Saturday, July 30, 2005

# Posted 12:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

'V' IS FOR VALUES: I figure we have around two years left until the debate begins in earnest about Hillary's electability. In Slate, Jacob Weisberg makes the case that that the "Hillary can't be elected" folks just can't think straight. I don't have a firm position on that issue just yet, but I can say with conviction that I find Weisberg's arguments to be totally unpersuasive.

Weisberg's emphasis is on three bad arguments that the anti-Clinton camp makes. First, that she is a leftist. Second, that America has had more than enough Clintons in the White House. Third that Hillary is a woman.

With regard to Point A, Weisberg says that
Sen. Clinton's political positioning couldn't be better for 2008. Despite being a shrewdly triangulating centrist on the model of her husband, she remains wildly popular with the party's liberal core: It seems to share the right's erroneous view of her as a closet lefty.
Although I think "shrewdly triangulating" is supposed to be a compliment, that translates onto the campaign trail as "flip-flopper", the accusation that did so much to sink John Kerry. From where I stand, the lesson of 2004 is that perceptions of sincerity or lack thereof are often more important than the subjects that a candidate is sincere about. (Although if you are far enough left on national security, a la Howard Dean, even sincerity isn't worth much.)

The issue of Hillary's sincerity relates to Weisberg's second point, about America supposedly not wanting another Clinton in the White House. I agree with Weisberg that Hillary is more-or-less Lewinsky-proof. If the GOP raises that point, I think it will back fire.

But the real problem for Hillary is that Bill defined the model of shrewd triangulation of which Weisberg seems somewhat enamored. Bill Clinton was the president and the man who would say anything to make you like him. Remember, long before John Kerry flip-flopped, Bill Clinton waffled.

Speaking more broadly, part of what makes it so hard for Democrats to seem like men and women of conviction is that the party doesn't have a set of core beliefs or values that can unite its disparate factions. While reluctant to say that Democrats don't have core values, even staunch and smart liberals such as Matt Yglesias openly acknowledge that the party has no message simple enough to convey clearly and quickly to the average voter.

After explaining why he disagrees with the three most popular arguments for Hillary's unelectability, Weisberg closes out his article by saying that there is one thing about Hillary which may make her truly unelectable, i.e. her cold-fish personality. Well, it's hard to disagree with that one.

But again, I think Weisberg is putting far too much emphasis on the superficial. If we thought of Hillary as a woman of conviction, her overly serious demeanor might make her more electable, not less. But combined with her penchant for shrewd triangulation, it makes her seem opaque and untrustworthy.
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