A couple days ago


A couple days ago, I wrote that I believe “Hillary Clinton never should and probably (hopefully) never will run for president.” And a number of you have asked, why?

I have two basic reasons, one principled, another pragmatic.

Before we get to those, however, I should note that I wrote close to the same thing almost four years ago in an article in Slate about why the Hillary for President idea was fanciful verging on ridiculous. And, on top of that, I’m a fan of hers. I don’t buy into any of the Hillary-bashing myths.

(At first, I believed that only journalists and Republicans were fueling the Hillary for Prez line. But eventually I learned that there were actually some Clinton insiders who believed and wanted it to happen.)

But back to the two reasons.

First, I don’t like the idea of the presidency becoming the private preserve of a few chosen families. It’s bad for democracy, even if a given individual might have much to recommend him or her as a candidate.

Since many are now talking up the possibility of Jeb Bush running for president in 2008, that opens up at least the theoretical possibility that one family could hold the White House for most of a 28 year period (1989-2017). Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, Bush-lover or Bush-hater, that can’t be good for republican government in the United States.

(Much is made of the father-and-son presidencies of John (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-29). Much less is made of the fact that they were, in effect, members of different political parties.)

As big a fan as I am of Bill Clinton, I’d be against another Clinton family presidency even if there weren’t a Bush family. But given that we’re now two President Bushes and counting, it makes it all the more important for Democrats to be clear on the principle at issue. A (Hillary) Clinton v. (Jeb) Bush grudge match in 2008 would be a sign of all sorts of sclerotic tendencies in American politics.

Now, to the second reason, the one I focused most on in that Jan. 2000 article in Slate. And that would be, ‘Are you kidding?’

Let’s be honest, Hillary Clinton is a deeply divisive figure. And if there’s one thing Democrats have learned in this and the previous election it is the danger of going into a national election with a candidate who cannot even get a real hearing over a large swath of the country.

As I wrote in that Slate article

Gore won virtually all the Northeast, all the West Coast, and nearly all the Industrial Midwest, but failed to win any other state except New Mexico. What did him in in the rest of the country was cultural liberalism—support for gun control, abortion rights, and gay rights. This handicap was particularly evident in Appalachia—West Virginia, Tennessee, western Pennsylvania, and southeastern Ohio. And who is more identified with cultural liberalism, Al Gore or Hillary Clinton?

Nothing about 2004 changes that calculus at all, I think. But I would add only this slight gloss on that point.

My point here is not that Democrats need to ditch support for any of those three positions. Nor do I think that the lesson of 2004 is that Democrats need to ‘move to the right’ or restrict the next nomination cycle to guys born beneath the Mason-Dixon line.

But the electoral fault line running through the country is now quite clear. And, for Democrats, if winning the presidency is to be anything other than the political equivalent drawing an inside straight, the party needs to put a good half dozen more states into play next time around.

(I should say that this would apply even if Kerry had won Ohio and the election.)

The point is that on Hillary Clinton, the cement is already dry. On the cultural fault-line that has played such a clear role in the last two elections, perceptions of her are already set.

Nominating Hillary would simply mean that Democrats would be going into the election with one hand tied — no chained — behind their back. And as we’ve seen, they need at least two hands.