George W. Bush will probably go down in history as one of the worst presidents we've ever had but electing Hilary Clinton to replace him would probably be trading "a headache for an upset stomach" In an OP-Ed piece for today's NY Times, David Brooks explains why:
"... when I've been asked if I think Hillary Clinton can win a general election campaign, I've always answered yes. I figure if she can win over Republican senators (and Bush staffers), she can probably win over 30,000 more voters in Ohio.
She's also got a key voting bloc disposed in her favor. Ten percent of the electorate are what Pew Research Center pollsters call pro-government conservatives: mostly white, working-class women who attend church weekly but support government welfare programs. Only 12 percent of these voters supported John Kerry in 2004, but 51 percent say they have a positive view of Clinton. These voters alone could put her over the top.
But campaigns reveal character, and force us to adjust our views. The Dubai ports deal — a politically unpopular measure that almost all experts agree was justified on the merits — was a test of character. John McCain and Chuck Hagel passed. Clinton, though, joined the ranks of the nakedly ambitious demagogues.
Clinton didn't seem to mind when officials of the United Arab Emirates kicked in up to a million dollars into her husband's presidential library. She didn't seem alarmed when Dubai poured at least $450,000 into her family bank accounts through her husband's speaking business. She didn't object when the Clinton administration approved a deal for a Chinese government firm to run the Port of Long Beach. But when the Dubai ports deal set off Know-Nothing mobs, she made sure she had the biggest pitchfork.
"The White House is trying to hand over U.S. ports," Clinton charged.
"We cannot afford to surrender our port operations to foreign governments," she roared.
"We cannot cede sovereignty over critical infrastructure like our ports," she insisted.
All of these statements were deliberately misleading, since there was never any question of ceding sovereignty or security. They played to the rawest form of xenophobia.
The consequences for the war on terror will be significant. As David Ignatius wrote in The Washington Post, the government of Dubai has done what we've asked all Arab governments to do. It has challenged Al Qaeda; supported U.S. forces; modernized the educational system to combat extremism. It even gave $100 million in hurricane relief.
But my subject is Clinton's political prospects. This episode — which combines buckraking with pandering — brings back the Clinton years at their worst: the me-me-me selfishness, the occasional presumption that humanity exists to serve Team Clinton.
It also shows Clinton doesn't understand her political weaknesses. First, nobody, not even among her friends, is totally sure she actually believes in anything, or whether she just coldly calculates political advantage. This episode reinforces that sense.
Second, Clinton is the only presidential candidate who does not offer a break from the current polarization and bitter partisanship. A McCain or Mark Warner presidency would shuffle the political deck. But if Clinton is elected, American politics over the next years will be as brutal and stagnant as now. The 1960's Bush-Clinton psychodrama would go on and on.
A lot of the bitterness would not be Clinton's fault. But over the past weeks, she has shown that far from behaving in an unorthodox manner, or flummoxing hatred, she is happy to be a crude partisan, and egg on prejudice and paranoia.
In the short run, Clinton did the popular thing. But over the long run, people vote on character. After a rehabilitating few years, Hillary Clinton just reminded us of her ugly side.
* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company