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Wishful Thinking for a Hillary Clinton Presidency Is Based On Faulty Premises

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It's November, so that means this year's annual Doug Schoen and Patrick Caddell op-ed calling for President Obama to step aside in favor of Hillary Clinton is upon us. Write Schoen and Caddell in, this time around, the Wall Street Journal:

Not only is Mrs. Clinton better positioned to win in 2012 than Mr. Obama, but she is better positioned to govern if she does. Given her strong public support, she has the ability to step above partisan politics, reach out to Republicans, change the dialogue, and break the gridlock in Washington.
[...]
If President Obama is not willing to seize the moral high ground and step aside, then the two Democratic leaders in Congress, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, must urge the president not to seek re-election -- for the good of the party and most of all for the good of the country. And they must present the only clear alternative -- Hillary Clinton.

Schoen and Caddell are easily dismissed. The two pollsters, who write as self-described "patriots and Democrats," can more frequently be seen concern-trolling on Fox News than anywhere else. But the idea that Hillary Clinton represents some sort of liberal, Democratic savior is one that has currency. In late October, Time magazine touched off cries of "buyer's remorse" by including the Secretary of State's name in a poll of potential 2012 matchups. During last summer's debt-ceiling negotiations, complaints that Clinton would have been a "more effective negotiator" or was "tougher" than the President frequently cropped up in left-wing media.

The combination of nostalgia and wishful thinking that elevates Hillary Clinton to the status of would-be liberal lion is perplexing. For all of Clinton's success at the State Department, the chaos and lack of discipline surrounding her failed 2008 campaign suggest a leader who would not have been without her own faults.

There is no reason, for example, to assume that Mark Penn, Clinton's pre-eminent 2008 strategist, would not have had a role in a Clinton administration. Liberals who "want to see a blood on the floor" and pine for a president who will stand up to his critics would have been horrified by a White House major domo urging total capitulation on tax policy. "[T]he people who vote on taxes are the people who pay them," Penn reminded the National Journal's Ronald Brownstein earlier this month, registering his fear that the sort of harsh economic talk liberals crave might turn the upper middle class against the Democratic brand.

Indeed, it is worth keeping in mind that the most frequent targets of progressive fury within the Obama administration have been the holdovers from Bill Clinton's White House. Ron Suskind's "Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President," published in September, detailed the role Robert Rubin, a former Clinton treasury secretary, Larry Summers, recently the chairman of the National Economic Council and Bill Clinton's last treasury secretary, and Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and a former Clinton staffer, played in frustrating major financial reforms in 2009. In a poignant moment, the book details North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan's December 2008 complaint to Obama that "[y]ou've picked the wrong people!" Does anyone doubt that Summers, Emanuel and Rubin would have been prominent actors in a Hillary Clinton administration?

Much of the pining for Hillary Clinton seems to be premised on mis-targeted liberal nostalgia for a version of Bill Clinton's presidency that never happened. Writing for New York Magazine, Jon Chait points out that President Clinton responded to the same general challenge Obama has faced -- an intransigent Republican Congress -- by pursuing right-of-center goals such as welfare reform, a crime bill and NAFTA and giving up the fight on health-care reform and inclusion of gays in the military.

This is not to say that Hillary Clinton could not have been an excellent president. The State Department has been a relative model of achievement and efficiency under her leadership, and her success during her tenure as a senator from New York suggests a genuine ability to negotiate the tricky halls of Congress. There is no reason to believe, however, that the challenges that have plagued and at times overwhelmed the Obama administration would not have deviled a Hillary Clinton presidency. And there is certainly no reason to think that President Hillary Clinton would have shed herself of the same advisers she has relied on for years, and who are responsible for so much of the incoherence of Obama's first-term financial policy.