Political effectiveness

Kevin Drum evaluates the Democratic frontrunners on their ability to move an agenda through Congress:

Congress is a different kettle of fish [than the public, which he allows Obama could probably swing to his side], and obviously a lot depends on just what kind of majority the new president has to work with. I think everyone’s assumption here is that Obama’s personal charm and readiness to listen would help him hive off at least a few moderate Republicans to pass his legislative agenda. Hillary, by contrast, is someone who knows how to throw elbows when she needs to, and she’d play a tougher, more conventional form of politics: a bit of hardball here and a bit of logrolling there, a process that might not be pretty but can be effective. And the surprising fact is that she’s demonstrated a remarkably strong ability in the Senate to work with Republicans, most of whom generally trust her to keep her word and do what she says she’ll do.

I see Congressional relations with Hillary very differently. The problem with her is that Republicans hate her. A bunch of them grew up through their formative years hating her, and to them, she represents everything bad about the Clinton years. I expect her negatives are higher than her husbands are, and that won’t change in the course of a mud-slinging general election campaign.

That means all the weakened Republican minority of 2009 has to do to score points with their base will be to block her agenda, and claim that they’re standing up against the evil, liberal, lesbian agenda of Clinton, Jr. I imagine they’ve got those press releases drafted already, most of them carefully mothballed for that purpose for the past 8 years.

Obama, simply by virtue of not having been in the crosshairs for a decade already, will force them to change up, and while they try to find a chink in his armor, he’ll have some time to govern, then to line up a couple extra seats in the Senate for a filibuster-proof majority, and then a chance for a few more years of serious legislating. By contrast, a Hillary White House seems like a dream for Republicans hoping to pick up a few of the Red seats Democrats grabbed in 2006, and hope to snag in 2008 (or seats that the right Dem could nab in 2010, like Brownback’s open seat).

I don’t down that Kathleen Sebelius could take that seat, and that she’s putting pieces in place to do just that. And she might be able to run on Obama’s coat-tails, what with his Kansas heritage, but Moran or Tiahrt or whoever the Republicans nominate to fill Brownback’s vacancy would make a sport of tagging Sebelius as Hillary-lite, and all the misogynistic crap already being tossed at Nancy Boyda will only intensify if they can tag her with Hillary and Nancy Pelosi both.

It’s not fair, and I’d be at the ramparts fighting against that, but this seems like a no-brainer. The public distaste for Hillary didn’t happen by magic. She watched it happen, and couldn’t or didn’t stop it or turn it around. Bill managed to rehabilitate his image, but Hillary’s rep still sits in the dumps, and that’s not the fault of the right-wing, it reflects her weakness at engaging the public. She couldn’t control the slings and arrows being lobbed at her, but she could control her response, and she doesn’t seem to have done so. With Obama, I think we can peel off a couple of moderate Republican votes for a couple years, then pick up a few seats in 2010. With Hillary, it’ll be an uphill battle for two years, then a stiffer fight after 2010, since Republicans stir up the sentiment against her to win House and Senate seats in 2010. It’ll be 1994 all over again.

There’s a saying about those who don’t learn from history, but I don’t want to repeat it.


  1. #1 Bob Castillo
    January 23, 2008

    Bob Barr who was a key figure in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. He had previously called for Clinton’s impeachment the day after his inauguration in *1993* — years before Monica Lewinski was a household name. If Obama gets the nomination the right wing echo chamber will fire itself up with the same self-righteous hatred that they had for the Clintons. It’s already starting — why do you think that William Bennet is unable to talk about Obama without reminding people that his middle name is Hussein? Do you honestly believe that it’s the Clinton campaign that has been circulation smears that Obama is secretly a Muslim with ties to Al Qaeda? No it’s coming from the same right wing attack dogs who accused the Clintons of murdering Vince Foster and claimed that John Kerry was a traitor in Vietnam.

    The case of John Kerry should be very instructive to anyone who tries to analyze a candidate’s “electability” today. At first glance, Kerry seemed like the prototypical presidential contender — a war hero with experience, anti-war credentials, and a lot of money. Then he was repeatedly attacked by the Swift Boats group and failed to respond effectively. He was also a stiff with the personality of brick wall. He was never more than three points behind George Bush in the polls and he never closed that gap. That’s what you get when you vote for a candidate who doesn’t excite you — a stiff who can’t close the deal.

    Go ahead and vote for Obama if you think he’s the best man to lead the country but don’t for one second believe that he’ll be spared the smears of the Ann Coulters of this world just because he’s young, handsome, and black. These people think that they are fighting a holy war and that anyone who doesn’t toe their party line is an instrument of Satan. You could nominate a fluffy little puppy and right wingers will immediately crawl out of the woodwork to accuse it of secretly living with cats.

  2. #2 decrepitoldfool
    January 23, 2008

    I think the hatred of the Clintons may be grounded in anti-intellectualism. Bush went through his college years on the coasting plan, while Bill (having no influential parents) actually had to study. Whatever his faults he has a very hard-working mind, something not many people have said about Bush. Hillary is worse: an uppity woman, seen as scheming and ambitious. She doesn’t ‘know her place’. And like her husband she thinks! A dangerous pasttime.

    That could work against Obama too but I do note that 1) he did a great job here in the Illinois Senate working with people far opposed to his point of view, actually got legislation through anyway, and 2) he was rock-steady in the debates with that nutball Allen Keyes.

  3. #3 Rachel Robson
    January 26, 2008

    Josh, you write: “That means all the weakened Republican minority of 2009 has to do to score points with their base will be to block her agenda, and claim that they’re standing up against the evil, liberal, lesbian agenda of Clinton, Jr.”

    Seriously, you think the Republicans will still be in the minority if Mrs. Clinton is the nominee? Because, as you note, anyone with the name “Clinton” is going to be a catastrophe for down-ticket races, especially for red-state Democrats like Nancy Boyda and Claire McCaskill. With Barack Obama heading the ticket, I think we Democrats could add to the slim majority we patched together in the last go-round; if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, I predict Democrats will be in the minority for at least another decade. I suspect that, among other reasons (like his superawesomeness!) this fear for down-ticket races is why Sen. Obama has picked up so many endorsements from folks like McCaskill.

  4. #4 Josh Rosenau
    January 27, 2008

    Rachel, I think that the calendar favors Democrats in the Senate in 2008. The House is harder to say, but we could lose a couple House seats and gain a few Senate seats and still come out ahead. I do suspect that we pick up more Congressional seats with Obama at the top of the ticket, but retirements and weak incumbents will give Democrats a few good pickups.

  5. #5 Rachel Robson
    January 27, 2008

    Hm. Well, I hope that you are right (in the event that Sen. Clinton is the nominee, which I very, very much hope doesn’t turn out to be the case). It just seems to me that if the Democratic candidate is Obama or Edwards, no matter who the Republican candidate is, the election is a referendum on Bush. If the Democratic candidate is Clinton, then the election is a referendum on Clinton. No matter how good the Clinton years were compared to the last eight in any objective terms (strength of our economy, standing in the world, etc.), the Clintons recall so many ugly,ugly memories for so many people that I think that more people would turn out to vote against Clinton than turn out to vote for her (or against Bush, depending on how you’re looking at it.) Virtually all of those anti-Clinton voters would also vote against anyone else with a D by his or her name, because of their association with the hated Clinton.

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