HILLARY IN 2008?….Yesterday I noodled a little bit about Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances in 2008 in response to Carl Cannon and Amy Sullivan’s debate in the current issue of the Monthly. Here’s one more take.
Most arguments about presidential contenders focus on what the political landscape looks like right now. Can Hillary appeal to married white women? Will her voting record help or hurt her? How will the media treat her?
These are all good points, and they matter. But if there’s any advantage to considering this stuff so far ahead of time, it’s the chance to think about how the political landscape might change over the next three years. After all, as Harold Macmillan famously told a reporter who wanted to know what can most easily steer a government off course, the answer is “Events, dear boy, events.”
The same is true of presidential elections. Jimmy Carter won because America was looking for an honest man after Watergate, and Carter seemed to best fit the bill. Four years later, after Iranian students had taken 53 American hostage in Tehran, a no-nonsense hawk suddenly looked good and Ronald Reagan rode that to victory.
Obviously, events like these are unforseeable, but it’s still possible to consider the range of events that might happen and think about how they might affect Hillary’s chances. Here are three possibilities:
The economy tanks. Needless to say, a seriously bad recession would help any Democrat. Would it help Hillary more than, say, John Edwards or Wes Clark? Maybe. After all, she’s the only one who can plausibly associate herself in the public mind with the prosperity of the Clinton 90s. It doesn’t really matter whether she deserves any credit, after all, it only matters that voters think she might be able to work the same magic.
Iraq turns into a quagmire. My guess is that this would hurt Hillary. After all, she voted for the war and has consistently been a moderate hawk in the Senate. If the public is really restless over Iraq in 2008, it would be more likely to turn to either a candidate like Edwards, who is less associated with hawkery, or someone like Clark, who has the military cred to persuade the public that he can figure out an honorable way to get us out ? much as Eisenhower used the stalled Korean War to his benefit in the 1952 election.
A large-scale terrorist attack in the United States. This is much harder to predict. Hillary’s hawkishness and reputation for ruthlessness would probably help her if the public were jittery over a terrorist attack. But would it be enough to overcome hesitation about having a woman as commander-in-chief? Hard to say. Still, if Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir could both fight successful wars and get themselves nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” why not Hillary too?
So can Hillary win in 2008? In true DC pundit style, the answer has to be….it depends.