WOULD HILLARY CLINTON BE WINNING RIGHT NOW?

Seems pretty clear to me the answer is yes. Overall, I doubt Clinton’s apparent margin would be as big as Obama’s is at this moment; I’d guess she’d be doing better in Florida and worse in Colorado and Virginia. I doubt with Clinton at the top of the ticket we’d be considering the possibility of a new Democratic Senator from Georgia or (less likely) Mississippi or Kentucky. It’s hard to imagine her bringing in as many first-time voters or turning as many independents. But by all indications, Hillary Clinton would be beating John McCain right now for the most important reasons Barack Obama is beating John McCain, and the main reasons (which got a huge exclamation mark from this fall’s economic news) it looked a year ago like Clinton/ Obama/ Edwards would beat Romney/ McCain/ Thompson: eight years of right-wing Republican rule has devastated the Republican brand (so much so that conservatives are left to plead that it wasn’t right-wing at all).

If Clinton had been the candidate, I bet McCain could have convinced some more folks that he was the one in the race who would “turn the page” on politics as usual in Washington, and he could have kept his money out of Georgia, but it’s hard to imagine he would be poised to win the election right now. Conversely, while Clinton’s claims about McCain as a nominee – that he would throw the kitchen sink at the Democrat – proved true, her claim that Obama as nominee would wilt under the attacks proved laughably false (though unsurprisingly, her own gutter attacks on Obama proved to have long life on John McCain’s shelf).

Point being, what a wasted opportunity it would have been if the months of competition between Obama and Clinton had been settled just based on who looked to more Democrats like a safer choice to go up against John McCain.

SUSPENSION AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

Remember when Howard Dean was going to suspend his campaign for president? You know, no more campaigning, no more staff, no more press releases, no more interviews, no more trying to get people (aside from the good people of Vermont, who couldn’t help themselves) to vote for him? That was a big deal.

On the other hand, you could be forgiven for wondering, given that John McCain is still sending his Vice President and his surrogates out to rally the faithful, still has TV ads airing (and they’ll all be back on Saturday), is still out spewing his own campaign talking points while his campaign still blasts Barack Obama, and still took the time to address (the painstakingly gracious and bi-partisan) Bill Clinton’s group while other US Senators were trying to make a deal, just what the big deal was when he announced he was suspending his campaign.

But we shouldn’t understate the significance of John McCain’s sacrifice: if he actually votes on bailout legislation, it’ll be his first Senate vote in six months! (That makes McCain the Number One Absentee Senator, ahead of Tim Johnson, who was recovering from brain hemorrhage). So if McCain’s campaign sees it is a world-historical event when he considers his first (potential) Senate vote since he was traipsing around on a largely ignored biographical tour and trying to take advantage of Hillary Clinton’s news hooks, who can blame them?

WHO PLACED WHOSE HANDS?

Hillary Clinton got some deserved criticism for her lecture about how “it took a President” to pass the Civil Rights Act (didn’t Obama prove he values the role of the President when he started running to be the next one?). But Robert Caro’s op-ed today reminds us she could have said something worse:

“Abraham Lincoln struck off the chains of black Americans,” I have written, “but it was Lyndon Johnson who led them into voting booths, closed democracy’s sacred curtain behind them, placed their hands upon the lever that gave them a hold on their own destiny, made them, at last and forever, a true part of American political life.”

This isn’t poetic – it’s just offensive. Did LBJ tie African-Americans’ shoes before they left the house to vote? It should go without saying that African-Americans have been a “true part of American political life” since before the birth of the United States. Among other things, they led a movement which seized the franchise by shifting public opinion and transforming the political landscape. That movement made the difference between the days when LBJ was strategizing against Civil Rights legislation to the days when Jesse Helms must claim to support it.

Caro seems smug towards Civil Rights activists who didn’t trust Johnson’s support until they got it. No doubt which bills Johnson supported, and when he came around to support them, is indeed, as Caro says, some combination of “ambition and compassion.” It’s short-sighted for historians to lionize Johnson’s choices while disparaging the people whose vision, tactics, and courage made it possible for him to wed the two. Of course it makes a huge difference who the President is. But the Great Man Theory that tells us Lincoln freed the slaves and then Johnson gave their descendants the vote is a theory that should be in the dustbin of history by now.

Let’s remember that as we consider the progress Barack Obama’s nomination represents as well as the struggles ahead should there be an Obama presidency.

BREAKING: BARACK TRIES TO RECONCILE HOPE, POLICY DIFFERENCES WITH OPPONENT

This article from the Paper of Record is just silly:

As Mr. Obama stands poised to claim the crown of presumptive Democratic nominee, he is, gingerly, fitting himself with the cloth of a partisan Democrat despite having long proclaimed himself above such politics. That his shift in tone was inevitable and necessary, particularly as Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, slashes at Mr. Obama as weak on Iran and terrorism, does not entirely diminish the cognitive dissonance.

