[dropcap]O[/dropcap]K, you’ve read by now all the Hillary-is-ready-and-running stories, and in each one we’re told how polarizing she is and how cold and suspicious she is and how she has to change if she is going to win this time.
And it might even make sense unless you actually think about it.
Because how can someone quite so polarizing be odds-on to win the Democratic nomination and also favored, according to the sports-betting sheets, to win the presidency? Doesn’t something have to be wrong? Maybe the whole polarizing Hillary thing is overstated. Or maybe her chances of winning are.
[pullquote]Clinton has been “polarizing” since long before it became the in thing to be for a U.S. politician.[/pullquote]
Or maybe it’s the fact that Clinton has been polarizing since long before it became the in thing to be. I mean, every politician today is polarizing. Once upon a time in America, there was the red-blue divide. That was around the time of the Bush v. Gore triple overtime race. Now there’s a red-blue abyss.
So, yes, Clinton will try to show a warmer side, the grandmotherly side, the van-riding human side. But it’s fair to note that Clinton was likable enough to give Barack Obama a much better race than John McCain or Mitt Romney ever could.
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Adding a Clinton to the political mix doesn’t change the level of polarization. You can blame cable TV news or the Twitter or Citizens United for the abyss. You can blame Obama or you can blame House Republicans for the present state of Washington dysfunction. You can blame the Big Dog and the re-emergence, briefly, of Monica Lewinsky for the ugly campaign to come. (Note, please, Bill’s absence from the Hillary campaign video).
The thing is, even if Clinton is not as unpopular as you’d imagine — and she’s not — we already know who she is, long before the TV ads hit in force. And, in any case, as the smart pundits tell you, the election is about the economy or about the third-term itch or about the emerging (or non-emerging) Democratic majority or about turning out the white vote or about turning out the minority vote or about the widening gap between the parties — on Obamacare, on Medicaid, on global warming, on oil vs. wind, on letters to the Mullahs, on, well, everything.
Everyone’s got a model in the Nate Silver era, but the models have little to do with Clinton’s polarization quotient or, for that matter, with the person likely to win the Republican nomination, so long as that person doesn’t turn out to be, say, a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz.
According to a fivethirtyeight.com chart of polls since Jan. 15, cold and unpopular Clinton is barely above water, and yet with far higher favorables than both Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. The gap is much closer between her and both Scott Walker and Marco Rubio, but most people are just getting to know them. What I mean is, the only Republican with higher favorables than Clinton is Ben Carson. Have we said enough?
OK, we haven’t said enough. There’s no way to sum up Clinton, except to say that in her decades in public view she has always seemed to push buttons, from the left and right, although mostly from the right, and certainly because she happens to be a woman. She has been made to stand in for far more than any one person should. You don’t have to be a Clinton fan — and there is ample reason not to be, as the erased emails remind us — to know that her critics have consistently overreached. And — see: Benghazi — that they’ll almost certainly do it again.
The expected attacks on Clinton will bring the base back to her. They always do. Liberals, like conservatives, are rarely happy with their party’s nominee. But Clinton, as John Cassidy points out in the New Yorker, has given liberals hope that she is prepared to do more about income inequality than husband Bill or the New Democrats ever did.
My guess is that if former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley runs to Clinton’s left, he’ll get more votes than people think. But I’d guess, too, from the evidence of her campaign rollout, that Clinton will be running on income inequality, climate change, glass ceilings and in defense of Obamacare. That won’t be a hard call in the end from the left.
It may be a coincidence, or maybe not, that the first three Republicans to officially announce are all young senators who can make the generational argument, like Kennedy did and like Obama did. Marco Rubio — the one of the three who has a real chance — hit Clinton and his mentor Jeb Bush with twin blows, suggesting one was a “leader from yesterday” and the other one of those “who come from power and privilege.” At first glance, it was difficult to tell which is which.
What won’t be difficult to tell by the time we get to 2016 is which candidate is from which party. And whether Hillary changes — or is thought to — may turn out to be far less important than whether, in this election, the voters do.