Spin Cycle

The Hillary Fantasy

Why Some Democrats Can't Let Go

11.21.11 6:26 PM ET

The Hillary diehards just won’t give it up.

For them, it all seems so obvious: Barack Obama should step aside, the secretary of State should lead the 2012 ticket, and the Democratic Party would be restored to its former glory.

Easy, right?

This analysis is so screwy it’s hard to know where to begin.

Hillary Clinton might make a very good president. Certainly, her legion of fans in 2008 thought so. But she ran a badly flawed campaign, Obama won, and Hillary is now an international diplomat who floats above partisan politics.

What’s easy to forget is how polarizing a presence Hillary was on the political stage, complete with people bemoaning the role that Bill would play as first spouse. To trumpet her approval ratings now, when she’s been out of the domestic political crossfire for three years, misses the mark. The day she got into the campaign—in this bizarro world in which the president magically bows out—she would come under fierce assault that would drive her numbers down.

Could Hillary Clinton win? Sure. Would she be free of some of the Obama baggage? Yes, although she’d have to defend the administration of which she is a part. Meanwhile, how are African-Americans going to feel about the first black president being pushed aside? And while Clinton didn’t pass Obamacare, her Hillarycare was even more of a big-government contraption—and in the primaries, she chastised Obama for not including a strong enough health insurance mandate.

Still, along come Doug Schoen, a former Bill Clinton pollster, and Pat Caddell, who worked for Jimmy Carter, with this Wall Street Journal piece promoting HRC as the irresistible nominee:

“Never before has there been such an obvious potential successor—one who has been a loyal and effective member of the president's administration, who has the stature to take on the office, and who is the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy.

“Certainly, Mr. Obama could still win re-election in 2012. Even with his all-time low job approval ratings (and even worse ratings on handling the economy) the president could eke out a victory in November. But the kind of campaign required for the president's political survival would make it almost impossible for him to govern—not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term.”

So Obama would have to go ugly to win, but Hillary would have a walk in the park?

No matter: “Her election would arguably be as historic an event as the election of President Obama in 2008.”

The other odd thing about the Clinton boomlet, if it can be called that, is that Bill’s presidency was hardly a time of liberal rejoicing. He was a Third Way guy who ran against the “brain-dead politics” of both parties, and became known as a slippery triangulator who compromised with the Gingrich Republicans on welfare reform and budget-cutting. If Hillary represents the restoration, she would be bringing back what was once regarded as a brand of Democratic centrism.

Which leads to this question posed by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine:

“Why are liberals so desperately unhappy with the Obama presidency?

“There are any number of arguments about things Obama did wrong…Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president. “So, what if we compare Obama with a real alternative? Not to Republicans—that’s too easy—but to Democratic presidents as they lived and breathed?

“One variant of liberal disappointment has taken the form of resurgent Clinton nostalgia. Hillary Clinton, removed from the undertow of partisan combat in her role as secretary of State, has enjoyed soaring approval ratings, while Bill has burnished his credentials with a book on fixing the economy. If Bill Clinton (or Hillary Clinton—admirers tend to blur their identities) were in charge, pine their devotees, they wouldn’t have rolled over on the economy.”

Schoen and Caddell wind up arguing that if Obama won’t abdicate, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should march up Pennsylvania Avenue and demand the keys. Don’t hold your breath.