So earlier this year I published a novel about a female senator who becomes President of the U.S. It came out about the same time former Senator Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for the 2016 Democratic nomination, and she’s now the odds-on favorite to become the first real life woman to run for the job on a major party’s ticket. Mere happenstance, you ask, or clever calculation? Well, if you read Impeachment Day you’ll quickly learn it’s definitely not about Hillary.
But if the fictional Sally Macalester is different from Hillary, her story nonetheless says a lot about what’s right and wrong with Clintonian politics. Sally holds to her ideals, rejects the land-mined terrain of Democrat against Republican politics, and forms her own political party called the New American Progressives. Hillary takes a very different approach. She tiptoes slowly through the political mines and booby traps, stopping after every move to triangulate and avoid a fatal next step. Her ideals seem driven by polls, and her efforts at programmed spontaneity come off as flat and phony as John Kerry at a NASCAR race. Or Hillary at a NASCAR race. Sally is a female Bernie Sanders without the grump and the seventy-year-old gimp. Hillary likes summer hobnobbing in the Hamptons with the high falutin cream of Wall Street. Sour for the country, but sweet for her. Sally likes riding her bike and maybe fishing on a little lake in northern Minnesota.
And so the timeless questions of pure motives versus practical results, and of what it takes to be an effective leader? Sally becomes president only because the quirky Electoral College doesn’t work very well if more than two parties field serious presidential contenders, but once elected she faces a hostile Republican House and Senate that fight her even harder than they fight the Democrats. She’s a natural leader, the kind who could inspire an egg to grow hair, yet in the end she’s a Progressive who was successful in Minnesota, but as president doesn’t progress very much. Would Hillary do better? Could she overcome a Republican Congress locked in by gerrymandering and the concentration of Democrats in big cities? Or would she be a stopgap who might keep the Supreme Court from sliding further right but accomplish little else?
In truth, of course, there is no Sally Macalester on our political horizon. Hillary will almost surely be the Democratic nominee in 2016, and we can only hope that she defeats her Republican opponent, and that whatever triangulated moves she goes through to get elected, more consistent principles will guide her once she’s in office. Professional politicians sometimes do rise above their corrupted origins. Think Al Smith as governor of New York, or Harry Truman as president.
But do the seemingly mandatory tactics now required to get elected destroy the ideals that supposedly are the ultimate goal? Was Hillary’s vote on the Iraq war a canny move to assure political survival and the opportunity to fight for a more noble future, or was it a lapse in judgment? I believe it was expedient, not stupid. But even if the war was going to be approved no matter how she voted, was it acceptable for her to go along so she could stick around to accomplish other things?
That question goes to the core of the Hillary conundrum. Within the semi-liberal elitist context of her life history, there’s been way too much careerist political expediency, to the point no one can be sure if there’s any principled “there”, there. What future ideal goal might justify the loss of thousands of American lives, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and others in the fractured Middle East? I think the answer is none, and if Bill Clinton’s presidency is any guide, Hillary will not even begin to repay that terrible cost by leading or inspiring us to great change. She’ll be competent and far less dangerous than her Republican opponent, but no more likely than Bill to stop a Rwandan genocide, or put a stop to Wall Street’s unchecked greed, or fight to end the countless tax dodges for the rich.
I think the country really needs a Sally Macalester. Are we collectively smart enough to recognize her if she appears, or to elect her if she emerges as a viable candidate?