My daughter’s braces came off today. Unfortunately for her, she inherited my narrow jaw and crowded mouth and so had to endure the common rite of teenage passage known as orthodontia. Another trait inherited from dear old dad is her reluctance to wear her emotions on her sleeve. As a result, outwardly she doesn’t seem nearly as excited about losing her grillwork as her mother and me, but I suspect she’s happier than she lets on.
At times that habit can drive a father up the wall. I know my daughter well enough after more than 14 years that I can make fairly accurate judgments about her intentions and her state of mind, but she refuses to give me the satisfaction of acknowledgment. When I see that her stubbornness is leading to an effective object lesson, I’ll stand by and let events play themselves out, ready to step in at the opportune moment and deliver a self-righteous “I told you so.” Fourteen years, after all, doesn’t add up to a great deal of life experience.
Hillary Clinton has been wearing braces of her own for the last seven years – half of her life on the national stage – making political adjustments to her public image since being elected as New York’s junior senator in 2000. Introduced to us when husband Bill ran for president in 1992, we’ve seen Mrs. Clinton grow from a feminist with a disdain for cookie baking to a first lady with a propensity for skullduggery to a senator whose brief career has been spent with calculated purpose for the very moment America finds itself facing: a collective presidential choice. Oh, and she also managed to write a couple books, one of which strongly suggests that government should take a larger role in raising America’s children.
Somewhere along the way public opinion shifted in Hillary’s favor to the point where she has become, one year from election day, the presumptive favorite to win right to represent the Democrats when we go to the polls in November of 2008. How did that happen? No state has held a primary or caucused the party faithful, yet there are few voices from among the punditry who even question the prevailing wisdom. No one with an influential voice is asking aloud the most basic of questions: why? Why is Hillary Clinton regarded as a serious candidate for the nation’s highest political office? What has she done to distinguish herself above the others vying for the party’s nomination? Why is Hillary the odds on favorite to receive her party’s nomination at a time when America finds itself foundering amid international turmoil?
Hillary’s ascendancy to front-runner status is symptomatic of a flawed election process that fails to produce the best qualified candidates for the job. More about style than substance, about selling the sizzle instead of the steak; sound bites accomplish more than thoughtful dialog because the public’s attention span is too short to accommodate anything more than partisan rhetoric. While her rhetoric is deep, Clinton’s record on foreign policy is shallow. Apart from campaign photo-op junkets to Iraq and Afghanistan she’s done nothing to demonstrate any skill in international diplomacy. Meanwhile, there’s barely an acknowledgement of the long history of foreign policy work accumulated by Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he’s served for three decades, and respected on both sides of the aisle for his deep knowledge of the major and minor players on the global chess board. Nor is there much mention of Governor Bill Richardson’s service as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Clinton.
And speaking of Bill Richardson, at a time of growing economic uncertainty and budgetary bloat, no one is willing to give the Governor the time of day, even though his record as chief executive of the State of New Mexico is generally positive, both from the perspective of fiscal restraint as well as managing the state’s economic growth, where he touts New Mexico’s expanding job rolls since being elected in 2002.
Hillary, on the other hand, is so weak on economic issues even the spin doctors responsible for her web site copy can’t make it sound good. “As senator, Hillary introduced a plan…” “Hillary has consistently supported…” “Hillary has also proposed…” “She also helped launch economic initiatives…” If the Democrats have resigned themselves to putting forth a candidate whose sum total of economic accomplishment consists of introducing, supporting, proposing, and helping with plans and initiatives, we’re in worse shape than I thought.
Even though I have no intention of voting for any of the party’s nominees next November, I very much want to see the Democrats offer a candidate who doesn’t frighten me. And the same goes for the Republicans, by the way. I want to avoid another 2004 where we had a choice between an incumbent president who had gotten us into a Middle Eastern quagmire and an uninspiring challenger who failed to convince enough people that he could get us out. I’m losing hope that, next year things will be different and that I’ll be able to take some comfort in knowing that either of the two individuals with a chance to win the election isn’t going to drive the country further into chaos.
I sense a growing unease that we don’t really know the candidates well enough to make an informed decision as we approach 2008. We bought the George W. Bush sales pitch twice, but it turned out to be a pig in a poke. When I saw my daughter after school today without braces for the first time in two years, I couldn’t help but think that, while her outward appearance has changed slightly as a result of the orthodontist’s work, inside she’s still the same kid I know and love. There’s a big difference in watching someone you know, and knowing someone you watch.
With Hillary, in spite of some subtle shifting and image polishing over the last seven years or so, not much else has changed. Apart from a belief that there’s no problem more government can’t fix, there’s not much behind the pantsuits. We’re watching her, but have we thought about what we know?