely K Street friendly. DC is full of exiled Clintonites. They’ve been biding their time in DC law firms and consulting shops getting wealthy. If Clinton wins, they’ll simply move their offices across town and re-assume control of the government’s purse. They’ve had a full decade to become more entwined with K Street interests, and they’ve probably gained a few pounds, both literally and figuratively in the Thomas Nast sense. For this reason, a Clinton victory won’t exactly be Andrew Jackson’s inauguration when a new social order stormed the capital. There will be a lot more “new boss/old boss” than you might imagine.
All that said, I am sympathetic to many women’s critique of Clinton’s admittedly unfair media and political treatment. I’ll tackle that in my next post.
*(I admit that I’ve said foolish things before, like voicing opposition because of frustrations with something Bill did. I’m going to work harder to stop doing that).