Several readers jump on this quote of mine:
“Clinton’s developing a new formula for politics: stand for nothing but winning power. And the Democrats seem perfectly happy with it.” Perfectly happy? No. Accepting of reality? Trying to be.
There’s no new formula here. It’s just Machiavellian. Ask yourself: Why on earth would Hillary stake out a position in favor of some philosophy, doctrine, or model that she plans to sell us on? One that already has its legions of paid detractors? A nice, book-length box into which she can spend 8 years cramming the world? Instead she takes on the unsexy and, obviously, less academically palatable task of judging the world as it is: a 3D chess game where the rules change constantly.
Labeling and categorizing reality based on something you read is just another ideology. I don’t think Hillary stands for “nothing” because she’s not into that game. I think she stands for enlightened self-interest, as expressed through a desire to see America win those games in which she chooses to engage, to the greater glory of, of course, herself.
The question should not be, “Is Hillary Clinton a moral leader?” The question should be, “Is Hillary Clinton America’s best bet to lead in a post-moral world?”
It’s not craven, cynical, or even strictly selfish of her. It’s her acknowledgement that we live “after history.” It’s intuitive, I think. It’s that bedrock Clinton talent of fingering the wind. Is she right? She’s a better bet than Ted Cruz, or some other deluded hack.
While I’m personally horrified by the prospect of Hillary Clinton running for president, her policy vacuity may be the only thing I don’t hold against her. You write, “Clinton’s developing a new formula for politics: stand for nothing but winning power. And the Democrats seem perfectly happy with it.”
In other news, the sun rises in the east and the sky is blue. Vacuous standard-bearer candidates are the norm, not the exception, in American history. And rightly so: Prior to WWII, the president had so little real power that his personality only mattered in the most unusual of crises. (Which is to say, Washington and Lincoln.) People usually voted the party, not the man. And since WWII, the executive branch has become so large that while the more powerful president’s personal gifts and faults matter more than formerly, the hundreds of appointed bureaucrats drawn from his party’s activists matter much more to most policy questions than does the president himself. Or herself. So people today should vote the party, not the man, and public opinion research suggests that in the main they do so.
Historically, a candidate who stands for something usually loses his party’s nomination to a candidate whose policy vacuity makes him an empty vessel for voters to fill with their own preferences. American parties usually nominate Zachary Taylor, not Henry Clay. “Availability” was once the polite term for the virtue of being a supposedly electable policy cipher. Abraham Lincoln was “available,” as were Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton. As were Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman when nominated for vice president.
In the modern era, only Goldwater, McGovern, and Reagan stand out as true policy candidates (Obama had much the effect of a policy candidate, but his stated policy disagreements with Hillary in 2007-08 were minuscule. Perhaps call Obama a “biography” candidate, alongside Kennedy.) All other major nominees were “available” – to the extent that they had any known strong policy commitments, they were nominated in spite of them, not because of them.
So, Hillary Clinton. Vacuous? Yes. Troublingly so? Not in the context of American politics and history.
The trick, ultimately, is not demanding that every presidential candidate be a policy genius. The trick is reducing the reach of executive authority so that the vacuous mediocrities we tend to elect can do less harm. If we had given George W. Bush the powers and duties held by Rutherford B. Hayes, the world would barely have noted his time in office.
Another piles one:
I was a very strong supporter of Obama from as soon as he gave that speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, and now I’m perfectly happy with electing Hillary Clinton as a Democratic President who stands for nothing. Why?
Two reasons: first, because I just want Hillary to maintain what Obama has achieved. I don’t believe she could have passed the stimulus or the ACA or even Dodd Frank, but he did. Now she can keep the Republicans from dismantling those and flushing the country down the toilet like they did under the Bush administration. She also doesn’t need to stand for anything to elect liberal justices to the Supreme Court who will begin to undo the current court’s disastrous decisions on guns, corporate speech, and women’s rights. He didn’t get immigration reform or cap-and-trade, and neither will she against a group of Republican Know Nothings.
Which brings me the second reason I want her: the first female President will probably win big, and losing three (or four!) consecutive elections against rising demographic odds and twelve (or sixteen!) years of obstruction and no new ideas will eventually bring about the implosion of the current Republican party, which is focused only on taxes and abortion, and the recreation of a Republican party that can compromise again. Obama did the heavy lifting on the liberal agenda as much as can be done, and frankly I don’t want the Democrats to go all Elizabeth Warren off the deep end, with post office banks and $15 minimum wages. All I want is someone to put liberals on the Supreme Court and wait for the Republicans’ own bile to wear them down to nothing. And who better to do that than Hillary Rodham Clinton?