Maybe I’m projecting, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of enthusiasm for the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Much has been made about the fact that she’s the inevitable nominee, that the Democrats don’t have anyone else, and that we’d all better get in line if we don’t want to spend 2017 watching King Bush III start a war with Iran, outlawing Islam, appointing the cast of Fox & Friends to the Supreme Court, and arming elementary school students.
But somehow it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s because the accumulated weight of 20-odd years of (unproven) scandals makes us all feel like there’s something shady about her. Maybe it’s because she spent her time in the Senate buddying up to the same Republicans that treated her like Joan of Arc when her husband was president, going so far as to vote for their unthinkably stupid war. Maybe it’s the fact that she was supposedly “inevitable” last time, and couldn’t close the deal.
In 2008, Clinton had everything going for her: she had massive fundraising, she had a campaign staffed entirely with proven warhorses, she had the most popular Democratic president since Kennedy stumping at her side. But she could not match the charisma and verbal intelligence and integrity of Barack Obama. He gave better speeches. He wasn’t shackled to that stupid, stupid war. His campaign understood the Internet, understood the youth vote, understood the need to go out and earn every vote.
She seemed genuinely offended, during that campaign, that her place in line was being jumped by this upstart who’d only been on the scene for a couple of years, whose main claim to fame was a single speech, who had no real accomplishments to point to. And the funny thing is, eight years later, she’s still running against Barack Obama, and she’s still losing.
Because what Obama did, more than any politician I can remember, is give us something to vote for, rather than just being the means by which we could vote against.
Almost every vote cast in America, it increasingly seems, is a vote against. When Republicans vote for whatever dipshit they vote for, they’re not voting for the dipshit — they’re voting against Libruls and all their limp-wristed pussified Save The Whales tax-and-spend crapola. They’re voting against gun control, against regulation (any kind of regulation), against gay marriage, against corrupt unions, against the safety net, against Obamacare, against, against, against.
Likewise, Democratic voters are not generally voting for the Democratic candidate, they’re voting against belligerent foreign policy, against restricting women’s reproductive choices, against trickle-down economics, against repeating the exact mistakes that capsized the economy — against, against, against.
For a lot of left-leaning types like myself, who had generally lost whatever faith we might have had in the political system, Obama represented something totally different than what we were used to. We didn’t just want to vote against John McCain, or rebuke George W. Bush. I mean we did, but there was something more than that. We wanted (or at least I wanted) this guy to be the president. I wanted to see where he could lead us. I wanted a guy who was visibly intelligent, who knew what was happening in the cities, who had obviously done the reading. Everyone who says we only voted for him because of his race is in deep denial about his bone-deep appeal to people who believe in facts, logic, curiosity, and doing the right thing.
I certainly wouldn’t argue that he has delivered 100% on that promise, but when you look at where we were in 2008 and where we are now, I really don’t see how anyone could argue (though some do) that we’re not in a better place — the only reason we haven’t climbed even farther out of the hole that Bush and Friends dug us into is the ceaseless Republican opposition to everything Obama wanted, without regard to its actual value. For all its flaws and shortcomings, I think history will look back on his tenure as one of the best ever.
So Hillary Clinton following Barack Obama is like Gordon Lightfoot following Led Zeppelin. She just doesn’t have the charisma or the vision to inspire voters the way he did, and she’s suffering a severe enthusiasm deficit because of it. There is still an awful lot of campaign left, and her recent speech about the horrifying events in Baltimore is certainly a step in the right direction — it’s nice to see her speaking, rather than shouting, at an audience — but it’s hard to imagine that she will inspire anyone. She certainly isn’t now.
The exception, I suppose, is people who want to see a female president, and I don’t mean to belittle that goal. But speaking for myself, the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman doesn’t enter into my impression of her as a politician or a leader at all. Maybe it should, I don’t know.
I don’t plan to vote for Clinton in the primary unless I truly think she is the best candidate, and there is plenty of time for her to persuade me. There’s also plenty of time for someone else to step in and make a case. But in November, if she’s the Democratic nominee, I will probably fall in line like everyone else to the left of Joe Lieberman and pull the lever for her, but it will probably be a vote against. I would much rather have someone to vote for.