“I never give them Hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s Hell”
— Harry Truman
For the last few months it feels as if everyone is wanting to play Devil’s Advocate about a 2016 presidential run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Andrew Sullivan asked his reader’s to submit what they viewed as her solid accomplishments to run on. Not the positions held in and of themselves (senator, etc) but actual treaties signed, bills passed, movements prioritized to the top. One reader responded with this:
Her signature issue, what she will run on, is her tenacity and defense of the Democratic principles. She will fight for her agenda, and it will be a classic Democratic agenda, but she will do so with the tenacity and will to win the President has not shown. The President is simply too willing to compromise and his default position is to be bipartisan. Clinton will be clearly and unabashedly partisan. She will be the Democratic’s Democrat. Honestly, if she needs to pull the still beating heart out of Chelsea’s chest on national television to pass a stimulus or extend unemployment insurance, I know she will do it. Essentially, her issue is she will kick Republican butt and not take prisoners.
I too have been hearing this from many people, and it certainly has no basis in her history as Secretary of State, Senator from New York, or tenure as FLOTUS. In fact, this is the person who in 2005 used the terms “sad” and “tragic” in what was widely viewed at the time as a move to the center. This is a person who sat on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart when she was First Lady of Arkansas, hardly the makings of a progressive firebrand. This is the candidate whose internal campaign materials from the 2008 primary explicitly said not to embrace multiculturalism as a talking point. Where are people getting this impression of HRC as partisan fighter extraordinaire?
The thing is, I do think the partisan fighter as a platform described above is exactly how she will run. A cynical part of me views Hillary as Madonna: constantly reinventing herself as needed in order to stay relevant. What she actually thinks or means long go rendered immaterial. As the Democratic Party has shifted slightly to the Left in how it talks about class, inequality, and poverty so will Clinton.
I think we can definitely expect Clinton to compensate for list-making accomplishments with aggressive Give ‘Em Hell Harry Truman-style fight. This is how she will win over the left-wing of her party who have always been lukewarm on the Clintonian “Third Way” song and dance. The reader above isn’t basing his/her views on anything from Hillary’s resume itself, but rather by the tone he is accurately picking up within the party faithful about President Obama. As the Republican Party has become more obstructionist, Democrats feel their fighting blood boiling. Wise or not, they want the red meat thrown to them.
I was solidly on Team Obama from the beginning but there were two brief flashes that struck me during the 2008 primary debates. At the time I remember thinking if Sen. Clinton had kept going down that path (as opposed to the foolish, in my view, path that she was somehow the “experience candidate”) I would have just maybe started a little conversion. I hope I am remembering these moments correctly. At one point Clinton said something along the lines of “the Republicans have been rummaging through my baggage for years” implying she knows how to take them on and Obama was naïve to expect a new leaf turned. Another was when she seemed particularly annoyed at a long Obamanian lecture on the healthcare crisis and its nuances (Romneycare might have come up?). Hillary quickly snapped “single-payer has been a goal of the Democratic Party since Harry Truman proposed it!”. There was a flash of “we’re Democrats, let’s act like it” aggressiveness and impatience. I think if she runs in 2016 we will be seeing significantly more of that Clinton.
Obama’s desire for post-Boomer bipartisanship was what initially appealed to me, but watching the GOP spit in his face at every turn has made me want him to punch back even though he can’t (“angry black man”) or won’t (“professor-in-chief”). Clinton will be a willing vessel to channel all those frustrations.
In 2007-2008 Hillary’s long-but-nonspecific resume was unexpectedly bolstered by tapping the frustrations of Boomer women passed over for the top spot by younger, more dynamic junior (male) employees. In 2016 Hillary’s long-but-nonspecific resume will be bolstered by loyal-but-antsy Obama supporters and a Democratic Party base who are itching for an LBJ style head-cracker.