Does Hillary Have What It Takes to be President?

Originally published in 2006. 

My hunch that Hillary Clinton will be a lackluster presidential candidate is reinforced in an interview Hillary gave to The Atlantic, published in November, 2006: “Everything I do carries political risk because nobody gets the scrutiny that I get,” Hillary told The Atlantic‘s senior editor, Joshua Green. “It’s not like I have any margin for error whatsoever. I don’t. Everybody else does, and I don’t.”

Green’s article, “Hillary’s Choice: Why Success in the Senate Could Deny Clinton the Presidency,” gets to the heart of Hillary’s problem. His lengthy, insightful article reviews Hillary’s Senate career and her position in the Democratic Party:

“Clinton has adapted surprisingly well to the byways of the Senate, becoming what few could have foreseen: a wily manipulator of the Senate’s outsize egos, and a master of cloakroom politics. This has come at the cost of some of her most deeply held values. However flawed Clinton’s health-care plan was in execution, it was undergirded by an element of sincere idealism that is all but absent from her Senate record. Clinton has chosen systematic caution as the path to power…

“Clinton has emerged within the Senate as the unlikeliest of figures: she, not George W. Bush, has turned out to be a uniter, not a divider.”

Green sharply observes that “Clinton’s Senate career mirrors that of her political life generally: a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement. It provides a showcase for her very considerable skills. But it also points up her core liabilities as she prepares to move from the New York stage and back to the national one. Maybe one way to frame the question is this: Can a woman who has made herself small enough for the Senate be big enough for the country?”

“Years of tireless study have made Hillary Clinton the consummate insider—but at a time when antiestablishment fervor in the Democratic base is at its highest point in a generation…Clinton has reached the top of the Democratic establishment that once thwarted her. But that is looking like a less viable launching point to the presidency than at any time since she got to Washington….

“There remains another option—one to which she is unquestionably well suited. As an admiring senator put it to me, “Hillary Clinton is everyone’s secret choice for majority leader.

“…It is fair to wonder if Clinton learned the lesson of the health-care disaster too well, whether she has so embraced caution and compromise that she can no longer judge what merits taking political risks. It is hard to square the brashly confident leader of health-care reform—willing to act on her deepest beliefs, intent on changing the political climate and not merely exploiting it—with the senator who recently went along with the vote to make flag-burning a crime. Today Clinton offers no big ideas, no crusading causes—by her own tacit admission, no evidence of bravery in the service of a larger ideal.”

Comments:

Very interesting analysis of this interesting & rather complex lady.
From the article, it’s clear Ms. Clinton has several important accomplishments. Leaving aside accomplishments in Arkansas, as a US Senator, she co-sponsored removing FEMA from Homeland Security, & procured $20 billiion in reconstruction aid for New York City after 9/11. Those 2 alone – & she has others – are a worthy record of achievement. However, my continuing sense of uneasiness with her is even stronger after reading the article. It’s that sense of somehow trying to come across as being, well, perfect.
Oh, I know, as a pol, you have to be image-conscious, & you certainly can’t undermine your image. But how much is this ingrained? “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If, like Nixon, you reach the White House, already unwilling or unable to take your own foibles in a matter-of-fact fashion, disaster can ensue.
That said, I am impressed by her apparent ability to learn from her disastrous mistakes in shaping the 94 health care reform plan.
I’m convinced she is VERY religious. Richard Clarke in “Against All Enemies” describes stumbling upon her, at a gathering for terrorism victims, in a makeshift chapel, praying with her arms outstretched. And she wasn’t doing it for attention – the door was shut, and no one else was there. So I’m not at all surprised with the way the article begins, describing her involvement in Christian fellowship on the Hill.
I think you, Jim, hit the nail on the head in the central question about her: Can she lead sufficiently from the heart? I DO think successful American leaders have tended to do so. I wrote a paper once for English class on how Ike beat Stevenson because Ike appealed to people’s hearts, Stevenson, their heads. I compared them with figures in Shakespeare. I’d be hard-pressed to think of an American statesman who has been REALLY successful without connecting with the people on a heart-to-heart basis. JFK was intellectual, but also very inspirational. This doesn’t mean you have to be snobbery – Washington was very dignified. But there has to be a sense of emotional connection, such as Reagan had – and FDR – and, at his best, Bill Clinton.
I continue to have a strong gut feeling Hillary will never be our president. If I had to try to explain why, I’d say it’s because a lot of people, not just me, get that vibe that if she doesn’t see herself as perfect, she wants other people to see her that way or darn close, and certainly not to admit to specific flaws, and this makes people feel uncomfortable. When it’s someone who has the fate of the world in their hands, give me a guy like Bruce Babbitt, who laughingly admits he has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.
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