Rebecca Traister examines the minitrend of Democratic “buyer’s remorse” in the New York Times Magazine, and it’s hard to really add to her excellent points about it. In these dark times, it is tempting to wonder if Hillary Clinton would be a better leader than Barack Obama, especially for people who backed Clinton in the primaries because they perceived her as tougher than Obama. But Traister wisely cautions against the “what if,” pointing out that the Clinton, if elected, would be competing against an imaginary and perfect Obama, putting us in the same situation. And maybe even a worse one, since he was perceived by the public at large as more progressive than she is.
Even entertaining the idea that Clinton would have gotten a better deal out of Republicans is contributing to the toxic cult of personality that’s risen up around politicians. I’m generally uncomfortable with much of the progressive anger aimed at Obama, much of which erroneously assumes he has power to fix things that he simply doesn’t have. I had countless arguments during the debt-ceiling fight with people whose position could be boiled down to a belief that Obama could force the Republicans into a progressive bill, but that he wouldn’t do it because he was either weak or secretly agreed with Republicans on spending. But I think this is a situation where the simplest explanation is the best one: The Republicans were holding the economic future of our nation and in fact the entire world hostage to get their way. Obama couldn’t let them shoot the hostage. That’s the point of taking a hostage, to extract concessions out of people you wouldn’t otherwise get.
It’s ridiculous therefore to think Clinton could have created a better situation. I don’t get the fantasy that she would somehow have a leg up on Republicans that Obama doesn’t have. The Republican base not only hates Clinton, but they’ve hated her for decades now. The paranoid base really cut their teeth constructing elaborate conspiracy theories about her. Before Obama was accused of faking his birth certificate, remember that Clinton was accused of murdering Vince Foster, a good friend of her family’s. Republicans would have ambushed and stonewalled her, too. Don’t forget that they impeached her husband after basically dogging him for years, looking for any tiny thread they could cling to to rationalize it.
The only thing that I think would really be different if Clinton had won would be the nickname and the costuming of the base uproar. Instead of conservatives reacting with fantasies of a nation where slavery is legal and you had to own property to vote, they’d probably find solace in some other fantasy. I’m guessing the pre-feminist 1950s would be the ascendent fantasy, and we’d be hearing even more Christianist ranting about how women should put family before career. But the basic idea would be the same; stop the president at any cost.