Would Clinton have lost Massachusetts?
During the 2008 presidential election, I supported Hillary Rodham Clinton as the choice for the Democratic nomination during the primaries, until the “Well that depends on what your definition of sniper fire is” moment. At that point, I thought it the most dignified thing for Clinton to do was to concede defeat what that continuing in a losing battle, though I did not become a fully-throated supporter of Barack Obama. Looking back, it was ultimately a good thing in many respects that she fought to the end, giving all states a chance to express their choice for the nomination, and giving Obama more opportunities to debate before the general. Had I been a Clinton supporter in South Dakota, I would have been pleased with her decision to contest to the end.
My reasons for supporting Clinton were that her experience in Washington as a Senator since 2001 had shown her ability to work with people in the skills of negotiating legislation. She had built up relationships with Republican as well as Democratic Senators. Of course, were she to be president, old partners as cosignatories on bills would become partisan, but that instinctive knowledge of where others stood would have been an advantage to her. Her experience as First Lady were also relevant. Something that would certainly not be true of all political spouses, she was an active political player during President Clinton’s term of office. In fact, she had had clear experience with the issue which was to be a major one during both the campaign and the first year of President Obama’s year in office, that of health care. Ultimately, what became known as Hillarycare did not succeed, but it did give her that background on the issue.
During the primaries, Clinton was touted as a typical cynical politician against the idealistic Obama. But in a way, that was why I thought she would be a better choice as president. Whatever the noble aims of many of those who enter politics, political aims cannot be achieved without some unpleasant sausage-making. Had President Obama really transformed politics in the past year, I might have reason to think I had been wrong in my initial support of Clinton.
There is little point dealing with the counterfactual of the last year with Clinton as president, but I couldn’t help but wonder about this question on Tuesday when the Senate seat previously held by Ted Kennedy was lost to Republican Scott Brown. The election was primarily lost by the Democrats due to the effect that their nominee Martha Coakley had presumed that she would only have to campaign for the primary, and that it would be a walk in the park to win in Massachusetts as a Democrat. But the national situation played a role and particularly given that Massachusetts already had healthcare, introduced under Gov. Mitt Romney, it was somewhat reluctant to pay for everyone else to have it too.
I wonder if Hillary Clinton, who had not put such store in talk of uniting the country, would have let critics of the Democrats get away with blaming them for the United States’ deficit. Having been through the political battles of the 1990s, might she not have been sharper in reminding voters of which party was in power when this deficit had built up, compared to the budget surplus that had existed in 2001.
Another reason that I supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries was that I (understandably) felt she would be of the same wing of the party as President Bill Clinton. As president, he was known for Third Way politics, promoting welfare reform and free trade agreements. I had some hope that Hillary Clinton would engage in a similar process of triangulation.
Well, now with the loss of the filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and the impending bad elections in November, President Obama may find himself with little choice but to engage in the bipartisanship he talked of in his campaign, and while the Republicans may be eager at first to cause embarrassment to his administration, they will eventually be forced to find common ground. History foretells that we should expect the deficit situation to improve, with spending lower during years of divided government. The House numbers currently nearly match those after the 1992 election, which was followed in 1994 by a 54-seat swing giving the Republicans a majority. The White House should expect to be working under similar circumstances unless there’s a major shift in public opinion.
But this might be President Obama’s best chance to be remembered as a good president. The achievements of President Clinton’s terms in office came during these years of divided government after the 1994 midterms, so while he has had a bumpy year in domestic terms, I do have hope for him in the coming years.