Polls show Hillary Clinton has now opened up a striking 33-point lead over Barack Obama in the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. The latest poll shows that likely Democratic primary voters favor her in every major policy area. Clinton also raised $27 million in campaign contributions in the last quarter, adding to an already-significant lead over her Democratic rivals.
For seven years, the left has been up in arms about President Bush's aggressive foreign policy, his secrecy, his partisanship, and his expansive claims on executive power. It's odd, then, that they're prepared to nominate Hillary Clinton to carry the party into the 2008 elections.
The problem with Hillary Clinton is two-fold: First, she's likely to be as bad or worse than Bush on all of those issues, and second, she's the one Democrat the Republicans still have a chance to beat.
Start with Clinton's general election vulnerabilities. No Democrat inspires more wrath and anger on the right than Hillary Clinton. This isn't because of her policy positions — on most issues, she's really not all that far removed from President Bush. It's leftover partisan anger from the Bill Clinton years.
And while I can understand the temptation on the left to want to stick it to their political opponents by putting their worst nightmare in the White House, it's also worth noting that morale on the right is down right now. They're disappointed in their political leadership — with the scandals, the spending, and the uninspired politicking. Campaign contributions are down. Motivation is lagging. Why give them the one general election opponent most likely to get them fired up and, more importantly, writing checks again?
Hillary Clinton also starts any national election with negative approval ratings in the low-to-mid forties. That gives her very little margin for error in a general election campaign. Clinton, then, is probably the only serious candidate in the field right now who could give the Republicans another term in the White House. So why risk it?
Then there is Hillary Clinton on the issues. Cato Institute President Ed Crane recently wrote a piece for the Financial Times pointing out that when you strip away the partisan coating, Mrs. Clinton's grandiose, big-government vision is really no different than that envisioned by the neoconservatives so loathed by the left. Clinton, remember, not only voted for the Iraq war, she still hasn't conceded she was wrong to do so, and has made no promise to end it any time soon.
In fact, the L.A. Times reported last week that Clinton has refused to commit even to pulling U.S. troops from Iraq by 2013, which, if elected, would be the end of her first term. TV journalist Ted Kopel recently told NPR that Clinton has admitted the U.S. would still have troops in Iraq at the end of her second term.
The 1990s, remember, weren't exactly a decade of peace. Bill Clinton ordered more U.S. military interventions than any other post-WWII administration, and there's no reason to think any of them were over Hillary's protestations. She supported the U.S. military campaigns in Haiti, Kosovo, and Bosnia. She once boasted that as the tension in Kosovo mounted, she called her husband from her trip to Africa and, "I urged him to bomb."
Hillary Clinton voted for both the Patriot Act and its reauthorization. She voted for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. She voted to loosen restrictions limiting the federal government's ability to wiretap cell phones. In the past, she has supported a robust role for the federal government in enforcing "decency" standards in television and music. She teamed up with former Sen. Rick Santorum on a bill calling for the federal government to restrict the sale of violent video games.
Leftists concerned about the entertainment industry's increasingly imperial stand on copyright might take a cue from copyright guru Lawrence Lessig, who wrote on his blog for Wired magazine: "Of all the Dems, I would have bet she was closest to the copyright extremists. So far, she's done nothing to suggest to the contrary."
What about secrecy and executive power? It's difficult to see Hillary Clinton voluntarily handing back all of those extra-constitutional executive powers claimed by President Bush. Her husband's administration, for example, copiously invoked dubious "executive privilege" claims to keep from complying with congressional subpoenas and open records requests — claims the left now (correctly, in my view) regularly criticizes the Bush administration for invoking.
Hillary Clinton herself went to court to keep meetings of her Health Care Task Force secret from the public, something conservatives were quick to point out when leftists criticize Vice President Cheney's similar efforts to keep meetings of his Energy Task Force secret.
"I'm a strong believer in executive authority," Clinton said in a 2003 speech, recently quoted in The New Republic. "I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority."
That jibes with a February 2007 New York Times article on Clinton explaining her refusal to back down from her vote for the Iraq war: "Mrs. Clinton's belief in executive power and authority is another factor weighing against an apology, advisers said…she believes that a president usually deserves the benefit of the doubt from Congress on matters of executive authority."
Such is why President Bush has recently had some nice things to say about Hillary Clinton, leading some to speculate that Bush sees her as the Eisenhower to his Truman — a candidate from the opposing party who criticizes his foreign policy during the campaign, but will likely pursue a very similar policy should she be elected.
As a libertarian, it will at least be entertaining to watch the left squirm while defending Hillary Clinton's "right" to employ the same executive powers and engage in the same foreign policy blunders they now argue that President Bush has superceded his authority in claiming. And it'll be equally fun to watch the right cry foul when President Hillary claims the same powers they have so vigorously fought to claim for President Bush. The problem, of course, is that entertaining as all that might be, an increasingly imperial presidency isn't good for our republic.
Neither is our overly interventionist foreign policy, or the continuing erosion of our civil liberties, be it in the name of "family values," government paternalism, the war on drugs, or the war on terror.
Activists on the left need to recognize that Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic primary is the GOP's last best hope to elect a Republican to continue pursuing President Bush's pursuit of these unfortunate policies. And judging by her political career and recent voting record, they should also realize that even if they succeed in electing Hillary Clinton to the White House, it's likely that the only real resulting change in Washington will be that come 2009, we'll merely have a Democrat pursuing the same misguided policies.
Radley Balko is a senior editor with Reason magazine. He publishes the weblog, TheAgitator.com.