There’s a thing people keep saying about Hillary Clinton that I don’t get.
(Let me preface this by saying the following: I think Hillary would be an acceptable-to-good President. I think the misogynistic attacks upon her are deplorable. And I have never understood Hillary-hatred – like, at all. It’s just weird.)
Here’s the thing I don’t get. Proponents of Hillary’s candidacy argue that she’s taken all the lumps the right wing attack machine can dish out and therefore she is “vetted” and knows how to fight back on those terms.
Now, I will freely admit that Hillary has managed to survive the constant attacks on her, and that isn’t nothing to be sure, but surviving isn’t the same as thriving. The constant attacks on Hillary have given her an incredibly weak public image. The most recent polling of hypothetical election matchups has Barack Obama pulling much stronger victories over every Republican candidate except John McCain (where it’s a razor-matchup for both him and Hillary), and the McCain numbers are within the margin of error anyway.
Now, I freely admit that it is entirely possible that, should Obama be nominated as the Democratic candidate, that the sleaze machine will ratchet up to 11 and knock his favorability numbers down. And I don’t think should Obama be nominated that his victory will be as totally assured as his current thirty-point margin of victory over Mitt Romney.
But here’s the thing: the worst-case scenario, in this regard, is that Obama’s negatives get as bad as Hillary’s. It’s really not possible for Obama’s numbers to get worse than hers in this regard. Hillary is a polarizing figure, and pretty much everybody has already made their mind up about her. This is fine, except that way too many people have made up their mind that they don’t like her.
(As an aside, I’d also point out that the reason major Democrats are lining up behind Obama is because they all know that a Hillary candidacy will actively work against many smaller Democratic campaigns and an Obama candidacy probably won’t. All of Hillary’s “experience” arguments are worth precisely dick if the House and Senate go Republican again.)
EDIT TO ADD: Somebody mentioned foreign policy in the comments and I wanted to mention something else: Hillary’s potential policy fuckups are larger than Obama’s potential policy fuckups, I think. A lot of people play the “experience” card as regards Hillary, and although I’m not sure how greatly we can treat her eight years as First Lady as “experience,” I also think it ain’t nothing.
That having been said, whatever experience Hillary possesses is almost entirely domestic and legislative, and the capacity of any President to act on the domestic front is curtailed somewhat by what Congress wants to do. A repeat of the Bush presidency with ruling party members acting in lockstep with the President is almost certainly not going to happen. (As Will Rogers once said, “No, I don’t belong to any organized political party; I’m a Democrat.”) So the potential for Obama screwing up domestic policy worse than Hillary can (assuming she can) is, I would suggest, low.
However, on the foreign policy front, the President has far greater latitude to act, and Hillary has next to no foreign policy experience. Neither does Obama, so experience in this regard is mostly a wash – however, after experience comes intent, and Hillary’s foreign policy track record is poor and her stated intentions are even less encouraging.