My Hillary Clinton Problem
As much as I try to avoid paying attention to the presidential campaign–“the two year root canal”–I can’t. Not only is the campaign, with all of its horse race trivialities, talking points and manufactured events, seemly all pervasive in the media but I am a concerned American and I have always been a political junkie. No matter what I think of the candidates and their campaigns, one of these individuals will be President of the United States come January 2009. As a citizen I cannot ignore the candidates if I am to make an informed choice. Four years ago at this time I was paying close attention to Howard Dean and looking forward to him challenging CheneyBush.
This time around, I don’t have an obvious favorite other than Dennis Kucinich who says all the right things and hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell. According to the media pack these days, Hillary Clinton is a lock to win the Democratic nomination. Much anecdotal evidence supports this conclusion but it is still speculation. I recall that Dean was on a blazing trajectory at the end of 2003. Clinton is in a much different position. Dean was an insurgent outsider. Clinton is the consummate insider with all the resources of the Democratic establishment at her disposal. She is smart, tough, disciplined and determined.
Hillary Clinton is also the 21st century incarnation of the Cold War Democrat. Senator Henry Jackson of Washington was the iconic Cold War Democrat of the previous generation, advocating robust defense while still supporting Democratic social and economic programs. He a was not the only one. To varying degrees, most prominent Democrats of the post-WWII era were Cold War Democrats, including John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. After all, no one wanted to be seen as a unwilling to protect America from Communism. They supported American military build-up, the Vietnam War and other foreign interventions. While some, like Gene McCarthy and Edmund Muskie, re-thought their knee-jerk support of militarism in the wake of the Vietnam debacle, Democratic, others maintained their hawkish views. That defense spending and military operations benefited their home states and political ambitions didn’t hurt and probably had something to do with that support.
Fifty years later, America is still playing the same game and Hillary Clinton is one of the best players, walking the tightrope between “toughness” and "realism". Instead of the fearsome Communists, the foe these days is Terrorism. Calling Clinton a Terrorism Democrat sounds really snide, so I’ll just say she’s a National Security Democrat, which puts her firmly in place along with Senator Jackson, Lyndon Johnson, Stuart Symington and many others. Her task is far more difficult than her long-ago predecessors, because she must support a “robust”, “active” defense against a shadowy, elusive foe that doesn’t have a real army with real nuclear weapons and control a significant portion of the planet’s land mass. I could say cynically that Clinton doesn’t want to alienate the big military-industrial sector money, but I think she really believes that she can only be an effective president if she keeps all the options open.
That’s why I am leery of her. I think she would do little to change the idea of American Exceptionalism that has been the hallmark of US foreign policy for the past six decades. Nor do it believe that she would end American reliance on conventional military forces to fight an unconventional wars. I doubt if she would be the same kind of unrelenting hawk that Henry Jackson was (that’s Joe Lieberman these days) but she represents little change from what has been American foreign policy for many decades. Keep in mind, too, that Bill Clinton was not unwilling to use force–he continued the bombing campaign against Iraq that Bush One began and he attacked Somalia and Afghanistan after the 1998 embassy bombings–retaliation rather than prevention. He was not the blatant militarist that CheneyBush has been but many Iraqis died on his watch. In contrast, I’m looking for a president who will renounce war, lethal force and brutality as routine instruments of national policy, reserving these actions for only the most extreme situations. I want a president who will seek common sense, effective responses to security threats, not a crusader. Hillary Clinton is certainly not challenging that kind of thinking in her campaign. Maybe it’s too much to expect; after all, Dennis Kucinich offers a real challenge to this thinking and he is an asterisk in the standings. Clinton would be taking a genuine risk. Her cautious, measured campaign does not include big risks.
Too bad. Hillary Clinton has the prominence and the smarts to take risks. Alone among the leading candidates, she has the resources that would enable her to weather the political firestorm that serious questioning of American security policies would ignite. Her money and organization give here a decent chance of explaining why America can protect itself without squandering lives and resources throughout the world. Maybe she could even remind Americans that a strong nation that believes in its ideals cannot truly be threatened by terrorism. But there’s no guarantee; Americans may be so completely traumatized by CheneyBush fearmongering that we are immune to common sense and clear thought. Questioning the National Security State could cost Clinton the presidency. That’s why it would be a real act of political courage.
My biggest reservation about Hillary Clinton is that she is a modern politician and modern politicians don’t take risks. Instead, she walks the careful line between most members of her own party and the Republican fearmongers, unwilling to challenge their dire forecasts of doom and destruction. Like John Kerry and other Democrats, she claims that she will be the “effective” protector and is unwilling to look beyond the blanket of fear that CheneyBush has thrown over America. Maybe Clinton is simply doing what she needs to do to be elected and that she will govern differently. I’m not convinced. She is the candidate of Big Money and the Democratic National Security Establishment and is not likely to challenge their gravy train in any meaningful way. I hope I am wrong.
When Barry Goldwater ran for the Republican nomination in 1964, he campaigned against “me too” Republicans, the liberal wing of his party. Phyllis Schlafly described him as “a choice, not an echo”. He crashed and burned badly but 44 years later, Phyllis Schlafly is still around and her ideas have been prominent for over two decades. That’s the power of vision and belief. I want Hillary Clinton and other candidates to demonstrate vision and belief that will move this nation away from fear and war toward an America that can regain the world’s trust and respect.
[crossposted at Unsolicited Opinion so my eight readers can see it, too.]