Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Damsel in Distress or Iron Lady?

While U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, (D-IL), makes an interesting candidate for president – an attractive black man, as his Senate colleague Joe Biden said rather stupidly last week – the one who actually holds the cards to winning the nomination would likely make a far better chief executive.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, (D-NY), evokes a visceral reaction among both her supporters and those who, without any diplomacy or tact, will tell anyone within listening distance that they hate her.

Since 1992, when she came onto the country’s national political scene, Hillary has been both a source of pride and contempt for the Democratic Party. She doesn’t play by the rules established for First Ladies, either current or former. And now, here she is, barely into her second term as a United States Senator, and she’s the one to beat for her party’s presidential nomination next year.

It’s just so unfair.

The only other First Ladies who were as close to being as controversial as Hillary include Rosaylnn Carter (she announced she’d join her husband for the Cabinet meetings); Betty Ford (she supported a woman’s right to choose); and Eleanor Roosevelt (who toured the country and stumped for her husband).

Had Senator Clinton been the traditional First Lady, her husband would remain in the spotlight – or in as much of the spotlight as former presidents receive – and she would confine herself to staying within his shadow.

But anyone who knows anything about Senator Clinton knows that’s not her style. She only retreats to lick her wounds and find another way to achieve victory.

During the 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary proudly announced that she didn’t stay home “and bake cookies.” While the comment may not have been intended as an insult to First Lady Barbara Bush, it certainly drew a distinction between the Baby Boomer and World War II generations.

(Bill Clinton was the first Baby Boomer to be elected President while George H.W. Bush was the last President to have served in the military during World War II.)

While her husband was Arkansas’ governor, Senator Clinton was a partner in the Rose Law Firm and, according to Wikipedia, she chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, the Rural Health Advisory Committee; she also introduced, according to Wikipedia, the Arkansas Home Instructional Program for Preschool Youth, “which trains parents to work with their children in preschool preparedness and literacy.”

The online encyclopedia also reports that the Senator was named Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983 and Arkansas Mother of the Year in 1984. Her business experience, during her Little Rock days, included serving on the Board of Directors of TCBY, The Country’s Best Yogurt, and Wal-Mart stores.

Shortly after her husband won the presidential election, she was appointed to lead the presidential task force investigating ways to change the nation’s healthcare system. The task force met privately, making it an easy target for Republicans, which later helped them take control of Congress during the 1994 midterm elections.

After the healthcare plan, one of the single largest controversies surrounding Senator Clinton was the way she handled herself during President Clinton’s impeachment and subsequent trial as well as the way she stood by him after it had been revealed that he’d had an affair – a sordid, quick fling is a better description – with a White House intern.

Monica Lewinsky wasn’t the President’s first mistress; during the presidential campaign in 1992, Bill Clinton admitted that he’d damaged their marriage, perhaps more than once; while in the White House, it was reported that he’d had at least one another dalliance.

The Senator had two ways to handle this affair: She could walk out on him, thereby making her the first First Lady to ever divorce and/or separate from her husband; or she could stand by him, the option she chose.

Hillary’s decision reveals a lot about her. She may not have exactly had her eyes on the Senate in 1998, when the affair with Monica was made public. At the same time, it cannot be simply dismissed that she was not planning her post-White House years either. She said, more than once, that Bill Clinton did his thing and she did hers.

While she may have forgiven the president for his transgression with Monica – we’ll never really know – it’s also equally possible that she figured that Bill Clinton’s former wife would never have as much political cache as his current wife. And that was likely one of the reasons she stood by him.

Hillary also saw in Bill Clinton something she needed – a masterful politician to guide her through the trials and tribulations that any national and state-wide politician encounters. He had an ability to confound the Republican majority in Congress and look better after every assault launched against him. She knew, especially when she decided to run for the Senate, that his advice, knowledge and experience would be required to win the campaign.

Losing the Senate seat to a relative unknown, like U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio, was simply not an option. She had to win, especially if she wanted any kind of political future that wouldn’t require her to play second fiddle to her husband.

For that matter, Bill Clinton equally knew that to place his legacy in good standing, Hillary had to win. A Hillary victory, to Bill Clinton, is spawning a politician in his own mold, and it keeps him in front of the American electorate.

As she shown already, Hillary will make sure that no one can “out-left” her. The primaries are a time when the party faithful vote, so Hillary will do whatever is necessary to show them that she’s the Democrat they want returned to The White House. Her husband will campaign for her, too.

She’ll beat Barack Obama for this simple reason – there are politicians that owe her favors. After eight years in The White House, and more than six years in the Senate, there are governors and members of Congress who owe her (and her husband) in a way that they don’t owe Senator Obama.

Senator Obama will get there, but it will take a few more years than he’d like. Who knows, there’s a good chance he could wind up as Hillary’s running mate.

