Does a Test-Driven Car Smell New?

Whether or not Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and whether or not she will run for the nomination at all are two very different questions. But arguing, as Charlie Cook does, that Clinton only has a 25%-30% chance of running at all is very bold and based on magical thinking.

There’s something vaguely gross about comparing Hillary to a new car smell, and it makes me uncomfortable. I’d like to ask a different question.

I think we political junkies operate with certain assumptions that we internalize after a while. We’ve had it in the back of our minds for years now that Clinton will run, will likely win the nomination, and should be heavily favored to win the presidency. We have good reasons for making these assumptions, but having internalized them long ago takes the novelty and excitement of having a female president out of the picture. Far from feeling like some path-breaking moment in American history, it seems more like a very boring and predictable outcome.

The midterms reiterated for us the importance of excitement and interest in the elections to driving Democratic turnout. Barack Obama was able to provide that in a way that Al Gore and John Kerry simply were not. Hillary seems like she is somewhere in between. She isn’t as charismatic as Obama or her husband, but she isn’t crushingly dull, either. Her fan base does include some very strong enthusiasts which we simply didn’t see with Gore and Kerry. She’s somewhat better at riling up the base.

And, when the time comes and the opportunity is finally at hand to make a women the most powerful political leader on the planet, there will be a real sense of novelty and possibility and potential for progress. I just don’t know how strong it will be. The public at large is not at all like political junkies, so they won’t be nearly so fatigued by the idea of Clinton becoming president as most of us are. Yet, this whole idea of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton-Bush is getting pretty old even for the politically disengaged.

A woman president is definitely a new car, in other words, but it seems in this case to be a car we’ve been test driving for years and years.

So, will a Clinton candidacy really bring the excitement we need and, if so, will it be an excitement that comes from a new base of voters?

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at