Monday, May 09, 2005

Whither Hillary

Besides the Geena Davis factor, is there anything interesting to say on Hillary Clinton’s looming candidacy? Some people are trying. Like a lot of people, I like and respect Sen. Clinton but think a presidential candidacy would bring back the worst of the 1990s political wars, only at Internet-era speed. So this Joe Klein column urging her to stay in the Senate sounds about right. I’m not sure I buy Peter Beinart's “Hillary has always been a centrist” thesis. But I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt - that her centrist inclinations are not mere political positioning. And he’s right that her Republican opponents (and possibly some of her Democratic ones) will try to portray them as exactly that.

Democrats have significant obstacles to overcome in a generic presidential race - the culture war and security, for instance. It helps any candidate – but particularly a Democrat – if s/he starts out on the political equivalent of third base. In other words, name recognition aside, said candidate should have some mojo with the political center as well as the party base (as Hillary does); s/he should be insulated from and able to deflect or discredit Republican attacks (no, probably no); and s/he should have some raw political talent and charisma (talent yes, charisma no).

Bill Clinton had all these qualities and basically started on third base, and even the constant scandalettes plaguing his candidacy did not push him off it. Bush started on – or even a bit beyond – the Republican version of it. Kerry, by contrast, never got off home plate. And Gore, don’t get me started. Right now, Hillary starts out somewhere between first and second base. She’s got a long way to go. Is that journey going to be worth its great difficulties?