As is unfortunately common with denunciations of partisanship in Washington, you get the sense reading Michael Powell’s Times news piece that not only does he see no need to tell you what he means by partisanship, he may not be so sure of it himself. Powell offers not one example of Obama’s post-partisan rhetoric against which we might judge his current stump speech (which is not to say there’s nothing in that rhetoric some of us – as ideologues more than as partisans – might take issue with). Instead, he just asserts that Obama promised to be a different kind of politician from the partisans we’re used to, and now he’s criticizing his opponent (without even giving him the benefit of the doubt!).

In other words, Obama promised to play nice, and now he’s being mean! And how:

“This is a guy who said I have no knowledge of foreign affairs,” Senator Barack Obama says, his voice hitting a high C on the incredulity scale, before he adds: “Well, John McCain was arguing for a war that had nothing to do with 9/11. He was wrong, and he was wrong on the most important subject that confronted our nation.” The crowd rises, clapping and cheering at this pleasing whiff of partisan buckshot.

Judging from the sternly disapproving tone the Times takes, you’d think Obama had said McCain’s daughter was ugly because she was the love child of his wife and his (female) Attorney General. But all the guy said was that his opponent had criticized him, his opponent was on the wrong side of an issue, and that issue was really important.

What does it even mean to say that this is partisan? Obama criticized co-partisan Hillary Clinton for backing the War in Iraq, so there’s nothing about Obama’s criticism that depends on party. Is Powell criticizing Obama for being overly issue-oriented? Or just for being overly critical of the man that everyone knows is the Most Principled Man in Washington?

But the article wouldn’t be complete without some criticism of the Obama campaign for disagreeing with the author’s criticism:

Mr. Obama’s advisers argue, gamely if implausibly, that he has not dipped his cup into a partisan well. “I don’t look at it as partisanship,” said Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama’s communications director. “I look at it as a difference of philosophy.”

We expect this kind of silliness when it’s David Broder filling the editorial page with requiems for an imagined non-partisan past, or Unity08-backing celebrities sharing their heartfelt yearnings for politics without politics, or Howard Wolfson asking how Barack Obama can claim to support hope while opposing Hillary Clinton’s run for president. But on the news page we should really expect better.

PERSONALLY ATTACKED?

A telling and all too common moment from this week’s debate:

EDWARDS:…And the most important issue is she says she will bring change to Washington, while she continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged and is corrupt; corrupted against the interest of most Americans and corrupted…(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All right…

EDWARDS: … and corrupted for a very small, very powerful, very well-financed group.

BLITZER: We’re going to…

EDWARDS: So we have fundamental differences.

BLITZER: We’re going to get to all of these issues, including energy and Iran and everything else.

CLINTON: Well, Wolf, I’ve just been personally attacked again, and I…

Can anybody explain to me what’s personal about that attack? Brings me back to a certain incumbent’s decision four years ago that every criticism of his record was “political hate speech.”

And does she disagree with the idea that the system in Washington is broken, or that she’s been defending it?

DISTINGUISHING

I have to believe Frank Rich knows better than this:

Even leaving aside the Giuliani record in New York (where his judicial appointees were mostly Democrats), the more Democratic Senate likely to emerge after 2008 is a poor bet to confirm a Scalia or Alito even should a Republican president nominate one. No matter how you slice it, the Giuliani positions on abortion, gay rights and gun control remain indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s.

Look, I like to gloat as much as the next guy, but let’s not do it at the expense of reality. And Rudy Giuliani has indeed gotten more traction than many (myself included) thought he ever could, despite James Dobson et al’s significant discomfort with him. But he’s not a pro-choice candidate (he’s not a pro-gay rights or pro-gun control candidate either). He believes abortion is immoral, and he’s made it clear to anyone who’s paying attention that he’ll appoint judges who will make abortion illegal. The intermediate question of whether he has nice things to say about laws banning abortion is a detail (he’s also reversing himself on laws that make it more difficult for women to access the right to choose). While the Senate on a good day can hold back particularly crazy nominees, the only people who come their way for confirmation are the ones the president sends over. And in case you haven’t noticed, drafting strategies on how to overturn Roe isn’t enough to deny you confirmation votes from Democrats.

THE CLINTON PRESIDENCY THAT WASN’T

Had the chance while I was back East for Rosh HaShanah to read George Stephanopoulos’ memoir, which I guess is a lot like you’d imagine it to be. Not to give away the ending, but Stephanopoulos closes with the image of Bill Clinton delivering his State of the Union in the thick of impeachment, and his final sentence is:

Wondering what might have been – if only this good president had been a better man.

This perspective on Clinton – that the great potential of his presidency was spoiled by his sex scandal – is pretty popular, but I don’t see a lot to support it. What were the big domestic or foreign policy initiatives that Clinton would have been able to push through in the last two-and-a-half years of his presidency if not for Monica Lewinsky? What’s the political strategy that would have overcome the hostility of Bob Dole’s Senate and Newt Gingrich’s House to get them through?

