For seven years, the left has been up in arms about President Bush's aggressive foreign policy, his secrecy, his partisanship, and his expansive claims on executive power. It's odd, then, that they're prepared to nominate Hillary Clinton to carry the party into the 2008 elections.
Cato Institute President Ed Crane recently wrote a piece for the Financial Times pointing out that when you strip away the partisan coating, Mrs. Clinton's grandiose, big-government vision is really no different than that envisioned by the neoconservatives so loathed by the left. Clinton, remember, not only voted for the Iraq war, she still hasn't conceded she was wrong to do so, and has made no promise to end it any time soon.
Hillary Clinton voted for both the Patriot Act and its reauthorization. She voted for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. She voted to loosen restrictions limiting the federal government's ability to wiretap cell phones. In the past, she has supported a robust role for the federal government in enforcing "decency" standards in television and music. She teamed up with former Sen. Rick Santorum on a bill calling for the federal government to restrict the sale of violent video games.
Leftists concerned about the entertainment industry's increasingly imperial stand on copyright might take a cue from copyright guru Lawrence Lessig, who wrote on his blog for Wired magazine: "Of all the Dems, I would have bet she was closest to the copyright extremists. So far, she's done nothing to suggest to the contrary."
What about secrecy and executive power? It's difficult to see Hillary Clinton voluntarily handing back all of those extra-constitutional executive powers claimed by President Bush. Her husband's administration, for example, copiously invoked dubious "executive privilege" claims to keep from complying with congressional subpoenas and open records requests — claims the left now (correctly, in my view) regularly criticizes the Bush administration for invoking.
Hillary Clinton herself went to court to keep meetings of her Health Care Task Force secret from the public, something conservatives were quick to point out when leftists criticize Vice President Cheney's similar efforts to keep meetings of his Energy Task Force secret.
"I'm a strong believer in executive authority," Clinton said in a 2003 speech, recently quoted in The New Republic. "I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority."
Activists on the left need to recognize that Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic primary is the GOP's last best hope to elect a Republican to continue pursuing President Bush's pursuit of these unfortunate policies. And judging by her political career and recent voting record, they should also realize that even if they succeed in electing Hillary Clinton to the White House, it's likely that the only real resulting change in Washington will be that come 2009, we'll merely have a Democrat pursuing the same misguided policies.
Balko's claim that Senator Clinton is a neocon is certainly closer to the truth than the hysterical right's belief that she's a liberal commie. Everybody on the left seems to recognize that she's the right-most candidate running on the Democratic ticket, but exactly how far to the right is she? Is Balko right that she would simply continue Bush's policies? It's a scary thought.
I don't put too much stock in that much-ballyhooed moment when the top three Dems said they couldn't guarantee that no American troops would remain in Iraq by the end of their first term. It was a bad question, making no distinction between maintaining a few thousand troops in advisory roles and continuing a full-scale occupation. Nobody can predict the future and asking candidates to make those sorts of pledges is asinine*.
There continues to be no doubt in my mind that any of the first-tier Democrats would be better than any of the Republicans. Hillary might be a neocon in spirit, but I believe that she would follow her husband's model of "triangulation" and not support those policies that a majority of Americans disapprove of. That would mean that she doesn't accomplish any of the left's unpopular objectives like gay marriage or scaling back the war on drugs, but it would also mean that she doesn't accomplish any of the neocons' unpopular objectives like invading Iran or, as Mitt Romney idiotically proposed, "doubling Guantanamo." And on the plus side, she probably would improve the United States's image abroad, get universal (not single-payer!) health care through, and have fiscally AND socially responsible economic policies similar to her husband's. She would also install left-leaning Supreme Court justices, which is as important as ever, considering the "conservative" (i.e. authoritarian) direction the Court has taken lately.
I continue to support Obama and the clean break with the neocons that he (or Edwards) would represent, but I wouldn't see a Hillary presidency as a tragedy and I would certainly vote for her over any Republican now running. My biggest fear about her remains the effect the right's irrational hatred for her would have on the country. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Hillary haters got Obama or Edwards elected instead and ended up with a "real" Democratic president? One can only hope.
* Incidentally, Giuliani had the best answer I've ever heard to that kind of request at the GOP debate in New Hampshire when asked to make the same mistake George H.W. Bush made when he pledged "no new taxes" -- "I only think a man or woman running for president ought to take one pledge and that is a pledge to uphold the United States Constitution." Ironic, coming from Giuliani, who I suspect would revoke the entire Bill of Rights if he could, but a great response.