Reliving History

The specter of a second Clinton presidency must be quashed…again

There probably aren’t many things ex-Vice President Cheney and liberal comedian Bill Maher agree on, but one view both men apparently share is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have made a better president than the incumbent commander-in-chief. Cheney, along with a not-insignificant number of overindulged liberal discontents, has even suggested that a primary challenge to President Obama by the former first lady in 2012 would be a good idea. To be sure, a second Clinton-Obama battle would be a stupid idea, but it’s curious that Maher and so many of his ilk now find themselves joining hands with their ex-nemesis in their newfound affinity for Clinton.

Cheney contends that “Perhaps she might have been easier for some of us who are critics of the president to work with,” while Maher claims that “She would never have thought, like Obama seems to think, that he can win [Republicans] over, negotiate with them.” Needless to say, these two visions of a hypothetical Clinton presidency are incompatible. At least one of the competing camps—both, in my opinion—is out of their minds. But given that Cheney probably doesn’t have the Democrats’ best interests at (mechanical) heart, it’s likelier that the liberal Clinton-yearners are the ones who’re divorced from reality.

The leftist complaint against the Obama presidency is predicated on the delusion that the country elected a progressive champion but received a pusillanimous appeaser at best and corporatist sellout at worst. While Obama has neither campaigned nor governed as any of these things but has done both as, above all else, a long-view liberal pragmatist with a penchant for (unsuccessful) conciliation, it’s astonishing that the same people bewailing the president’s moderation are also braying for another Clinton campaign. How soon they forget.

How soon they forget Clinton’s ignominious defense of lobbyists at the 2007 YearlyKos convention. How soon they forget Clinton’s tawdry advocacy for a flag-burning ban. How soon they forget Clinton out-hawking Obama on the issue of engaging foreign leaders without preconditions. How soon they forget why, in 2006 and 2007 respectively, the National Journal ranked Obama the tenth and first most liberal senator, while it ranked Clinton 32nd and 16th most liberal. How soon they forget that Clinton voted for the Patriot Act and Iraq War Resolution. And how soon they forget how it was her failure to apologize for the latter that cost her the nomination in the first place.

A frequent critique of the Obama administration made by disgruntled liberals is that of its over-reliance on the Rubinical duumvirate of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and, until recently, Harvard economics Professor Lawrence Summers, both protégés of ex-Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin ’60. Other high-level Clinton administration alumni include both Obama chiefs of staff—ex-Deputy Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and ex-Commerce Secretary William Daley—and the current Defense Secretary, ex-Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. Oh, and then there’s the sitting secretary of state herself.

In light of this, it’s not unreasonable to posit that Obama’s first term has been largely indistinguishable from many’s conception of a Clinton third term. But how is it logical to argue then that an actual third Clinton term would not be so? In fact, with the ex-triangulator-in-chief himself again sauntering around the White House halls, how would it not be even more so? Have liberals forgotten the North American Free Trade Agreement? The Defense of Marriage Act? “Don’t ask don’t tell”? Welfare reform? School uniforms? The invention of the “Sistah Souljah moment”?

Why have so many liberals projected their fantasies onto Hillary Clinton rather than an actual liberal firebrand like ex-Vermont Governor Howard Dean or ex-North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the only major candidate in 2008 to campaign as the sort of fire-breathing populist for which liberals seem to be lusting? How could a White House containing Clinton consigliere Mark Penn ’76 instead of Obama confidant David Axelrod be a more forceful advocate for the liberal agenda?

Granted, I don’t identify myself as a liberal or anything approximating one, so I don’t actually want a more forceful advocate for the liberal agenda in the White House. But conservatives subscribing to Cheney’s view are just as delusional as liberals subscribing to Maher’s, as they flippantly elide Clinton’s history as the hated archenemy of the right. Have they forgotten Hillarycare, the “vast rightwing conspiracy,” and the fact that the only substantive difference between Clinton and Obama in 2008 was that her healthcare plan was even more liberal than his?

This cresting wave of Clinton nostalgia, regardless of its ideological origin, is as predictable as it is trite. Were it still Senator Obama, he would doubtlessly be undergoing the same process of beatification Arizona Senator John McCain underwent upon losing to President Bush and Clinton is undergoing now. McCain’s stature rose as Bush’s fell, just as Obama’s would have as President Hillary Clinton inevitably stumbled. Those who pine for her now, be they liberals reimagining this calculating queen of the status quo as their champion or conservatives whitewashing her past as the most polarizing figure in American politics, are doing nothing more than peddling the cliché that the grass is always greener on the other side.

Dhruv K. Singhal ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is an English concentrator in Currier House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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