After she sows up the nomination, Hillary, in an attempt to capture the votes of independents and dispirited Republicans, will move to the center – at least in her speeches. She’ll essentially tell America that she’s tough on defense and illegal immigration; supports adoption (along with a woman’s right to choose); likes hunters (but supports tough hand-gun legislation); is tough on crime; supports environmental causes; and will say that the world’s perception of America needs to be improved. She’ll dance around Iraq and Afghanistan. If necessary, she’ll talk about a time-line to bring the troops home.

All of that just might secure a White House victory. But, of course, any presidential campaign with Hillary leading the ticket contains a very possible, and very serious, vulnerability. It’s her husband.

A vote for Hillary, Republicans will say, is a vote for Bill. (In fact, you can expect the Republicans to make Hillary to look live the Devil.) The Republicans will say President Clinton left the country vulnerable to terrorism (He had a chance to kill Osama bin Laden while he was in The Sudan but failed to take it) and they’ll remind the country that the Clinton Administration was once charged with selling high-tech secrets to China. And let’s not forget the impeachment hearings.

If Hillary survives this assault – and the Republicans stumble – she’ll likely be elected.

What Kind of President will she be?

Gender will play a role in how Hillary conducts herself in office. It’ll force her to be harsher in some areas, like national defense, and softer in others, like families and children.

As the first woman to become president, Hillary will need to prove, more so than the average male president, not that she’s about to surrender the country and its interests to some of our toughest enemies, like North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

(Hillary was recently asked in Iowa if she had any background in dealing with “evil” men. Some interpreted the way she asked the question as an acknowledgement of having dealt with her husband, which she’s since denied. Even if we accept her denial at face value, let’s face it, she’s dealt with a husband who’s admitted to being less than faithful to his marriage.)

Hillary’s gender will force her to act tough when it comes to foreign policy, much in the same way it forced former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s hand. She had no choice but to retake the United Kingdom’s Falkland Islands after they’d been stormed by Argentinean troops in 1982. Failure to do so would have made Britain’s first female prime minister look feeble and incompetent on matters of national defense, something no female leader can afford.

In addition to Thatcher, there are other previous female world leaders Hillary can study for tips on how to approach certain issues. Sarah Baxter, a writer for the Sunday Times of London, reports that Hillary only needs to review the life and times of Israel’s Golda Meir and India’s Indira Gandhi to find out tough she can be on national defense.

Meir, Baxter reports, “authorized the assassination of Palestinian terrorist leaders and the annexation of conquered lands, and she led Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.” Ghandi led India during its war with Pakistan.

Iraq and Afghanistan?

Hillary will deny, on a large stake of Bibles, that she has anything in common with former President Richard Nixon. She was a staff attorney on the Senate committee investigating Nixon over Watergate in the 1970s.

But she’ll borrow from the Nixon playbook when it comes to Iraq. Nixon knew that the domestic political climate didn’t support continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam; but he equally knew that he couldn’t be the first president to lose a war. He was in a bind.

So he started bringing the troops home while, at the same time, ordering far more aggressive attacks on Communist forces in North Vietnam and in Cambodia. By doing so, he looked tough on Communism (something he was known for) while also acknowledging that it was time for the United States to end its involvement in Vietnam.

Hillary will likely do something similar. She doesn’t want the enemies of the United States and Iraq’s current government to succeed, and likely, neither does the average American voter. But she’ll need to strike a balance between domestic desires and the harsh reality of Iraq. It’s my guess that she’ll bring some of the troops home (a way to keep the Democrats appeased) while continuing some kind of U.S. military presence in Iraq.

Afghanistan is a different story. It’s essentially a NATO operation but there are also U.S. troops in Afghanistan that are not under NATO command. This allows the United States to work with NATO allies while, at the same time, giving it the flexibility to conduct operations that may be questioned by its allies.

The operation in Afghanistan basically hides behind the one in Iraq; it will likely remain that way during the Hillary Clinton presidency.

If any of America’s enemies, like North Korea, Iran or Venezuela, start saber-rattling, expect Hillary to deal with the issue forcefully and effectively.

The one thing that people will soon notice about Hillary is that she’ll have an easier time making a decision than her husband, especially on issues of national security.

Domestic Issues

Hillary’s domestic politics can be summed up in this manner – she’ll support traditional Democratic causes whenever possible, like unions, abortion rights, domestic partnerships, but, at the same time, she’ll make every attempt to keep herself in the center, so she’s appealing to moderately conservative voters.

So, she’ll support a woman’s right to choose an abortion while supporting legislation that makes adoption easier.

Hillary will probably not want to deal with gay marriage, but she’ll certainly support domestic partnerships, enhancing them wherever possible.

She’ll talk up her religious faith on the campaign trail, when necessary, and she may even be inclined to continue the President George W. Bush’s program to give government money to faith-based charities helping the poor and downtrodden.

Hillary will be as conniving and as crafty as her husband. But I expect her to be a much more formidable executive than her husband, too. Once she makes a decision, even if it is controversial, she’ll likely stick with it.

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