Mulling Over the Case for Hillary Clinton

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 2:09 PM EST

clinton.jpg If you read MoJoBlog regularly, you know I have my reservations about Hillary Clinton. But I find Princeton professor Sean Wilentz's endorsement of her compelling.

[Clinton] understands how American politics works. She understands the trajectory of American political history for the last 40 years because she's lived it in a way that the others haven't, really.

Okay, fair enough. She's most able to win the game of politics as it is currently constituted. She makes this argument on the stump. But I happen to think that game chews up good people (like Al Gore, for example) and no longer works for the benefit of everyday Americans (if it ever did). As naive as it sounds, I'd like a candidate who can think beyond that game. What do you think of Obama, Mr. Wilentz?

You cannot have a president who doesn't like politics. You will not get anything done. Period. I happen to love American politics. I think American politics is wonderful. I can understand why people don't. But one of the problems in America is that politics has been so soured, people try to be above it all. It's like Adlai Stevenson. In some ways, Barack reminds me of Stevenson.... There's always a Stevenson candidate. Bradley was one of them. Tsongas was one of them. They're the people who are kind of ambivalent about power. "Should I be in this or not... well, yes, because I'm going to represent something new." It's beautiful loserdom.

Okay, interesting...

The fact is, you can't govern without politics.

Now wait a minute. How do we know that for sure? We do know that it is very, very hard to get elected when you don't like politics, but we don't know for a fact that it is very, very hard to govern when you don't like politics. We don't have an example in recent American history of a president who tried to change Washington instead of working within it.

Keep reading, after the jump...

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Clinton's willingness to play the game leads her to contortions. She will be be uncommitted on an issue until the rest of the Democratic field takes a position, and then she'll move in the same direction. Or she will be kind of for something but also kind of against it.

She does this in small and subtle ways. For example, she said recently that she opposes a "rush to war" with Iran, but then adopted the Bush Administration's position on negotiating with that country's leaders and voted to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Is this nuance or is it careful positioning? You get a hint when you see her campaign officials discuss the situation in the NYT by saying Clinton "has already shifted from primary mode, when she needs to guard against critics from the left, to general election mode, when she must guard against critics from the right."

The end result is that a small subset of progressives who pay close attention to campaigns and don't like DLC politics are irritated and distrustful, but the general public (most importantly the Dem base) doesn't see enough to get all worked up. So she's smart. Masterful, even. No one doubts that. But she's not pure. And she's not always principled.

And my expectation that a politician be pure and always principled brings us back to the idealism that makes me desire a politician who can change the game, or ignore the game, or expose the game, or leave the game behind. Idealism has a better chance in this election than ever before. Why not give it a shot? If idealism loses to technocratic pragmatism in the primary, you can always get behind technocratic pragmatism then...

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