If you’d told me during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary that six years later I’d be eagerly hoping Hillary Rodham Clinton runs again and wins, I’d have said you were out of your mind. As far as I was concerned then, Clinton had the worst possible combination of attributes for a Democratic nominee: a “third way” centrist hawk who voted for the Iraq war but who was also viewed as partisan and polarizing. To me, she had all the electoral headaches of a true-blue progressive without the virtue of actually being one.
Barack Obama, by contrast, was the opposite package: a progressive who passed the Iraq war litmus test but spoke in conciliatory language that appealed across the political spectrum. Indeed, it’s easy to forget now, but when Obama won Iowa, conservatives feared that he would be considered “post-partisan” and use his rhetorical gifts to push through policies they opposed.
And in many ways, they were right to be afraid. Obama’s honeymoon may have been shorter than many progressives hoped (in part because of the recession), but the president has delivered on all four of his major policy goals — all of which were very heavy political lifts.
As for Clinton, she’s still too hawkish for my taste, and her tenure at the State Department, though laudable, has done nothing to ease my concern. I also still think she often sounds over-rehearsed and cardboard. Given these misgivings, why then am I eagerly supporting her nascent (almost) candidacy?
Well, for one thing, she’s a woman. The prospect of a female president of the United States was compelling in its own right in 2008, but the years since have offered stark reminders that the political gains of women can be rolled back as quickly as they were won. The horrors of the last few years boggle the mind: state-mandated vaginal probes; “legitimate rape”; filibustering equal pay; filibustering the Violence Against Women Act. And though it’s darkly amusing to watch conservative commentators self-destruct (as predicted) while discussing sexual assault, it would be nice to have a woman in the White House to tell them what’s what.
Second, and I realize this may sound juvenile: I just love how Clinton drives the right wing absolutely crazy. Because truth be told, Obama was our olive branch. After the unmitigated disaster of the Bush presidency, progressives chose the more conciliatory Obama as a way to try to dial down the culture war. When Obama was sworn in in 2009, with his former rival as secretary of State and his predecessor’s secretary of Defense staying at his post, his approval rating was at 83% — a rare moment of national unity outside of wartime. And no, we never expected it would be all love and harmony from there, but the ferocity of the pushback from the right was so far beyond Machiavellian political calculus — and so deep into transparent racial animus — that it shocked our conscience.
No, prominent conservatives mostly didn’t outright say that they had problems with Obama on racial grounds; they just slipped unsubtle hints: Is his Kenyan Muslim father the root of his rage against European colonialism? What’s the deal with his Afro-Leninist worldview? And does he have a real American birth certificate? The idea that these kinds of questions might have racial undertones is very offensive to movement conservatives, but it’s plainly apparent to many of the rest of us and especially apparent to progressives.
As far as many of my fellow progressives and I are concerned, we offered an olive branch and the conservative movement replied by finding new and creative ways to call him the “N-word.” And though we did get most of our policy goals, we will not soon forget the sight of right-wing stalwart Bill O’Reilly interrupting the first African American president 48 times in 15 minutes to his face. Nor will we soon forget O’Reilly’s explanation on election night that Obama was winning because “the white establishment is now the minority” and blacks, Latinos and women feel entitled to “stuff,” which Obama would give them. None of which really matters on its own, but in the context of a national conversation where it’s echoed over and over in myriad ways until no one even remembers who said it first? Yeah, we’re a little ticked about that.
Which brings me back to Clinton: She is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, an unapologetic warrior who gets a glint in her eye when she makes the reactionaries and the racists and the sexists squirm. And if she runs in 2016, she’ll have a back-on-his-game former president with her (who just happened to give one of the most extraordinary political orations I’ve ever seen in 2012), as well as Obama’s former campaign manager Jim Messina, and both of them will be gleefully relieving her opponents of their kneecaps.
In short: It’ll be exhausting and it’ll be ugly, but given the political moment we’re in and the importance of having a woman in the Oval Office, it’ll be worth it. I can’t wait.