Questions for Clinton

I wrote a piece for Salon today about, what else, Hillary Clinton. The headline is harsh (I didn’t write it) but I think the piece asks some fair questions:

With the Big Announcement yesterday, Hillary Clinton officially entered the race that everyone assumes she’s already won. Can you feel the excitement? No? Well, this shouldn’t come as a shock, because despite all the hand wringing about a primary being necessary, it’s long been obvious that the Democratic party subconsciously saw 2008 as The Big Primary when decided it would use its current national electoral advantage to bring the U.S. into the modern world and break the white male presidential paradigm with two historic candidacies. It’s important to seize these openings to advance civil rights and establish a new “normal” for leadership when you have the chance and it’s to the party’s credit that it has taken this path.

2008 was a rough-and-tumble a primary with the two candidates coming as close to a tie as has ever happened in party history. Barack Obama won fair and square, but the fact remained that a very large number of Democrats also liked Hillary Clinton and both candidates were wise enough to see that the way forward was to put away their swords and join together in his administration. It is not surprising to me that all those circumstances have made the party open to Clinton as Obama’s natural successor with few others seeing a reasonable path to victory. (None of this is to say that I wouldn’t love to see a primary fought out on ideological terms this go around — or any go around. But I can see why, in this case, it’s not happening.)

But still, it’s vital that Clinton’s campaign realizes that this is not 2008 and the issues and political terrain have changed in seven years. Many of the stances both Obama and Clinton took at the time, most of which were more alike than different, are no longer salient. Such social progress as marriage equality has advanced at lightning speed leaving both of their positions at the time (“I believe in civil unions but marriage is between a man and a woman” blah, blah, blah) sounding callous and calculating. The default Democratic party line on the financial crisis, which they both embraced, was a cautious centrist approach without any real desire to attack the root causes. Their foreign policy stances were obviously contrasted with the bellicose bombast of the Republicans, most especially the frontrunner John “bomb Iran” McCain, making whatever each of them believed look like the only sane choice regardless of the details. As we all know, Clinton suffered for her earlier vote for the Iraq war, the dominant issue of the time. It may have been the single act of her career that denied her the nomination.

I go on to discuss some of the issues progressives care about in both domestic and foreign policy.

She’s going on the trail and we’ll find out where she stands on all those things before too long. It’s going to be a long campaign so there’s plenty of time to figure it all out. I happen to think there’s an opening here for a real paradigm shift beyond the fact of her historic status as a woman running for the highest office in the land. I’m hoping she seizes the opportunity.

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