It’s only week one of Hillary for President: The Sequel, and already the nominee-in-waiting is proving an exception to a standard campaign rule. Traditionally, the more perfect a famous figure looks as a theoretical presidential candidate, the more flawed he has appeared instantly upon entering the race. Once the dream of drafting the Great One has come true, everyone seems to wake up and start spotting blemishes. This happened most dramatically to Ted Kennedy, but also to Bill Bradley, Wesley Clark, and Fred Thompson, and it would likely have happened to Colin Powell had he tried to translate military stature into electoral appeal.
Happily for Our Lady of Scooby, however, this phenomenon stands an excellent chance of working in reverse for her—at least in the eyes of one of her absolute target, must-have constituencies. This consists of people who never have never been madly, uncritically in love with Hillary Clinton and are kind of mystified by those who are—but who would also hesitate to support a terrific, smart, right-wing conservative, let alone a crazy, ignorant one.
Absent the clear lines of a campaign, such people—and I am one—often have thoughts of Hillary Clinton that spring off the diving-board of “if only”:
If only she could have that top-to-bottom, fine-print-and-all command of policy without the willingness to toss the tough parts overboard when the politics demands…
If only her record on women could be solely one of advocating for those around the world and not significantly one of scheming against those in her husband’s harem…
If only—I thought of this one while watching that ServerGate press conference at the U.N.—If only, decades into choosing and re-choosing a life floodlit with scrutiny, she could recognize her cherished “zone of privacy” as the unicorn it is and stop shooting herself in the futile quest for it…
And on and on. Anyway, the “if-only’s” fuel not only the wistful musings of women who would like to like Clinton, but also the more thoughtful, less hysterical reporting on her. After all, one doesn’t have to hate the former secretary of state to find that whole e-mail thing weird, or to marvel at the almost-admirably consistent terribleness of her off-the-cuff political instincts, from the “I-suppose-I-could-have-stayed-home-and-baked-cookies-and-had-teas” crack of 1992 straight through to the “dead-broke” debacle of last June. It’s not cruel or intrusive to explore the political implications of a marriage that both Clintons have played way up and played way down as has variously suited them. It’s normal.
So the “if-only” school of thought is perfectly fair, indeed fruitful. But all of it pits the real Hillary against the ideal Hillary, and the real one always loses.
Now that Clinton is an actual person in an actual race against actual opponents, announced and not, though, the “if-only” stands to fade more and more in the minds of people like me, as those opponents bring a definite “uh-oh” into focus.
As of now, anyone who is anything other than an ideologically conservative Republican or a dyed-in-the-wool Clinton hater—that is, anyone who is not already anti-Hillary—is going to start asking:
Just how entitled, inevitable, chilly, played-out, or whatever would Clinton have to appear in order for Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio to strike me as appealing presidential prospects?
If, as her critics routinely sniff, the million miles of globetrotting that Clinton logged as secretary of state don’t really count as foreign-policy experience, precisely what credit is due to Chris Christie’s “trade missions” to the far corners of London and Mexico, or the—wow!—“hours-long” neocon tutorials that The Washington Post has reported Scott Walker getting in the Taft Room of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, D.C.?
Those are just a couple of the straight-up comparisons. Then there are the more general attacks on Clinton, which have so far been a notably ironic kind of lame. She is, for instance, routinely lambasted for having collected astronomical speaking and author fees in accordance with her value to the market—most vociferously by people whose party believes in nothing if not the wisdom of the market, and the related sacrosanctity of earning and keeping as much wealth as one legally can.
Similarly incongruous is the sputtering to the effect that she is not fit to be president on the grounds that the Benghazi debacle occurred “on her watch.” Can someone remind these people that 9/11 happened on theirs? (OK, it happened early in the term of a Republican president … who had just taken over from a Democratic president whose surname begins with “C”… who, like all of his predecessors and both his successors, had to function in a world of relentlessly moving parts not all of which even the great and wise Trey Gowdy would read correctly all of the time … thus rendering the whole “on-so-and-so’s watch” a pretty damn lazy indictment in many instances and certainly a problematic one for Republicans in this one.)
Perhaps most absurdly, Clinton’s foes have taken to decrying her as some kind of hypocrite in the area of women’s rights because the family foundation has taken money from the governments of countries where women have few, if any, rights. Without presuming to dismiss any specific charge that may be leveled vis-a-vis the Clinton Foundation’s dealings—of which I know nothing—it is certainly possible to laugh in the face of the general screeching that has been heard so far.
As is well known to any reporter, aid worker, or missionary of any experience at all: If God Himself set out to generate positive change in the parts of the world where that change is needed most, it would not be long before God Himself was scratching His head and weighing whether to pay off the warlord to let the food trucks through, or turn back and let the village starve, or some other such dreadful dilemma. And once He sorted that issue out, He’d be facing another one, and then another. There is perhaps no area in which such tradeoffs are trickier than in the empowerment of women, an endeavor often rigged with the dynamite sticks of family, religion, sexuality, or tribe. To stipulate that no government of any such country can become part of the solution unless and until it cleanses itself of every aspect of the problem is to identify oneself as an ignoramus. Robust global humanitarianism is simply not a realm in which anyone who goes “ewww” and takes Purell to the very notion of serious moral compromise can hope to accomplish anything—except, perhaps, election to the presidency of the United States.
So much for argument. As everyone keeps insisting, a Hillary campaign is about strong, visceral emotions—which I honestly did not feel until the day she announced.
As of Sunday morning, I knew that I was going to write something about the least surprising campaign launch in history, but I didn’t know what. In the afternoon, I Googled “Hillary announcement,” to get a look at the now famous two-minute video. Instead, I came upon a version of her face, with crazy-frozen eyes and wrinkles plowed deeply through it, on a black background flashing words urging me to send money to stop her.
That did it.
I will never drink the Clinton Kool-Aid. But as of that moment, make no mistake: Hillary is not the one I want to stop.