As Hillary Clinton prepares to bow out of the Democratic race, I cannot help but feel that she is doing the nation, and her party a disservice by leaving the campaign.
She’s clearly got support. And not just from folks like me who began this political year vowing to “vote for a New Yorker.”
Since the media all but declared Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee in February, the voters have tried sending a message: he is not their man. Since March 1st, Obama suffered major losses in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and was trounced at the polls in Rhode Island, Kentucky, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. Since Obama became the party’s front-runner the actual Democrats going to the polls have rejected his campaign of ideological extremism.
Somehow that message hasn’t made it past the media hype supporting Obama. And given the Democratic National Committee’s resistance to count every vote, maybe it is time for Hillary Clinton to concede the nomination. But she shouldn’t give up on getting to the White House.
Independent campaigns that work apart from established parties often have more impact on day-to-day politics than we – or party historians – like to acknowledge. Lincoln’s support came from abolitionists working outside mainstream politics. Teddy Roosevelt’s ideas about 20th Century governing – encapsulated in his run for the White House as the “Bull Moose” candidate – led to substantive changes in the Republican Party politics. The Clintons themselves benefitted from independent Ross Perot’s messages on fiscal policy – and heeded them once they gained th White House. If Clinton truly believes that the Democratic Party is disenfranchising voters in key swing states, then she should denounce its efforts, just as Obama, eventually, denounced his former pastor and church and launch her own run for the White House.
In doing so, Hillary Clinton can remind Democrats what the party used to stand for, and return to her husband’s roots as a populist centrist. Hillary has an opportunity to wake up the echoes, cheering the names of Hiram Johnson and Susan B. Anthony, to lead a post-partisan, Post-Progressive coalition to victory, whether the odds be great or small.
A post-partisan, Post-Progressive Clinton would have a chance to win because – unlike other years – the two main parties choices are so stark. And I think many Americans like me are a little turned off by the choice between Republican John McCain and Democrat Obama. With McCain we have a Washington veteran, who claims to be conservative, but is best known for bucking the party of small government to advocate big government programs and regulating our freedoms. The alternative – a partisan ideologue whose oratory is easy on the ears but has shown no ability to accomplish anything other than win the affections of young voters and the popular press – is no more attractive.
Making things worse: At this juncture in the campaign, Obama and McCain have spent so much political capital speaking to their base that they have forgotten to speak for Americans. So who knows what they’ll do once they’re elected? A third-party Hillary Clinton, freed of the shackles of Democratic ideology, could talk to real Americans and address the issues straightforwardly.
On Iraq, she could say that, based on the intelligence given, her vote to authorize the war was the right one, and anyone who voted against the president – given what we thought we knew – would be dangerous to have in the White House. Now that we know that we had faulty intelligence, she can say she regrets the vote, but the U.S. must now focus on how we can keep winning the peace and bring our troops home victorious. That’s straight talk you won’t hear from Obama or McCain.
Clinton could focus on balancing the budget, just as her husband did, by growing the economy and controlling spending. While McCain’s fighting pork-barrel spending sounds nice, it produces but a drop in the bucket when it comes to balancing the budget. Meanwhile Obama’s plans would vastly expand government spending, while his tax hikes would send the economy back into recession.
A third-party Clinton could talk honestly about healthcare, free of the shackles of the nurses unions and other special interests which get in the way of true reform, and could offer a safety-net of care for Americans supplemented by insurance for those who need private healthcare.
And a Post-Progressive Movement for the 21st Century could tackle the 800-pound gorilla in Washington: entitlement reform. Ross Perot scared the bejesus out of voters with charts talking about how Social Security and Medicare would eat up the Federal Budget, helping Bill Clinton gain the White House. The problems Perot outlined in 1992, are about to come to roost and the Clintons owe it to America to be talking about them, now. Understanding that we have no option but to fix these systems, the American people will rally behind a candidate who talks solutions that are not seen as partisan.
By returning to her Democratic Leadership Council roots – the path of moderation that served the Democratic Party well – Hillary Clinton today has the ability to transcend politics and be the post-partisan leader Americans have been seeking. She can choose to fall in line and put party ahead of principle, give in to the will of the media ahead of the will of the voters, and prove correct those who selected a candidate other than the inevitable Clinton. This is an important choice for one other reason: If she cannot stand up for the voters who supported her, then we should not trust her to stand up for America when it counts.