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Step Down, Sen. Clinton


Sunday’s New York Times – always a nice roadmap of what they’re worried about in the corridors of power – had two stories about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
One, with the “Fantasy Politics” leader — as if – proposed some advice for the candidate-in-waiting. The other spelled out the very tight series of deadlines the Senator faces should she wish – ha! – to claim leadership of her party.

Hillary Clinton shouldn’t run for president in 2008. The Times does a fine job of spelling out the obvious reasons why not. She’s a divisive figure who will do more to rile up the right than almost any other Democrat. That’s not a particularly strong argument against running, as Clinton herself has observed, comparing her ability to energize a party to George Bush’s. This works in his favor, however. I’m not so sure about the junior Senator from New York – a state she didn’t live in until she wanted to run for office. And please remember, I’m Clinton’s target voter: A well-educated liberal Democratic woman living in California.
Hillary Clinton shouldn’t run in 2006 because her candidacy is, as much as anything, a symptom of the party’s overwhelming desire to look back. It’s Progressive Nostalgia for its past glory, that shining year in 1992 when Democrats had the House, the Senate and most of the governorships. It’s taken less than 10 years for that to disappear and the Clintons – this time it really is a two-for-one-deal, yet another reason to look at this whole idea with a jaundiced eye – bear much of the responsibility.
The hollowing out of the Democrats’ Liberal philosophy – the idea that government has a responsibility to help those less fortunate, regardless of how they got there – was part and parcel of Bill Clinton’s political strategy. Corporate appeasement – money from Hollywood, money from the unions, money from Wall Street – has left the party compromised in a wide variety of ways, large and small. It’s little more than a mouthpiece for the nation’s wealthiest, best educated and – to be brutal – some of snottiest elites you’ll ever meet. I’m one of them – sort of – and I can’t stand to be around most of them for more than a weekend.
Remember Eric Alterman’s account of his coffee-clatch with John Kerry? The one where he dropped all the right names as if we all — of course — knew each other. Those are the Democrats that want Hillary Clinton to run and, well, they’re not looking at how the country is changing, they’re looking back to a time when people like them – a smart, articulate and young Ivy League-educated lawyer couple – ran the country. That’s history. And it’s time to suck it up and get over it.
I’ve spent a lot of virtual ink in this space talking about what Democrats need to do to start talking to voters in a language they understand. Here’s the short version: First of all, stop talking like lawyers and start talking like preachers. No one likes lawyers. Not even lawyers.
And come up with some ideas on how to combat the political version of the “brand of you.” The Bush Administration appeals to Americans’ sense of self-reliance, the belief – recently proven right here in Northern California – that one guy with a good idea and lots of hard work can make a fortune. That’s how they’re going to turn the Social Security safety net – the last one, really, we’ve got left – into a series of private accounts. It’s how they’re going to – leaning on small businesses and self-styled entrepreneurs – rewrite the tax code. Democrats are instead focused on the big corporation that keep them in cush publishing and lawyer jobs, the large entities that need their consulting and management advice, the fundraising parties where they swap business chat. As Marc Cooper has said, they’re concentrating on the process of getting elected, not the politics of talking to people, and refuse to see the profound ramifications of these changes.
CLARIFICATION: Steve Rhodes writes in and points out that, like it or not, George W. Bush is president until 2008. So Sen. Clinton can’t take office in 2006. He’s right; I was relying a bit more than I should on the NYTimes’ chronology which says that HRC will have to start running for the presidency in 2006 at almost the same time she’d be running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Yet another reasons to give the whole White House thing a skip.

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