Friday, July 24, 2009

Clinton's path to presidency is loyalty

PUMA is soooo 2008

Just a year ago the unity of the Democratic Party seemed in deep jeopardy. True, Hillary Clinton had conceded the nomination to Barack Obama, but the drama kept going as diehards demanded the vice presidency or vowed to write her in.

That seems so long ago, eons before Obama brought Clinton onto the team as Secretary of State. Yet some observers can't resist stirring the pot, wanting to see every division, every split, through the lens of last year's primary.

Our Johnson County Democrats are suffering a unity crisis, sure. But that's not a Hillary vs. Obama thing (Edwards was a bigger factor here). Instead, it's a matter of, in the immortal phrase of Michael Dukakis, competence not ideology.

Divisions on health care are not over the minutia of differences between Clinton and Obama's health care plans from last year, the issue that was used again and again as a fig leaf for the identity politics of race, class and gender that actually drove that race. The health care splits are more about turf and campaign finance, and are likely one of the reasons Clinton is at State instead of the Senate. The general public may have identified her with health care, for better or worse, but Max Baucus identified her as I'm The Chairman and I've Got Four Terms Of Seniority On You. There wasn't room for Clinton to be a player in the Senate.

So she's overseas instead, where loyal duty means catching crap from Kim Jong Il. But even Thai TV is stuck on 2008:
Asked whether she still aspired to be the first female American president, she said, "That's not anything I'm at all thinking about," adding that she is "100 percent focused" on her role as President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

So has she given up hope of getting to the White House?

"I don't know, but I doubt very much that anything like that will ever be part of my life," replied the 61-year-old former first lady and former U.S. senator.

Pressed further, Clinton said, "Well, I'm saying no because I have a very committed attitude to the job I have. And so that's not at all on my radar screen."

Ambition deferred is likely to be on the agenda on Meet The Press, where Madame Secretary does the full hour Sunday. Maybe they'll be polite and ask a little bit about, ya know, foreign policy first?

But the low point is Monica Crowley at the Washington Times, who fleshes out a full-blown right wing fantasy about a 2012 Democratic civil war:
The Clintons' revenge will take shape around the only thing that matters: the presidency in 2012.

Here's how it will go down: Mrs. Clinton will stay in her job for a respectable time, maybe another year or so. Then she will resign on principle over an issue critical to national security -- perhaps Israel, maybe Iran getting a nuclear weapon. She will give a predictable speech about being honored to serve the president, how much they've accomplished together and how she's still a loyal Democrat. Then she will say that because of Issue X, she can no longer in good conscience remain in Mr. Obama's administration, so she regretfully tenders her resignation.

She will then call together her 2008 campaign team, all of whom are already on standby. She will begin by making quiet calls to her stable of big-money contributors. She will start to call in chits from members of Congress, senators and governors whom she has helped in the past. And they, reluctant to turn their backs on their party's president but increasingly uneasy with his failing agenda, will offer her under-the-radar encouragement: "Run, Hillary," they'll whisper.

And she will. She will run against Mr. Obama for the 2012 Democratic nomination. She will run against him from the Democratic center -- against his out-of-control spending and his flaccid foreign policy.

Stupidest. Column. Ever. Both for the off-base argument and for the gender politics of "flaccid."

Crowley is re-imagining 1980 and reversing the ideology, with Hillary as a moderate Ted Kennedy and Obama as the Carter of the left. But the left, not the center, is the gap in Democratic internal politics today. Obama's approval remains in the 90 percent range among liberal Democrats--you know, the kind who vote in primaries and go to caucuses.

And those that are mad aren't mad that he's "soft on Iran." They're mad because they want the troops home now, Don't Ask Don't Tell repealed, single payer, and Bush and Cheney on trial.

The Kennedy challenge was also based on Carter's splits with, and relative unpopularity with, Congress. Those cracks were already visible by this point in 1977, and while Obama's relations with Pelosi and Reid aren't perfect, it's clear that they're at least on the same team and moving in the same general direction.

There's no appetite in the Democratic Party for a rerun of 1980. The only other major challenge to an incumbent in my lifetime was in 1976, when the most gifted and popular conservative of the 20th century challenged an appointed caretaker--and LOST.

I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton still wants to be president. Indeed, if I had to bet the beret on the 2016 nomination, I say it's her. Hillary's best case is a 2000 scenario: full support from the incumbent and the party structure, with a motley coalition of malcontents backing a Anyone But, Bill Bradley type candidate. (I'm still proud of Johnson County being the number one Bradley county in the country).

Her worst case is Obama staying hands off, like Reagan did in `88, until after she clinches. HW fended off all comers nevertheless, but it's too far away for me to envision who plays the Bob Dole role.

But in either case, Hillary's only path to the presidency is six more years of loyalty. We haven't seen an incumbent defeated for renomination since the unelected Chester Arthur in 1884, and the last repudiation of a president by his party was Grover Cleveland and William Jennings Bryan. (We'll put an asterisk by LBJ and RFK.) Fortunately for the president and the party, she's smart enough to know that. It might not be an exciting story, but it's good strategy.

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