I'm not ready for Hillary. I'm not ready for a coronation. I believe -- as Barbara Bush is reported to have said at some point -- there are more families in this country than the Bushes and Clintons.
But America has increasingly become a country of brand equity and, rather than winning an election with ideas, parties look to overwhelm with soundbite sloganeering and the power of the brand.
There can be no doubt: for all the pitfalls, the Clinton brand is strong. And it would be made even stronger by the historic notion of electing the first woman president. Indeed, the time has come for a female president.
Just not Hillary...
Some Democratic pols have suggested that efforts to "Romnify" Hillary Clinton would be bound to fail. Mitt Romney was born rich. Hillary wasn't. But what cost Mitt Romney the 2012 election was the fact that he by nature seemed incapable of understanding the Little Guy/Gal. Comments like "I'll bet you $10,000..." simply symbolized the distance between him and us, no matter how hard he tried to be relatable.
Hillary's comments about leaving the White House "dead broke" fall distinctly into this same category. Most Americans simply can't identify with such statements, which are so foreign to their own lives. The fact that Hillary wasn't born into wealth hardly mitigates the effect of such an attitude -- if anything, quite the opposite. Mitt Romney seemed to be a patrician by nature, even if his father wasn't. He was "to the manor born." A genuinely nice guy (or so it seems), but completely out of touch with the average American.
As such, "Romnifying" Hillary should mean trying to portray Hillary Clinton as a well-meaning elitist. Nice, authentic, but simply too distanced from the Little Guy/Gal to really connect. Yet while she is going to great lengths to create the opposite impression, the main difference between Romney and Hillary seems to be one of authenticity. Mitt Romney seems like a genuinely nice, albeit out-of-touch rich dude. You might be able to have a beer with him, but probably wouldn't have a lot to talk about. Hillary Clinton's persona seems anything but authentic. The projected veneer of caring about the Little Guy/Gal seems poll-tailored and purely calculated for political gain.
Beyond the obvious other considerations, most Americans would like a president who we could have a beer with, and with whom the conversation wouldn't feel forced or phony. In many ways, Hillary Clinton no longer seems like a real person; she seems like she has become the prototype of a virtual politician created by focus groups, pollsters and strategic marketing gurus. Her well-polled positions may seem better to many Americans than those which Romney espoused, but they seem almost robotic, lacking heart and authenticity, motivated by what seems to be bottomless ambition.
Beyond the Clinton transparency problems; beyond the sense that Hillary Clinton seems to feel there are two sets of rules: one for the Clintons and one for everybody else; beyond the authenticity issues so brilliantly captured by Kate McKinnon's SNL portrayal of Clinton, there are voters who simply believe that they are "ready for Hillary" because she's a woman and it's time.
It's not an argument as much as a feeling, but it is a very powerful feeling and difficult to counteract with anything but another female candidate. However, the Republican side, unfortunately, seems to be fresh out of viable female presidential candidates. But the Republicans still could -- and should -- put a woman on the 2016 presidential ticket.
No, not Sarah Palin.
How about Condoleezza Rice?
In a way, Condi is not only the anti-Sarah Palin, she's also the anti-Hillary. Personally, I think she would make a great presidential candidate, but she has never run for office, and she refused to allow herself to be drafted to run for the U.S. Senate seat which Senator Barbara Boxer is vacating in California, even though polls in blue California put Condi on top. (When urged to run for Senate, she supposedly quipped that she didn't want to be one of a hundred of anything.)
But Condi Rice could be the perfect Republican VP candidate in 2016.
Condi would be hard-pressed to say no to Jeb Bush, with whom she is close, should he get the Republican nomination. But a Bush-Rice ticket might reinforce the notion that a Bush 3.0 presidency is a blast from the past with the dynastic downside which a lot of Americans (including myself) want to avoid.
Condi would be the perfect VP to a number of other viable Republican candidates. Scott Walker has the executive experience, but lacks active foreign policy chops. Condi Rice, with all of her foreign policy experience, would be a marvelous counterbalance and complement to a governor like Walker or John Kasich from Ohio, whose jobs just don't naturally involve a lot of international relations.
Emotionally and demographically, Condi as the Republican VP candidate could neutralize the zeal of certain voters to "create history" by voting for a female president. Condi Rice on the ticket allows voters to make another kind of history by electing a minority woman. Strategically, the inclusion of Condi on the ticket would allow the Republicans to contrast her record and persona with that of Hillary. Just look at the e-mail situation when each was Secretary of State. Condi plays by the rules. Hillary plays by her own set of rules. Condi is erudite and seems somewhat shy, but she passes the "beer test" with flying colors.
This isn't exactly the case with Hillary Clinton. As Jonah Goldberg wrote in 2007: "She may have star power, but you get the sense that most Americans would like to have their picture taken with her and then drink alone." If anything, this has only gotten more extreme over the past few years, especially against the background of the Clinton Foundation's squirrelly quest for foreign cash; there is a running SNL skit series yet to be written with Kate McKinnon as Hillary, struggling to have a beer with Average Americans.
In short, Condi, brilliant as she is, seems both humble and authentic. Hillary, brilliant as she is, can't help herself from exuding a thinly-veiled, self-entitled, ambition-fueled phoniness.
Obviously the top name on the ballot is extremely important; but on, say, a Walker-Rice or Kasich-Rice ticket, Condi could not only make the difference in the 2016 election, she could also play a major role in the succeeding Republican administration. She could help redefine the Republican Party as inclusive, tolerant and not just for rich people: a party of freedom, fairness and a force for the Little Guy/Gal.
One of Hillary Clinton's campaign slogans is "Hillary for America." It feels like it really should be "Hillary for Hillary." Sorry, I'm just not ready for that. I'm not ready for a new flood of foundation donations from foreign governments and others anxious to gain access and presumably influence; not ready for a whole new panoply of conflicts of interest and appearances of impropriety; not ready for reasonable criticism to be dismissed with curt, Nixonian waves of the hand; not ready for dynastic politicians being held to lower standards than everyone else. If anything, I'm ready for some more realness in our political system, wherever it may come from. Heck, despite differences on some of the issues, I'd even be readier for Bernie or Elizabeth than I am for Hillary.
But I most certainly am ready for Condi. And for any number of reasons so should the Republican Party, so should the nation be ready for her, too.