Now that Hillary Clinton’s four years as Secretary of State have come to an end, the 2016 presidential speculation has reached a fever pitch. Pundits have spent the last few months declaring Clinton untouchable. In a discussion on Current TV, Elliot Spitzer said that she could “clear the field in a democratic primary,” only to be out-superlatived by Jennifer Granholm, who said, “She will feel called to live up to that sense of destiny.” One member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board called her “the meteorite that is about to descend.” (Dramatic much?) Meanwhile, everyone from Andrea Mitchell to George Stephanopoulos has declared her the winner of an election that is still 4 years away.
This sort of talk has followed Clinton since her first Senate run in 2000, but has been notably absent for the last few years as Democrats, Clintons included, rallied behind Obama. Regardless, she still makes for a compelling story. After all, she’s a celebrity, an underdog that’s hungry for gold and the wronged party in a bizarre marriage that has been grotesquely on display for years. Let’s take a little trip in the way-back machine however, to January 2007 when Clinton declared her candidacy for President the first time. She was “in and in to win,” and who could possibly stop her? Joe Biden? Please. Bill Richardson? Who was he kidding? Barack Obama? HA!!
These pundits seem pretty quick to forget that Clinton lost in 2008 to a political nobody, a feat that she accomplished by running a terrible campaign based solely on the inevitability of her victory. Unfortunately, being the inevitable candidate isn’t always a winning primary strategy. In fact, with Clinton’s extremely hawkish views on foreign policy, failures in reforming healthcare, and Bill Clinton-esque approach to corporate welfare, what Hillary Clinton ran in 2008 was a political campaign designed for a Reagan-era Republican primary. She ran John Huntsman’s campaign. Meanwhile, the Democratic base was left with questions, which tamped down their Clinton excitement considerably and made them easy gets for an inspiring but largely content-free Obama cyclone. The base will have the same questions again in 2016…
Based on Hillary’s pre-Secretary of State record, do we really think she’d have us out of Iraq? Be winding down in Afghanistan? Be capable of a measured response to Iran? Do we think she’d have stood up to Republicans and lobbyists in a fight for universal healthcare? These issues may not be front-and-center right now, but they will be when a field of people to her left need something to distinguish themselves with.
If Clinton plans to tout her experience as first lady in 2016, as she did in 2008, liberals will be forced to take another look at those 8 years and will likely be reminded of some things they didn’t love. The Clintons after all, were the first in a modern breed of corporate Democrats. Not only are they consummate beltway insiders, they aren’t afraid to give handouts to corporations and big banks, cut social spending, or make major concessions to the right in service of their own political goals. If Obama shifts to the left, as he is expected to in his final term, Clinton will not be a good steward for whatever progress he makes. Add to this the fact that Hillary is still a highly divisive figure (thanks Monica!) who remains physically unable to seem like a nice person when speaking to crowds, and what we have is a figure who falls quite shy of descending “meteorite” territory.
Of course Clinton’s record hasn’t been referenced much recently in conversations about her expected Presidential ascendency. Pundits have instead focused largely on her surfeit of qualifications to explain why Clinton is an inevitable “field-clearer.” She’s spent what most experts consider a successful four years as Secretary of State (insane Benghazi obsessed Republicans notwithstanding), eight years as a Senator from New York (we use the term “from” lightly), and eight years as first lady. We are well aware, CNN and MSNBC that she’s highly qualified.
Still, even if we assume that her aforementioned qualifications are all that we should be concerned with, it doesn’t hurt to remember that, as Governor of one of the biggest states in the union pretzel-choker George W. Bush was also “qualified” to be president. Meanwhile, John McCain, John Kerry and Al Gore were highly qualified presidential nominees as well. Gore was the Vice President and inventor of the internet, for crying out loud. Kerry had been an influential member of the Senate for years. McCain had been in four plane crashes and survived all of them! This latter list is also, however, entirely populated by people who didn’t become President. Being qualified isn’t enough, and being the beltway insider doesn’t always get you far with voters. One of the least traditionally qualified Democratic candidates of the last 20 years was a largely unknown man named Barack Obama, who somehow wiped the floor with all of Clinton’s (and Biden’s, and Edwards’, and Richardson’s, and Dodd’s) qualifications.
There will certainly be other qualified candidates in 2016 for the democratic nomination, many or all of whom will fall to Clinton’s left. Names being bandied about include Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley, with a slew of gay marriage bills and gun control laws between them. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was instrumental in repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and passing the Zadroga (9/11 Health) Bill, is a possibility. Progressive hero Elizabeth Warren is another (this is our undying hope). And don’t think that lovable VP Joe Biden is going to go down without a fight.
Democrats, it’s foolish to commit to a losing strategy before trying to find a winning one. Beyond all of these points is something glaringly obvious: we’re almost 4 years away from 2016. We just inaugurated a president to his second term. This type of foolish speculation doesn’t benefit the political discourse in this country and it certainly doesn’t help the party get anything done. If everyone currently cluttering up their Facebook news feed with polls pointing to Hillary Clinton’s future presidency actually decided to work to help Obama accomplish his more progressive second term agenda, the country would be in a much better place in 2016 for whoever wins the presidency; whether that person be Clinton, or better yet, anyone else.