We may look back someday and say this was the week that secured the nomination for Hillary Clinton, if the netroots prematurely accept her as a "progressive" candidate. Progressive? She refuses to rule out the use of nuclear weapons on the grounds that a potential President doesn't engage in "hypotheticals." Yet she's repeatedly endorsed the use of torture, against the recommendation of the generals, using the most hypothetical situation imaginable as her justification.
If the end result is a Clinton candidacy that continues to lean right ("centrist" in today's distorted nomenclature), it may be a Pyrrhic victory - for her and for the Democrats. The best chance for victory will come from a clearly articulated platform that makes a clean break from current policies.
It's true that Sen. Clinton has moved back toward the progressive side of the spectrum in some ways, but so far at least it's been more symbolic than substantive. Deploying Harold Wolson to defend DailyKos and the YearlyKos convention from Bill O'Reilly's slurs was a smart idea. It allowed her to cozy up to the progressive netroots without actually doing anything progressive.
Surprisingly, it seems to have worked. She was booed at the YearlyKos convention for saying she'd continue to take money from lobbyists, but observers reported that they were "friendly boos." Otherwise her reception was positive. While the crowd at YearlyKos was allowed to act suitably lively, the candidates' panel left at least one observer discouraged and disappointed.
Yet DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas (Kos) Zuniga said of the candidates: "I feel no compulsion to pick anybody, because they are all so great."
If the rest of the netroots feels the same way, the other candidates might as well go home now. The only way the candidate won't be named Hillary Clinton is if progressive sentiment coalesces around one of the two viable alternatives: Obama and Edwards. Progressive passion against Sen. Clinton has been so strong that this has been the likely scenario for months. And progressive power comes from the possibility that the Democratic base would be dispirited by a Clinton candidacy and might fail to turn out - or even move to a third party. (1)
That's why Hillary has been making gestures toward the left. "Believe it or not," she says, "I actually read the blogs." Is that all it takes to neuter the netroots? On the issues of substance, she's not where she needs to be. She argued for the legalization of torture in 2006, using tortured logic borrowed from Alan Dershowitz. The "I don't indulge in hypotheticals" candidate told the New York Daily News she'd use torture under the "ticking time bomb scenario," despite the fact that this (very hypothetical) scenario's been discredited by military and intelligence experts. (If the "time bomb" were really "ticking," say experts, a tortured suspect would simply lie until it went off.)
She confirmed that this a calculated move by having Bill' repeat the pro-torture position (a move that delighted Mr. Dershowitz), and then by repeating her "clarification" on the legalization of torture. ""If we're going to be preparing for the kind of improbable but possible eventuality, then it has to be done within the rule of law," she said.
With these statements, the candidate who rightly insists that a leader's words have international meaning sent word that she wants U.S. law to legalize behavior that violates international law. She also told the world that the U.S. would continue to abdicate its moral leadership under a Clinton II Presidency. And she's lecturing Obama? To defend torture in any form while people of good will are trying to stop the current Administration from using it is - at best - unwise.
As for the nuclear bomb, how insane has our public dialogue become? The candidate who says he wouldn't use a nuclear bomb to kill one man is the one that's being called irresponsible. Hillary's position, that you "take no option off the table" (echoed by Dodd and others) is absurd. Even at the height of the Cold War, no Presidential candidate would have taken such an extreme position. It was understood that Presidents would do whatever they felt was necessary - but it was also understood that bellicose language increased the risk of war. That's why Lyndon Johnson's "daisy" ad was so effective against Goldwater in 1964.
As for Kos, whose work in helping forge the netroots continues to be revolutionary, he's been coming out swinging against Hillary's position on campaign financing (see here and here). That's great - but if she and others believe she'll have netroots support anyway, what difference does it make?
There are only two scenarios under which the progressive Democratic base will enthusiastically support its candidate. In one, progressive opposition to Sen. Clinton coalesces around Obama or Edwards and they win the nomination. In the other, Sen. Clinton continues to move toward more progressive (and wiser) policies. After this week, both scenarios are less likely. And a Candidate Clinton who continues to lean right has less chance of winning the general election.
That's not an attractive prospect for progressives, or for the Party's chances in 2008.
(1) UPDATE: Matt Stoller has the lowdown on a McClatchy poll that shows the Democratic base moving to the left. And we know that a majority of all Americans wants a plan to end the war, with half wanting to see us out within 12 months.
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