Sure, the Lewinsky scandal drew a lot of public, media, and congressional attention. But it’s wishful thinking to imagine that otherwise that airtime would have gone to important public policy. Bill Clinton spent much of the time he was being impeached at higher popularity than any of his peers at the same point in office. Like his wife, he did a deft job of parlaying Republican attacks into anti-anti-Clinton feeling. And if not for the impeachment overreach, it seems unlikely that the Democrats would have bucked history in 1998 by taking back House seats.

The story of a progressive savior that could have been if not for his adulterous appetites has a fun Greek tragic flair to it, but there’s not a lot to back it up. And it has the unfortunate effect of perpetuating the idea that a brilliant politician could have triangulated his way to big progressive reforms if only he’d passed up that blue dress.

WORLD’S SHORTEST POLITICAL QUIZ

Guess where you can read the following political history:

You know, it is a word that originally meant that you were for freedom, that you were for the freedom to achieve, that you were willing to stand against big power and on behalf of the individual. Unfortunately, in the last 30, 40 years, it has been turned up on its head and it’s been made to seem as though it is a word that describes big government, totally contrary to what its meaning was in the 19th and early 20th century.

Is it the pages of Reason Magazine? The declaration of some self-described “classicaly liberal” professor? Nope. Those words were spoken at last night’s Democratic Debate by the party’s frontrunner.

This is what people mean when they complain about the Clintons’ much-vaunted triangulation – although this particular argument is really worse than triangulation, in that rather than positioning herself between two bad boogeymen of the hard left and hard right, she’s just defining her politics against left-wing “big government” (didn’t her husband already declare it over?). And she’s defining “individual freedom” against “big government” too.

It’s not a mystery why she would do this. Conservatives have done an impressive job of convincing people over the past decades that more government means less freedom. That’s how they’ve peddled their attacks on the majority’s ability to legislate against plutocracy. It’s how they’ve pushed forward an agenda that leaves Americans less free – prisoners of fear of disaster, dislocation, and disintegration of their communities and their hopes for their families.

Democrats have not done a great job over the past few decades of framing the debate in a way that elevates freedom from want and freedom from fear and challenges the idea that we are more economically free if your boss can fire you for being gay or fighting for more money. Right-wing frames are powerful. That means contemporary candidates need to either co-opt them or challenge them. Which choice they make is telling.

PUT DOWN THE FEMALE CANDIDATE AND NOBODY GETS HURT

Andrew Sullivan approvingly cites a reader’s nasty argument against Hillary Clinton:

If everyone is admitting that a Hillary Clinton’s potential nomination to the Democrat Presidential ticket is only fuel for the religious right, then what do you think Senator Clinton’s view is on that? Why is it that this either doesn’t concern her, or she thinks she can overcome it? If I were in the same position, I would realize that winning the nomination, only to further create a dichotomy between the American politic, would be disastrous for the country.

Now it’s one thing to say that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t run because she’s too unpopular to win the general election (though the polls won’t be much help to you there). It’s another thing to say that running for president even though a lot of people hate you shows “fathomless narcissism” (Sullivan’s phrase). In other words, if you love America, and there are a bunch of people in America who hate you, you shouldn’t run for election in America because it will divide America and that’s too great a price to pay.

There are good reasons not to like Hillary Clinton. Those are not the ones that make her unpopular with the religious right. Hillary Clinton, for all her caution with the personal and the political, is a lightning rod for anti-feminist forces in American politics who don’t believe women should exercise power traditionally reserved for men. Andrew Sullivan knows that.

It’s silly, though all too common, to suggest that the main problem facing this country is a lack of consensus about where it should go or what kind of person should lead it. And it’s outrageous, though by no means unusual, to argue that the enlightened response to the troubling views of a certain number of Americans is to accommodate them rather than to engage and challenge them.

Some people in this country think Hillary Clinton is a bitch because she wields power and wants more of it. It’s a shame to see pundits who should know better suggesting she’s a bitch for not acceding to those people’s wish that she would disappear.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

This Times piece features a silly and all-too common turn of phrase (emphasis mine):

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who joined the Senate in 2005 and thus escaped the Iraq vote that has come to haunt Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry, used the platform of Senate hearings to lacerate the Bush Iraq policy and affirm his own opposition to the war.

Sure, one of the annoying things about being an elected legislator is that along with your deliciously nuanced views on the issues of the day, you need to vote for or against bills you didn’t write yourself to say just what you wanted them to. But is there anyone who knew who Barack Obama was in 2002 who didn’t know his position on invading Iraq?

The man spoke at an anti-war rally and called the proposed invasion “dumb” and an “attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us.” Do Adam Nagourney and Patrick Healy really believe that he was hedging on whether or not the bill for the war should pass?