The contempt and insults thrown at Hillary Clinton have always loomed in my eyes as flattering celebrations of her virtues, which, for some reason, have been presented upside down, with their feet waving in the air. Devious, is she? Unprincipled? Out for Number One?--so many ways of saying, a canny politician. I cannot imagine that, in American politics right now, canniness is something to dread.
Too many people I meet regard this year's election as a referendum on Bush's decisions in 2003. But neither Hillary nor any other Democrat is responsible for Bush's irresponsibility. All Democrats would have handled Saddam Hussein differently than Bush did, though not all Democrats agree on what the differences would have been. A candidate like Hillary, who participated in the decisions that toppled Slobodan Miloevi, is nicely situated to argue that, on the topic of military stand-offs and far-away dictators, she possesses a superior understanding. Personally, I think it wouldn't do her any harm to acknowledge that, now and then, John McCain has been right. And that she, unlike Bush, will pay respectful attention to what the military people might advise--a point that she has already made. Flip-flopping? She should boast of it. She has learned a few things about health insurance, too. "Experience," her slogan--it is the right slogan--means the learned ability to adapt.
Will Hillary make a good candidate in the general campaign? The election will rest on the issues of toughness and economics, which, given the mortgage market, means victory to any Democrat who cannot be faulted as soft and untested. The vituperations against Hillary, by never coming to an end, will provide a continuous demonstration that, as the candidate of the Democratic Party, we are running an iron nail. Yes, she should show that she is human, too; but not too much. And the wispy ideal known as "change"? Democrats already own the issue, even if Mike Huckabee is also for change. As Newt Gingrich--Hillary's friend!--said: "Had enough?"
Paul Berman is the author of Power and the Idealists.
Part one: Randall Kennedy
Part fourteen: Alan Dershowitz