Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hillary's fall

Jonah Goldberg sees Hillary's fall in the polls as the reaction to the decision she made earlier to sacrifice what she really believed - her nouvelle Eleanor Roosevelt persona - for political calculation.
So if Hillary Clinton loses the race for the nomination -- heck, even if she just loses the Iowa caucuses -- I hope to see this headline somewhere, perhaps in the New York Post: "America to Clinton(s): We're Just Not That Into You."

The rush of schadenfreude would be so overwhelming, the entire Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy would have to hie itself to its fainting couch. For years now, the Clintons' defenders have claimed that the 1990s were halcyon days, thanks to the deft statesmanship of the Clintons. Much of the liberal establishment has become wedded to protecting the memory of the Clintons' stewardship. David Brock's progressive outfit, Media Matters for America, is a prime example. It should be renamed "Hillary Matters for America," given that it is less a media watchdog and more an attack dog for Clinton.

But schadenfreude doesn't really do justice to Hillary's potential downfall. Her career is indisputably a product of her marriage -- no one running on her experience as first lady could claim otherwise. But for most of her life, Hillary had an independent ideological identity that seems to have gone down the memory hole. In her own words, she championed a whole new "politics of meaning" and sought to redefine "who we are as human beings in this postmodern age."

But, bit by bit, she sliced off chunks of her soul. Hillary used to be the personification of hope for the left. On the welfare debate, she was supposed to be Bill's conscience. She was the Eleanor to his Franklin.

But now Hillary is the Democrats' establishment candidate, pitted against the true believer, John Edwards, and the idealist, Barack Obama. Even committed liberals tell focus groups she's too cold, too calculating.
Of course, Goldberg's hypothesis falls apart if you consider that even that earlier Hillary was a construct for that period in her life and that there was no real, honest beliefs underlying those beliefs.

What I was wondering recently was what would happen to Hillary Clinton if she lost, especially if she was rejected by Democrats and couldn't even blame her fall on those eeeevil Republicans. It's never easy to be a loser. Some handle defeat more gracefully than others. Does she return to the Senate and just work on building her reputation there - a sort of heir to the Teddy Kennedy model of the might-have-been president-turned-old bear-of-the-Senate? Perhaps. I can't see her retiring to spend her sunset years traveling the globe with Bill and basking in his fading glory.

Think of all the other candidates out there on both sides. I can picture all of them bouncing back from defeat and going on with their lives, continuing much as they had been doing before the presidential bug sent them out to spend the last year and a half out campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire and other climes. Obama would definitely be back in four or eight more years and we'll have to see if he'll seem the messianic voice of change after he's been knocking around the Senate for that time or if he decides to have a run for Illinois governor and get some real experience. But Hillary? I just can't picture her recovering in any sort of healthy way from defeat. It's as if all she is relates to her driving ambition. And what does she do when all that she is has been thwarted?