Monday, April 18, 2005

Is Hillary a Political Genius?

Jay Cost, who writes for RedState.org, has an essay in Opinion Journal titled "Don't Overestimate Hillary". Link.
Where do her political credentials come from? It seems to me that she was a great supporting player to a good (though highly overrated) politician. She played the part of the forgiving, intelligent, driven wife with great effectiveness. When she takes center stage, however, the results are quite mixed. She botched health-care reform so badly that President Clinton got absolutely nothing from a Democratic Congress. She coined the term "vast right-wing conspiracy"--guaranteeing that conservatives everywhere would curse her existence until the end of time. She did win that New York Senate seat, but that, to my mind, was pretty unimpressive. She beat latecomer Rick Lazio, who was not a formidable candidate, to say the least (the word "sophomoric" comes to mind).

If her political accomplishments are unimpressive, why is she so feared? Why is she seen to be a political genius? The answer to this question eluded me for a long time, perhaps because it is so simple. The plain fact is that Hillary Clinton is actually one of the worst politicians in national politics today. She is feared as a brilliant politician only because she is such an obvious politician, which is actually the key mark of a bad politician. [...]

Hillary's movement is a big deal first and foremost because everybody notices her movement. Mr. Frist and others do not get noticed because, while one can identify their political movements through systematic evaluation of their voting records, their positioning is more subtle. But not Hillary's. There is nothing subtle about her strategic positioning. Not a thing. Everybody talks about Hillary's political calculations not because they are brilliant but because they are obvious, because everything about Hillary screams "political calculation." There is nothing organic to her politics; it all seems artificial.

This is the sign of a bad politician. All politicians do the same things. They all change their views. They all move with the political currents. They are all flexible and pragmatic. What differentiates the good politician from the bad one is that you never notice that the good one is pragmatic. [...]

[S]he is just downright wooden. She does not do public appearances well, at least television appearances. The good politicians appear natural on television. [...] A natural-seeming politician instantly washes away the belief of all but his most vitriolic opponents that this guy is nothing but a pragmatist. It is difficult to judge a man as calculating when he seems so natural. The bad ones appear staged and affected. Thus they cannot use television to build that much-needed trust. [...] Ironically, her awfulness as a politician is why people think she is so great. Her political moves are so obvious that everybody discusses how "political" she is. "Oooooh, she is so Machiavellian!" Pundits are in awe of how overtly political she is--and they assume that her overtness is a sign of her excellence. Far from it. As anybody who has read "The Prince" knows, the true Machiavellian is one everybody thinks is a saint.

I too have been puzzled by her reputation as a political genius. She was very politically inept in her handling of her health care commission. She only won the New York election against a nonentity after Rudy Guliani, a long-odds favorite to beat her, dropped out of the race. Being married to a successful politician does not make you one.

As for 2008, she would not stand a chance if there were no opponent running against her. Unfortunately for the Republicans, they have to come up with a candidate. I can think of several Republicans, visible enough to win a nomination, who could lose to her, but that is what it would take. I do not see how she would win a presidential election, but the Republicans could lose it, especially with every major news organization in the country devoting 100% of its resources to finding dirt on her opponent.


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