Saturday, January 20, 2007

Now, Matters Are Worse
It wasn't a surprise, but it was still a bummer to wake up this morning to the news that Hillary Clinton, Our Lady of Perpetual Triangulation, has officially jumped in to the 2008 presidential race.

How her campaign unfolds will tell us a lot about where our political culture is after two terms of a president who never should have been allowed within 500 yards of the Oval Office. George W. Bush won in 2000 on the strengths of a famous name, an enormous bank account, undue and undeserved deference from the media, and perhaps most importantly a widespread sense that it didn't much matter who was president. Hillary Clinton has the first two, and while she won't get anything like the kid-glove treatment Bush got from the press, the experience of 15 years in the unblinking spotlight has made her perhaps better than anyone alive at talking without actually saying anything.

Will the mediots point this out? Will her opponents? On a certain level, the question becomes whether or not one can get away with saying nothing of substance so long as the megaphone is sufficiently powerful.

I won't reiterate at length my other objections to Hillary's campaign--that there's no clear purpose to it, that Democrats down the ballot (perhaps most importantly, those freshmen House members in purple or light-red territory) would be forced to run away from her, that even if she wins she won't be able to effectively govern. But it's worth pointing out that the advantages of money and organization are probably largest in the first stretch of the nomination race. With seven or eight candidates in the field, she can win pluralities in the high 20s and low 30s; as the field thins, those dropping out will be under pressure to endorse the likely winner, and eventually it could and probably will come down to Hillary versus Not-HIllary. At that point, a ton of institutional weight falls upon Not-Hillary: stop resisting the inevitable, stop doing the Republicans' oppo work for them, stop squandering resources we'll need for November. Unless she's been bloodied by then, Not-Hillary won't win that duel.

Then to a convention and nomination that, in its staged meaninglessness, will make the Democrats' last two gatherings look like the Algonquin Club; a hyper-motivated Republican base and millions more who might be disgusted by Bush's failures but would sooner eat their own livers than vote for That Woman; the endless re-fighting of the Clinton Wars; the eventual election of a president whom either half the country hates or whose victory could be seen as a vindication of the Bush disaster.

It's a potential nightmare, for the Democrats and much more importantly for the country. We are facing HUGE problems in the next ten years, from global warming, to demographic change and strain on entitlements. to unsteady competitive standing in the post-industrial economy, to the viral spread of religious extremism worldwide. The idea of that stuff getting crowded out of the debate by still more analysis of the Clinton marriage and scandals should horrify every American who cares about our collective future.

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