Sunday, August 18, 2013

Clinton-Christie Conundrum

Clinton-Christie Conundrum

It is axiomatic that political campaigning doesn’t really begin until after Labor Day, but at Syncopated Politics, we like to challenge conventional wisdom.  No time like the present to start discussing the 2016 election.

Von Clausewitz once said that war is merely the continuation of politics by other means.  And it has been nearly ten months since Mr. Obama sent Mr. Romney home (homes?) without the prize. The two armadas are out there on the ocean, patrolling back and forth, probing, sending out scouts, looking for weaknesses. 

The Biggest Ships, Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie, have been moving around quite a bit as well. 

Hillary, who was supposed to go off quietly into the post-Secretary of State night, has been all over the place, making (sometimes highly paid) speeches, having a mid-day meal with the President, and being the subject of an obscure documentary made by sinister unseen forces that no news channel will be permitted to air because it doesn’t contain 100% criticism.  That’s one busy lady. 

Chris isn’t exactly a shrinking violet either.  Recently he signed 10 gun control measures, earning the enmity from 2nd Amendment folk, who particularly objected to a provision that would have banned the sale of guns to people on the Federal Terrorism watch list. He then moved to restore his cred by vetoing a bill that included a ban on the Barrett .50 caliber long-range rifle, a gesture made more interesting because he previously had called for it.   Christie has also picked fights with Rand Paul on spying and national security, and with Bobby Jindal for some issue that was so esoteric, that I believe the topic was how esoteric it was.

Hillary doesn’t need to pick fights; she has them picked for her. Outside of the obligatory accusation that it was Hillary in a burka personally storming the Consulate in Benghazi, and the round the clock scandal mongering, just this past morning, the New York Post had an editorial “Hilary Plays the Race Card.” I’m not ordinarily a Post man, but I thought that was a little surreal, so I peeked.  Hillary plays the race card by criticizing the Supreme Court decision in the Voting Rights Act. Somehow, I don’t think further adornment is necessary.

Other elements of the Murdoch Empire are also on the hunt for Hillary pelts.  The Wall Street Journal is a regular source of spleen, and as for Fox, their special brand of self-parody included Steve Doocy, Chief Jester for Fox and Friends, claiming she had just had a face lift.  

Doocy appears to be a man familiar with both face-lifts and hair dye, so perhaps he’s an authority?  Although, one does have to ask, why would Hillary get one now? Wouldn’t it wear off over time?  I would have thought she’d want to freshen up closer to primary season.

Obsession with her physical appearance (or, more accurately, other people’s obsession with her appearance) is something else she shares with Christie, whose girth is sometimes used as reason to question his discipline and fitness (literally as well as figuratively) for higher office.  Christie didn’t exactly have a face-lift, but he did manage bariatric surgery last Spring. Personally, I find the whole discussion kind of peculiar. Presidents don’t have to be Calvin Klein models (Adams was short, fat, and bald, Lincoln’s homeliness was legendary and John Tyler was no prize.)  Of course, what people are really trying to do when they talk about appearance is to demean and degrade.  So Hillary’s hair and Christie’s tummy are attempts to show that these two folk are somehow not serious.

Not serious? That’s ludicrous.  Can anyone think of two prominent national politicians who are more serious than Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie?  Note, I didn’t say “humorless” because it is truly amazing how many humorless scolds and party apparatchiks there are out there.  Serious, as in hardworking, intelligent, focused. 

And therein lies a problem for both.  While the moderate middle of this country is clearly ready for serious, the moderate middle is currently not in charge. 

The GOP will not pick Christie without an internal civil war.  The hard right, living off the fiction that Mitt wasn’t conservative enough, will not accept anyone perceived as a moderate doer.  That wing of the party craves the opportunity to do nationally what the GOP just did in North Carolina; exercise power in a manner that achieves both a purely ideological agenda, and nails the door shut on possible political opposition.  They aren’t looking for Ronald Reagan. Rather, they want someone who would apply the tactics of General Grant in his final lunge for victory; “to eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of this season will have to carry their provender with them.”

A Christie Presidency doesn’t accomplish that.  It isn’t that Christie doesn’t have the energy or drive to push through what traditionally has been thought of as a conservative program, or that he couldn’t be a good President (he could.)  But they want it all, and they suspect he would value his own instincts, the Christie brand, and his hopes for a second term, more.  Conservative, yes, forcing every Democrat to self-deport, perhaps not.

Does that mean Christie couldn’t get the nomination?  No, he could, and he should be considered a strong contender.  To get there, though, he will have to bridge the gap between the “just win, baby” crowd and the purely hormonal.  That is a very long road. Right now, a GOP Convention that anoints Christie would have a strong whiff of the classic Charlie Brown cartoon with the oft-feuding siblings Linus and Lucy holding hands and saying “we’re brother and sister and we love each other” in an attempt to fool Santa. It might work, but the old guy with the beard has probably seen it all by now.

Predicting anything this far out is foolish (which is part of the fun) but my instincts are Christie can’t pull it off in time for the 2016 election cycle; he doesn’t make enough Republican primary voters hearts go pitter-patter.  They want passion, not a good provider. 

Hillary, on the other hand, has the opposite problem.  She has too much time. If the Democratic primary were held today, she would win in a romp, and if the general election were in November, she would have a strong chance of bonding with John Roberts over a Bible next January.  I have absolutely no doubt she could be a very good President, a point even many in the GOP would acknowledge.  But, I want to suggest a heretical thought.  She might be the wrong choice as a candidate, both for the Democrats, and for the country. For twenty years we have been locked into a cycle of vicious, no-holds-barred partisanship.  A Hillary candidacy could more of the same; three and a half years of unrelenting investigations, rehashing old scandals, Bill, Benghazi, etc. etc.  A Hillary win would probably mean the GOP would keep it up afterwards, carping and obstructing. 

I fear that Hillary’s nomination would be a crutch for both sides to stop thinking. Democrats will flock to her side to defend her and the historic nature of her election. They will not take the second step; asking themselves how to make government work better so as to ensure the long-term viability of the programs they care about.  And Republicans will continue the tactics they used in the Romney campaign: personal venom and deliberate vagueness about the details of their plans, because they know they would be unpopular with the majority of Americans.  We will not debate ideas; certainly we will not debate new ones.

Christie’s nomination might do the same, by giving the hard right yet another get-out-of-jail-free card.  If he wins, they have a Republican President for more of their agenda.  If he loses, they can claim he wasn’t a committed conservative. 

The rest of us just want results.  Couldn’t we nominate two candidates who were not only willing to discuss the issues as pragmatists, but also willing to go back to their own bases and tell them to get you have to give?

Strangely enough, those two hypothetical candidates sound a lot like Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie.