I’m a big fan of Bill Clinton. I remember listening to his 1992 Democratic Convention acceptance speech and being thrilled that after twelve years of Reagan/Bush, we had a candidate to believe in. Smart as a whip, a superb orator, politically astute, and a tireless campaigner, we had a winner who could wash the bad taste of Dukakis and Mondale from our mouths.
And the Clinton years brought us three things. Unparalleled peace and prosperity, check. A withering, bitter, vicious GOP backlash that culminated in impeachment; right. But don’t forget the third thing: the management of the White House as a perpetual campaign. While Bush has taken this to absurd lengths, you have to remember that it was a Clintonian invention.
Nevertheless, I admire the man and respected his administration. I could never figure out the source or depth of conservative hatred for him. I figured it was either sour grapes or the most cynical political putsch ever, especially considering it was architected by Gingrich. Travel agents? Bimbo-groping? I came of age politicaly in the Watergate years. To Chuck Colson, this is kindergarten. The inanity of the right-wing attacks, and the crazed hatred of Clinton among the likes of Richard Mellon Scalife and Rush Limbaugh, made it pretty easy for me to disregard the mutterings that the Clintons weren’t nice people and only looked out for themselves.
After the debacles of 2000 and 2004 and the utter pain of the past seven years, I was just overjoyed to have the Democratic primary season come down quickly to two great candidates, either of whom I’d be honored to vote for. I considered Obama a little too green, untested, and somewhat fringe; much more compelling than, say, Bill Richardson or John Edwards, of course, but still not the candidate for me. I backed Clinton from the start. For the same reasons I admired her husband: a consummate politician, she showed she could win, and lead, and govern. (I was particularly impressed at how she buckled down and did her job as Junior Senator for New York: she got out into the hustings, listened to people, wrote legislation, got on committees, and did a Senator’s job.) She’s also smart as a whip. While not the orator Bill is, she can make a compelling, sensible case for a public policy. And she had the whole machine behind her.
Like many people, I wrote off a lot of the criticism of her as either a) latent Hillary-bashing from ’91-’00 or b) thinly veiled sexism. (Even the hateful bile from Maureen Dowd and Peggy Noonan is basically sexist, in the how-dare-she-be-like-us-instead-of-like-we-preach vein). An opinionated, forceful man is considered a strong leader; an opinionated forceful woman, well, as Barbara Bush said of Geraldine Ferraro, “there’s a word for it and it rhymes with rich.” I had to stop reading a couple of blogs I frequented, especially Andrew Sullivan, because of the unhinged Hillary-hatred seeping from them.
I maxed out on Hillary for the CA primary. We went to private fundraisers and meet-and-greets. I got the bumper stickers, the lapel buttons, and pulled the lever for her in the California primary.
Then Obama started gaining momentum, and over time, I realized what people were saying.
Her tireless campaigning and her political astuteness, such assets in battling the GOP noise machine, are just tasteless, damaging, and atavistic when directed at a fellow Democrat. I credit her on doing everything possible to win and never giving up; it’s a good trait for a President to have. But to do so at the expense of core principles and the larger goal is just destructive. I’m glad she gave Obama a good fight. I’d still be happy to see her in the Oval Office. But I’m extremely disappointed at the manner she chose to fight Obama, and the graceless way she’s pursuing the ongoing train wreck of her obvious defeat.
So, Sen. Clinton: sorry. I stuck with you, I backed you, and I still have some admiration for you. But I’m out of your camp. Sen. Obama has taken your best shots and proved he can parry them well. (You’ve certainly gotten more and cheaper shots in than McCain will.) He’s no longer green. He’s no longer untested. And you’ve demonstrated that in terms of intelligence, policy, and ability, you’re equals. Thanks for giving us our next President.