Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Hampshire Hangover

I’m disoriented. I was getting used to the idea, excited even, that Barack Obama would be my presidential nominee. I was feeling comfortable with Hillary Clinton’s highest office being Senator from New York (not too shabby, right?). I was braced for a discussion of what Clinton would do from a hopeless position—would she lash out in a way that damaged Obama for the general election? Despite the cackling from certain corners on the right, I was even comfortable anticipating a sort of goodbye to the national stage by Hillary and Bill, a stage curtain falling on the notion of a Clinton Dynasty.

What happened yesterday in the Democratic primary was pretty astonishing. None of the campaigns expected a Hillary win, not even Hillary’s, not even on the day of the voting. None of the polls or pundits called it right. And all I can figure is, the key turning point was Hillary’s show of emotion two days ago. Markos is right on target here. Hillary is my least favorite of the Democratic aspirants because of her platform, but personality-wise I like her, as a woman candidate I like her (I have school-age daughters, and they are truly excited about the prospect of a woman president, and that shit matters to the parents of young girls), and when she is unfairly attacked on grounds of her gender and personality, I want to come to her aid.

In terms of my political preferences, I’m disappointed by the NH result. I’ve concluded that my positive feelings about Hillary Clinton are rooted in feeling sorry for her. She checked her own ambitions for the sake of her husband, and got publicly humiliated by the Lewinsky scandal for her trouble. Her post-2000 political career is kind of a consolation prize, in my eyes, and that is not a basis for choosing a President. Being a Senator is a hell of a fine consolation prize, but to be the champion of American progressivism in the post-Bush era, I want the best progressive politician. Hillary isn’t it. Bill used to be it but isn’t anymore. They are fighting the last war.

I think Hillary took the wrong lessons from Bill’s tenure in the White House. If she was reprising Bill’s 1992 campaign, I’d be excited. (In fact, I think I’d even be excited if she were fighting a 1998-99 vintage campaign and raging against the vast right-wing conspiracy. She’d probably lose, but I’d be cheering for her.) But she is peddling a 1996 brand of defensive, timid, small-bore, technocratic politics, that is loath to buck the forces of big corporate money, and that thinks presidential saber-rattling is a winning national security strategy for a Democrat.

But I can't help but feel happy for her today. Maybe I'm naive and she's the cold calculating tear-summoning vixen of Dick Scaife's fever dreams, but I think the few days after Iowa were maybe the low point of Hillary Clinton's life, and that last night was the greatest night of her life. That's kind of neat. And I’m trying to trust this process, this chain of events. I’m trying to be open to the idea that a long hard-fought primary season is a good thing. The huge Democratic turnouts in Iowa and New Hampshire are really encouraging signs for next fall. I hope the Dems can keep the excitement going, and that we end up with a candidate who's been thoroughly and fairly vetted, and whom we're all behind.

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