THE FRONT RUNNERS
I’m feeling especially out of touch this morning because I watched both Presidential debates and, apparently, what I saw and what the talking heads saw were two different things. After the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton was hailed for her performance. Her demeanor was just fine, they said – not shrill, as you might have expected. As for the GOP, we were told that the loser among the top tier was Hillary’s fellow front-runner: Rudy Giuliani. Rudy, say the talking heads, “stumbled” in answering a question about abortion, and looked like “a deer facing headlights” in responding to another question about the differences between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites.
So score one for the “liberal” New Yorker and against the “conservative.” Right? Not if I’m doing the scoring.
Before I explain why the debate further cemented my opposition to Hillary Clinton, let me preface my comments by pointing out that I’m not one of these anti-Clinton conspiracy theorists. Whitewater doesn’t interest me. Nor do I blame Hillary for the death of Vince Foster or anyone else. In fact, I respect her intellect, knowledge of policy, passion for governing, and ability to get things done on the Hill. If I lived in her state and she were running for Senate, I might even vote for her.
But just because you can play defensive line doesn’t make you a good quarterback. And just because you’re an effective Senator (most of the time), doesn’t mean you could get the job done as President. Hillary, I’m more convinced than ever, most certainly cannot.
To me, the defining moments in the Democratic debate were the comments by the top-tier candidates regarding their original positions on
That leads me to the Democratic front runner. Hillary addressed the issue without a hint of noticeable remorse. She apologized – in a manner of speaking – but her regret was in trusting President Bush and his people not to take us into the war precipitously. Her mistake, in other words, wasn’t one of not relying on her own instincts, let alone in showing cowardice; rather, she was simply too trusting of the Administration. They’re the ones responsible for our problems in
Now, maybe the talking heads weren’t offended by that exhibition, but I was. It’s one thing for Hillary Clinton to blame the White House for her vote to authorize the war back in 2002. But once the Administration went in and found no WMDs, did she speak out against the conflict? Personally, I marched against the war at the same time that the media claimed we were “winning” it. Strangely, though, I didn’t see Hillary at those marches. Apparently, she was still being hoodwinked by the Administration.
Here’s what Hillary said to NPR’s Juan Williams in June 2003 – three months after the war began in
“I think that from my perspective, the vote I made, which was a very difficult vote, was based on my assessment of the evidence presented to me. In my mind, the jury is still out as to whether or not that evidence merited my vote or anyone else's ... But I knew from my husband's administration that he certainly received the same kind of intelligence reports -- that here was a man who was intent, obsessed with having weapons of mass destruction. So I'm not ready to say either that the intelligence was wrong or that the intelligence was selectively applied and skewed for a certain result.”
Here’s the reality: if Hillary is on your side, she can be an effective advocate. But if she’s not, she’ll fight you tooth and nail, and she’ll never admit to a mistake unless she has backed into the tightest possible corner. You’d think she would have found that corner with respect to
Folks, she had access to the intelligence! She claimed to have assessed it herself, remember? She then saw the results on the ground. But while we were marching, political expediency prevented her from speaking out against the war until it became crystal clear that she couldn’t continue to support it and receive her party’s nomination. Is this someone we should trust to make decisions on future wars?
And the issue here isn’t simply one of national defense. Let’s say that her political machine is powerful enough to put her in the White House. I doubt it will happen, but let’s say it did. Do you possibly think for a second that she would be able to rally the nation behind any important cause? Do you possibly think that conservative Americans and right-leaning independents will warm up to her and join her in an effort to combat poverty or global warming, or to provide universal health care coverage? George W. Bush campaigned for President in 2000 saying that he will be a “uniter, not a divider,” and in fact he served that way as Governor of Texas. Well, we’ve seen what happens when a President is unable to unite more than his core constituency, and we’d see it again if Hillary takes the reigns.
So, if you like gridlock, vote for Hillary. If you don’t, you might want to look at other candidates whose negatives aren’t quite as high as hers. It’s no wonder the GOP is so desperate for her to win the nomination. If she loses the election, the Republicans keep the White House. And if she wins the election, the Government won’t be able to push through any major, progressive initiatives. Talk about a win-win for the GOP.
If not Hillary, who? You know my answer: the man who is known for his intellect, charisma, multi-cultural background, positive approach to politics, and ability to tap into both progressive and spiritual traditions.
No, I’m not alluding to Rudy Giuliani. But I have to say, while all the talking heads were criticizing Rudy’s performance this week, I was actually somewhat impressed. Stylistically, Rudy was obviously not on his game. Nobody could deny that. And yet there’s more to a performance than style. Every now and then, we should consider substance.
Mitt Romney, the man who is most closely competing with Rudy for GOP fundraising dollars, pointed out the traditional way to earn the GOP nomination. A former Governor of
Well, that was Mitt’s approach. Opportunistic, wouldn’t you say? Rudy chose another path. He’d be OK, he said, with the Supreme Court repealing Roe v. Wade and also OK if the Court upheld that decision. The talking-heads couldn’t believe what a lousy, unprepared answer he gave. Doesn’t he know that Presidents need to be decisive?
Well, I think he does. He sure seemed to know that when the topic involved the war against terrorism. Funny, though, but abortion is different. It’s not an issue that merits decisiveness so much as compassion. I think Rudy gets that.
This is what he said that mattered most to me: First, that when he was Mayor of New York, abortions were legal but they dropped substantially in number. Funny, but crime took a nosedive as well. So did poverty. Facts are facts: Rudy doesn’t just talk about the need to help the poor, he’s actually done something about it. Second, it was pretty clear during that debate that Rudy still respects a woman’s right to choose. He might oppose abortion personally, but at a time and place where it would have been expedient to take a little gel to his hair and flip flop (like Romney), he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Now, my fellow progressives, you can lambaste the guy all you want for not proudly proclaiming his pro-choice stance, but what he did was as close as you could get to doing so without committing political hari-kari. He risked coming across like an angst-ridden boob – the antithesis of presidential – when he refused to join with all the other GOP candidates and line up for life. Why? Because he almost certainly believes that a woman does have a right to choose. That signal was sent loudly and clearly to any open-minded progressive who has two functioning ears, just as it was sent equally clearly to Republicans. And the result, in the short run, will be less money for Rudy and more for Mr. Hair Gel and that ol’ war horse, John “Pro Life from the Start” McCain.
Can Rudy win the GOP nomination? You bet. But he probably has only one shot. He’ll need Hillary to get the Democratic nod. If the GOP knows they’re going up against her, they’ll be motivated to fight her with the same ruthlessness that she fights them. And they’ll find the candidate most likely to appeal to the center. That candidate, as the GOP debate illustrates, is Rudy Giuliani.