As George Bush does his best to make sure a Republican will never again be elected head of ‘the world’s only superpower’, speculation turns to the Democratic Party pretenders to the imperial throne.
The inside candidate is, amazingly enough, a woman – Hillary Clinton. But that’s pretty much where the good news stops.
Hillary and her husband Bill are turning into the Democratic _alter-ego_ of Bush Republicanism. The team which came to be known as ‘Billary’ now seems to be a permanent part of the US political landscape. What with Hillary herself representing New York State in the US Senate and Bill prancing around the country (indeed the globe) alternately celebrating his birthday or trying to save the world’s hungry, it feels like the Clintons never left.
So what can we expect from Hillary if she succeeds in her desire to become Empress of the ‘Free World’? Not much. A firm hand on the tiller on matters of military intervention, big-power bullying and taking away civil liberties to keep the terrorists at bay. Make no mistake about it, Hillary is a hawk. She helped sponsor a bill prohibiting the burning of the flag. She may regret her vote in favour of the Iraq war – ‘I was misinformed,’ she says, even though millions of demonstrators around the world saw through the misinformation easily enough. And on Israel she is as hawkish and anti-Palestinian as they come. On a junket to Israel a couple of years ago, Hillary gazed over the controversial apartheid wall and proclaimed: ‘This is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists. The Palestinian people have to help prevent terrorism. They have to change their attitudes about terrorism.’ Now there is some insightful fresh thinking…
Her corporate connections are similarly dismaying. Her Wall Street backer is Robert Rubin who has long played the role of money man for the Democrats. He was Bill’s Treasury Secretary and ensures the Democrats don’t get carried away with outbursts of ‘irresponsible’ economic populism. No worries about Hillary, who has proved a staunch supporter of free trade. Back when Bill was President she crafted a medical reform bill that would have preserved insurance company profits. The bill was stillborn due not just to its arcane complexity (1,300 pages) but also to the failure to build a viable political coalition to push it through.
Another insider is Hillary’s chief strategist, the pollster Mark Penn, a ‘combative workaholic’ who, as CEO of the international PR giant, Burson-Marsteller (B-M), specializes in making the unpalatable palatable, if not exactly tasty. B-M has such notable corporate heavyweight clients as Microsoft (Penn’s personal account), the drug giant Eli Lilly, AT&T and Texaco. Little wonder that Penn and Dick Morris (the Democrats’ Karl Rove) triangulated the first Clinton White House solidly to the Right, embracing such Republican policies as welfare reform and tax cuts. Under any Hillary administration you could expect to find Penn regaining his status as ‘the most powerful man in Washington you have never heard of’.
Hillary has certainly had to weather her share of storms. She became a favourite whipping girl for the misogynist US Right over everything from her support (at least for the moment) of reproductive rights, her husband’s libidinous indiscretions and her own involvement with a shady land deal back in Arkansas, where she had practised law when Bill was Governor. Her law firm’s client list – including anti-union firms like WalMart and Tyson Poultry – speaks volumes.
Will Hillary get elected? Hard to say. She might not get the party nomination because, given the unpopularity of the Bush regime, Democrats may decide on something more politically ambitious than a rerun of the doggedly centrist Clintons. Her ability to glide effortlessly from one side of an issue to the other – the death penalty, cutting poor people off welfare – may stick in the craw of traditional Democrats. But if she gets the nomination all bets are off.
Hillary has become that most American of all things: a celebrity. There are now, reportedly, 17,000 websites devoted to her. She is the subject of a 600-page biography penned by Washington ‘court’ reporter Carl Bernstein. She managed to stick an eight-million-dollar advance into her bank account for her own sappy book, _It Takes a Village_ – cruelly parodied by the conservative humourist PJ O’Rourke as ‘It Takes a Village Idiot’. As a celeb, she carries all manner of totemic meanings from across the political spectrum – she is at once the scheming power-hungry feminist, the betrayed ‘stand-by-your-man’ wife, the betrayer of friends who get in her way, sexy or sexless, a passionate crusader or a ‘principles-for-sale’ political hack.
Celebrity is a pretty unstable political commodity. The Clintons, for better or worse, have achieved it with the help of a morbid fascination attached to what is and what is not happening in their private lives. But the track record isn’t bad – look at Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her chances could go either way.