I don’t envy Hillary Clinton one bit.
With meticulous and calculated care over the last 7 or 8 months, Senator Clinton has crafted - brilliantly in my opinion - a centrist personae designed to entice moderates and perhaps even moderate conservatives to her banner while not alienating her base of support with the left wing of the Democratic party. It has been a tightrope walk worthy of a star circus performer. And what makes Mrs. Clinton’s political changeling strategy even more remarkable is that she’s had the assistance of some heavy hitting Republican conservatives as she maneuvers toward the center in anticipation of the election.
After initially voting for the resolution authorizing force against Iraq and then harshly criticizing Administration war policy in the lead up to the election last November, Mrs. Clinton took a high profile trip to Iraq with none other than John McCain and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In Iraq, Mrs. Clinton praised the government of then Prime Minister Allawi and declared her belief that the insurgents were losing. Since then, she has come out against any kind of timed withdrawal from Iraq, stating that events on the ground should dictate the pace of the troops’ homecoming not an artificial timetable. Her views on Iraq won her praise from McCain and other Republicans while establishing her bona fides as a hawkish Democrat capable of leading the country in wartime.
She has also enlisted the help of former Speaker of the House and notorious liberal bugbear Newt Gingrich to promote health care issues. While the duo would seem to be the odd couple of the year, both are policy wonks with a passion for issues - similarities that seemed to overcome some of the more striking differences in their personalities.
Other Republican Senators like Bill Frist and Lindsey Graham have also had praise for Hillary’s ability to work with the other side and compromise to get things done. And that’s been the key to Hillary’s strategy; not only has she tried to sidle toward the center on issues of importance but she has also attempted to establish her credentials as a “can-do” Senator who is not only an advocate for issues but a leader who can accomplish what she sets out to do.
Indeed, Hillary’s transformation has been a marvel; that is, until this week. In the last few days Mrs. Clinton has run smack into the apparent contradictions of her transformation; she just can’t be all things to all people. This was never more evident when she agreed to meet with Mother Moonbat Cindy Sheehan and announced that she will vote “nay” on the nomination of John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States.
There is no way that Hillary Clinton could have won in the primaries without voting against Roberts. And by meeting with Sheehan (albeit, in a brilliant political maneuver for both of them, she and McCain will meet Sheehan together thus giving each other political cover) Clinton maintains a tenuous connection with the anti-war left.
The vote against Roberts was a foregone conclusion. With the pro-choice 527’s dead set against him, Hillary would have been committing political hari-kari by supporting him. In her statement explaining her vote, Clinton tries rather lamely to have her cake and eat it to:
Since I expect Judge Roberts to be confirmed, I hope that my concerns are unfounded and that he will be the kind of judge he said he would be during his confirmation hearing. If so, I will be the first to acknowledge it. However, because I think he is far more likely to vote the views he expressed in his legal writings, I cannot give my consent to his confirmation and will, therefore, vote against his confirmation.
By appearing to straddle, she does herself no good with either moderates or her lefty base. That said, Clinton had very little choice in the matter seeing that the expectations for her candidacy have already generated an enormous amount of excitement among hard-left feminists and pro-choice advocates. These groups will make up the backbone of her candidacy in the primaries and she couldn’t very well alienate them by voting for someone who could very well be a deciding vote on overturning Roe v Wade. And unless the President’s next nominee to replace Justice O’Connor is pro-choice - a very unlikely possibility - she will probably vote against that nominee as well.
The Sheehan gambit with McCain came about as a result of a perceived slight on Senator Clinton’s part when the anti-war bus tour was in New York. Evidently, the home town papers made a big deal of Clinton not meeting with her then (no mainstream Democrat will touch Sheehan with a ten foot pole since her comments on Israel, 9/11, and Bin Laden have received widespread exposure) which necessitated the change in strategy. Although not as important as her nay vote on Roberts, the Sheehan meeting is still a potent signal to the anti-war left that she hasn’t entirely abandoned them.
Indeed, Clinton has been caught in a trap that every Democrat since 1972 has found themselves. In order to get nominated for the office of President, a Democrat must be liberal enough to energize the base of the party so that primary voters will come out in the dead of winter in Iowa and New Hampshire to support their candidacy and lefty donors will open their pocketbooks to supply enough funds to buy the TV time necessary to have a viable candidacy. But once nominated, the putative candidate then must scramble toward the middle of the political spectrum in order to woo the independents necessary to win the Presidency.
This has proven impossible for every Democratic Presidential candidate for the last 25 years except her husband. Bill Clinton was helped by the fact that he was a southern governor whose policies in Arkansas were necessarily moderate although during the primary campaign, he was able to sound an awful lot like a liberal. The end result for Clinton was that he was able to peel the deep southern states of Louisiana and Georgia away from the Republican column and deny Bush #41 the border states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Those states pretty much gave Clinton his margin of victory in the electoral college in 1992.
Due to the fact that the country is much more polarized today, Hillary will be denied any “Southern Strategy” to garner the necessary electoral votes to win in a general election. She won’t have to. With states like Florida and Ohio so closely divided as well as some other toss-up states like West Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine, Colorado, and New Mexico, it wouldn’t take much for a smart Democrat like Hillary to put together the 270 electoral votes necessary to win in the general election.
Hillary’s political moves this week were necessary but have set her back a bit in her quest to appear more moderate. There will be other pitfalls for her candidacy in the months ahead that will test her political skills to the limit including the possible failure of elections in Iraq, the rebuilding of New Orleans, and perhaps dealing with a Bird Flu pandemic as early as this winter. And there’s very little difference in politics between walking the tightrope and walking the plank; it’s all in how the balancing act is received by both your supporters and your political enemies.
Her husband was one of the best politicians in my lifetime. And while Hillary has demonstrated a knack for the sport, it remains to be seen if she has the skills and the staying power to make it all the way to the top.