There has been a rising chorus of buyers' remorse among Lefties over their support of the POTUS 44 over The Hillster. To her credit, Salon's Rebecca Traister does not ask either the POTUS or the SECSTATE to turn their heads and cough. And, she eschews fairy tales. If this is (fair & balanced) Realpolitik, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap Magazine]
What Would Hillary Clinton Have Done?
By Rebecca Traister
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In the worst of the Democratic primary campaign in 2008, the angry end of the thing, when I had become a devoted Hillary Clinton supporter and was engaged in bitter arguments with people with whom I often agreed, I used to harbor a secret fear, the twin of my political hope: I worried that Hillary Clinton would win her party’s nomination.
This possibility scared me because I knew, with a furious surety, that if she went on to win the presidency, I and the handful of other Clinton supporters in my privileged, mediacentric, Obama-drunk circle would be forced to spend the next four to eight years hearing the words “We told you so,” spoken at various accusatory pitches. Every time she made a compromise, lost a battle or started a war, those of us who had — often shamefacedly — proclaimed a preference for her would have to answer for it, and more profoundly, have to answer for the dream we dashed. We would have to apologize to the world for robbing it of an imagined Barack Obama presidency.
Three years after that intense and acrimonious time, in a period of liberal disillusionment, some on the left are engaging in an inverse fantasy. Almost unbelievably, they are now daydreaming of how much better a Hillary Clinton administration might have represented them.
The political site Talking Points Memo recently ran a post asking to hear from readers who felt that Clinton would have handled the debt-ceiling crisis better than Obama. On HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” the host asked if liberals should have buyer’s remorse for choosing Obama over Clinton. “Yes,” replied the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who said that Clinton might have been a “more effective negotiator” with Congress, while Maher noted that “she knows how to deal with difficult men.” The Daily Beast’s smugly headlined article “Hillary Told You So” relied on scads of unattributed quotes from grumpy Democrats: “No one ever had to tell Hillary” that the economy was crucial, “Obama has no spine,” “Hillary is tougher.”
Rather than reveling in these flights of reverse political fancy, I find myself wanting the revisionist Hillary fantasists — Clintonites and reformed Obamamaniacs alike — to just shut up already.
I understand the impulse to indulge in a quick “I told you so.” I would be lying if I said I didn’t think it sometimes. Maybe often. But to say it — much less to bray it — is small, mean, divisive and frankly dishonest. None of us know what would have happened with Hillary Clinton as president, no matter how many rounds of W.W.H.H.D. (What Would Hillary Have Done) we play.
Clinton might have tended to jobs and the economy more quickly than Obama did; therefore, there might have been no health care reform. If the economy had improved, it’s possible there would have been less of a 2010 bloodbath, but her coattails would most likely have been shorter to begin with. Yes, she might have bitten off the ear of a Tea Partier by now. Then again, there might not have been a Tea Party. Do I believe she was better prepared to navigate the vast right wing of our political system? Yes, sir, that’s part of why I voted for her over Obama. Do I wonder if she might not also have taken us to war with Iran by now? Well, that’s part of why I almost voted for Obama over her.
The empirical choice between Clinton and Obama was never as direct as those on either side made it out to be; neither was obviously more equipped or more progressive than the other. The maddening part, then and now, is that they were utterly comparable candidates. The visions — in 2008, of Obama as a progressive redeemer who would restore enlightened democracy to our land and Hillary as a crypto-Republican company man; or, in 2011, of Obama as an appeasement-happy crypto-Republican and Hillary as a leftist John Wayne who would have whipped those Congressional outlaws into shape — they were all invented. These are fictional characters shaped by the predilections, prejudices and short memories of the media and the electorate. They’re not actual politicians between whom we choose here on earth.
If she had won her party’s nomination and then the general election, Hillary Clinton’s presidency would probably not have looked so different from Obama’s. She was, after all, a senator who, for a variety of structural and strategic reasons, often crossed party lines to co-sponsor legislation with Republicans, who voted to go to war in Iraq, who moved to the center on everything from Israel to violent video games. You think Obama’s advisers are bad? Hillary Clinton hired, and then took far too long to get rid of, Mark Penn. And her economic team probably would have looked an awful lot like Obama’s.
It’s just that her similarities to Obama never seemed to register with those who saw in our current president a progressivism that he himself wasn’t advertising, and saw in her a drive and ferocity that — far from being the salvation some are now imagining — made her a harpy, a monster and a bitch. Her storied toughness was then read as craven ambition that was going to tear her party apart. Her knowledge of how Congress works was seen as part of her dynastic and corrupt Beltway privilege. And her engagement with working-class voters, well, that was just pandering to her supposedly racist base.
If Clinton had been elected president, those characterizations would have become only uglier, especially as her tenure was compared with an unrealized and thus unblemished Obama administration. Alternate-universe President Hillary Clinton would have been competing with a dream. But in a funny way, Obama is, too.
We forget, sometimes, that our government was designed to limit the powers of the president. Barack Obama walked into the White House in January 2009 with his own set of structural and strategic challenges: an economy in free fall; a 24-hour cable-news and talk-radio-fed culture eager to blare “crisis!” headlines every 12 minutes, making long-view evaluations of a presidency impossible; and most important, an obstinate Congress. On every major vote, from the stimulus to uncompromised health care reform, Obama needed 60 (not the historically customary 50) to get anything moving, a practical impossibility, thanks both to Republicans, whose stated goal was not to fix things but to keep the president from fixing anything, and to conservative Democrats, who made the party’s majority a false promise to begin with.
There simply was never going to be a liberal messiah whose powers could transcend the limits set by a democracy this packed with regressive obstructionists. That doesn’t mean we can’t hope for, seek and demand better from politicians and presidents. But we can’t spend our time focused on alternate realities in which our country, its systems and its climate are not what they are. With advance apologies for returning to one of 2008’s most infelicitous phrases, it’s time to let go of the fairy tales. Ω
[Rebecca Traister is the Senior Staff Writer for Salon, where she covers women in media, politics and entertainment. Traister also has written for The New York Observer, Elle, Vogue, New York magazine, and The New York Times. Traister is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.]
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