The other day I spoke with a friend of mine, a firmly liberal Jewish woman, about who she was supporting in the Democratic presidential primary. Rather to my surprise, she said she was supporting Hillary Clinton. I say "to my surprise" because, in all the talk with all my liberal friends about the race, I hadn't actually talked to a real, live Hillary supporter before. I knew they were out there -- she's leading in the polls, so obviously she has a big constituency -- but for me it was like the existence of Bush supporters: I know that there are a lot of them, but they aren't part of my social circle. Or so I had thought. But the election is just starting to come up in conversation: so I guess I don't really know. (And come to think of it, that colleague was... and...)
A few days later, I had lunch with another friend -- another liberal woman, this one from the Midwest -- and she, too, said she was supporting Hillary. When I described the reasons the first friend gave, the second friend agreed that those were pretty much her reasons too.
So having encountered Hillary supporters not online, not in print, but in person, indeed in the person of friends I care about and respect, I want to consider (yes, online and in print, not in person, unless you, Noble Reader, want to fly to Ithaca: we'll do lunch) the reasons that these friends of mine gave -- and why I think they are so terribly mistaken.
It may be too late: the U.S. media is already building a Hillary-is-inevitable narrative, and of course the media in this country are interested largely in narratives rather than in policy or any of the other things in politics that actually affect our lives. And, of course, my blog isn't read by more than a handful of readers. But confronted by an impending mistake -- indeed, I fear, a grave mistake -- I throw what I have into opposing it, little though that may be and hopeless though the cause might be.
Let me begin by saying that I think one central problem here is the existence of two leading candidates apart from Clinton. If the liberal wing of the Democratic party -- and that's really what we're talking about here, I think: Clinton represents the establishment, centrist, DLC, old-school side of the party, and both Edwards and Obama represent the liberal side, except insofar as Clinton has suckered (I use the word deliberately) liberals such as my friends into seeing no difference between them (more on this anon). Start again. If the liberal wing of the Democratic party splits, of course the establishment candidate will win. Even if this series of blog posts, in a miracle of biblical proportions, reaches half the Democrats in the country and convinces them all, Hillary would still win if we split between Edwards and Obama. Unless the anti-Hillary forces coalesce around a single candidate, Hillary will win.
I don't have an answer for this last one. I don't even have a candidate: at the moment, my current plan is to vote for whichever candidate -- Edwards or Obama -- is the anti-Hillary candidate at the time of the New York state primary. This is presuming that one or the other of them will have (practically if not technically) knocked the other out of the race by that point, but that that one still has a chance to win. If in fact by the time of the New York primary Hillary has the nomination sewn up, I'll vote for Kucinich as a protest-vote against the hawkish, pro-Empire tendencies of the Democrats; if, in fact, all three candidates are still viable, I'll then have to choose between Edwards and Obama. (I'm leaning in one direction, but quite definitely swayable on this point -- or even towards Bill Richardson or one of the other dark-horse candidates.)
I'm not saying that Hillary Clinton wouldn't be an okay President. She would, without question or doubt, be far better than any Republican currently either in the race or considering it -- with the extremely problematic, possible exception of Ron Paul, who would be far worse about almost everything but far better about the most important thing. But let's face it: he's Kucinich on the other side -- a nice idea, but not going to happen. So, certainly, if Clinton's the Democratic candidate, I'll vote for her, I'll support her, I'll hope she'll win.
But I think it will be a mistake -- a grave mistake, a mistake that will throw away a big chance, both for liberalism as a movement in America, and for our country as a whole. I think that Hillary Clinton will be distinctly worse than either Edwards and Obama -- although both of them are far, far, far from as good as I would wish or as I hoped they would be.
So I want to speak -- with as much force as I can, which admittedly isn't much -- to my fellow Democrats, and particular to those within the party who think of themselves as largely on the left -- as my friends do -- and see if I can convince them that I'm right.
At the moment, I am imagining this essay series as dividing into six parts; this plan may change as I go forward, however, and the essay takes final shape. But for the moment, the projected table of contents (so to speak) is as follows:
2. Who can win?
3. The affirmative action arguments
4. Experience and other distractions
5. Vote for the liberal!
6. Against empire: the Democrats, Iraq and military force
7. Against unchecked executive power
8. Articulating a liberal philosophy
The first three parts are, as I see it, necessary hurdles to jump; the final three parts will be the core of my argument here.
Except to see new entries regularly -- about one a day for the next week or so if I can manage it (excepting Saturday, which is Yom Kippur). If not, they'll still come as fast as I can write 'em. So stay tuned!
Part two is now posted; click here to read it.
Update 9/23: My friend (the first of the two I mentioned) was kind enough to post her own version of her arguments in comments here. Thus instead of relying on my summary, you should click through and read what she has to say herself.