Ask Auntie Pinko
December 2, 2004
By Auntie Pinko
Many of our progressive friends are already promoting Sen.
Hillary Clinton as their favored candidate for 2008. But if the
recent election tragedy tells us anything it's that a New England
liberal with little charisma doesn't have much appeal in the heartland
of our great country.
Even though Hillary has all the correct policy positions she'd
probably suffer the same horrible fate as Kerry, Dukakis, and Gore.
And though you and I might love Hillary, her negatives were the
highest for any First Lady in American history. (I guess there's
a reason she chose to run for a Senate seat in New York rather than
Arkansas.) So, should we jump on this bandwagon, or not? I hope
you can help.
Looking forward to the next Presidential election is one good
way to keep a little positive energy going after the disappointment
of the election just past. I hope many Democrats are joining you
in beginning to think about how to make the future positive!
Before I give my opinion of Senator Clinton as a candidate, though,
I'd just like to remind all of my readers that four years is a long
way away, and many things can change between now and then. Although
you may (or may not) have a favorite already, or think you know
what kind of candidate might win, your perceptions could change,
maybe several times, between now and 2008. And if we spend all of
our time until then arguing with one another over the respective
merits of this or that candidate, Auntie doesn't think we'll be
doing the best service to our Party and to America.
Rather, we should spend the next couple of years doing two things:
- Identifying and prioritizing the qualities we really want
in a leader; and
- Paying attention to Democratic elected officials nationwide,
to see how well they live those qualities.
I say "qualities," rather than "positions" or "issues" quite deliberately.
The Democratic Party embraces too broad a spectrum of beliefs and
priorities about issues to ever achieve a consensus about a single
individual based on her or his actions regarding a whole array of
issues. Rather, what do a Democrat's actions tell us about their
ability to lead, in many different contexts?
For instance, if you're looking at a Democrat in an executive
position (mayor, county executive, governor, etc.) how effectively
do they seem to be able to work with their legislative colleagues
- both those who agree, and those who oppose them? How well are
priorities communicated, and how well does the public respond to
them? What does she or he regard as the major accomplishments of
their administration? How effective and efficient are the bureaucrats
appointed by this individual?
If you are looking at a Democrat in a legislative position, are
they regarded as leaders by their peers? Can they accomplish legislative
goals from both minority and majority positions in an ethical manner,
without excessive costs in goodwill or sacrificing future goals?
Can she or he resist the temptation to play to the media with impressive-sounding
but comparatively minor feats, and accomplish the unglamorous incremental
steps that lead to real change? How effectively are the concerns
of the larger citizenry balanced against those of their own constituency?
There is always a catch, though, and in this case it lies in the
fact that the answers to these questions are not going to found
in the coverage of mainstream media. Mainstream media coverage is
useful, but woefully incomplete. Rather, we will need to look at
the actual source materials - legislative records of bills passed,
lists of appointments, budgets, and so on. If it sounds like a lot
of work, you're right - it is.
Fortunately there is help. Lots of groups with a particular interest
or agenda make it their business to track the actions of elected
officials, and will pull together quantities of information in one
place for people to review. A good mix of mainstream media, the
reporting and analysis of several (not one!) interest groups - both
those you agree with and those you disagree with - and a little
research of your own in key areas of particular interest, will give
you a good picture of a potential candidate's qualities as a leader.
You may start with as many as eight or ten possibilities, and
then with the research, narrow it to two or three, and continue
to follow your favorites in more depth and detail. If you start
this process now, Matt, by the time 2008 rolls around, you will
have a very good, well-informed start on choosing the best candidate!
Auntie thanks heaven for the Internet, because even if the noise-to-signal
ratio can be deafening sometimes, it makes this kind of research
easier than ever before.
Now, you asked specifically about Hilary Clinton. I share your
ambivalence about her potential as a candidate, given the level
of controversy and hostility her every move seems to generate. On
the other hand, I met Ms. Clinton back in the early 1990s, before
Mr. Clinton was nominated as the Democratic Party's candidate for
President. She came to speak at a meeting about the relationship
between the economy, health care, and the well-being of working
Ms. Clinton impressed me then as one of the smartest people I
have ever met, with tremendous leadership qualities. And in person,
she was warm and engaging and connected well with the hundreds of
people who attended the meeting and the talks that she gave. Of
course, back then, she had never had to deal with lengthy and relentless
public bludgeoning of her every professional and personal action.
It may be harder for her to make those personal connections, now.
I don't agree with all the positions she has taken and the priorities
she has exhibited since being elected to the Senate. Nevertheless,
she has shown great moral strength and a deep value for making America
a place that can be proud of how we treat the least fortunate amongst
us, as well as the most fortunate. If she continues to show the
kind of principled and effective leadership that I value, she will
certainly deserve consideration on my "short list," and, I hope,
on yours, Matt. Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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