Hillary: The question for Dems is whether she can win. She has 3 years to neutralize the irrational hatred that too many voters feel toward her.
At a Memorial Day picnic in Washington, the talk inevitably turned to Hillary Clinton and her likely run for president. “What motivates her?” one man wanted to know. He wouldn’t think of asking that question about any of the male contenders for president. Wanting to hold the highest elective office in the land is a given for them, but not for Hillary. She has a unique hurdle to overcome in reassuring voters about her motives and character as she moves toward a national race.
The more serious question for Democrats is whether she can win. She has three years to neutralize the irrational hatred that too many voters feel toward her. Part of it is sexism, the same impulse that stereotypes her as a pushy, uppity woman. Part of it is the way she got into politics, through her husband. Her years as First Lady left her with a public image that for today’s politics seems too liberal, too shrill and too cold.
The real Hillary isn’t any of those things, but how else to explain the antipathy toward her even among those who consider themselves admirers? “What Red State can she win?” asks another picnicker. The answer—Arkansas—elicits laughter. But it’s not unreasonable to expect a residue of loyalty to Hillary in a state where she lived in the governor’s mansion for 12 years, and maybe she could pocket Florida, too. Hillary likes to remind voters of her Republican roots as a Goldwater Girl and president of the Young Republicans at Wellesley before switching her party identification midway through her college career. She’s won over traditionally Republican upstate New York and is on track for re-election next year, why not Red State America?
Republicans prefer to start her political timeline with her service in Washington on the Watergate committee, which led to the resignation of President Nixon. Pigeonholing her as a card-carrying member of the Nixon-hating elites makes it easier to set up the cultural paradigm that feeds Hillary hatred.
Hillary Clinton came of age during Watergate, and the lessons she learned then as a junior staffer on Capitol Hill inform her politics today. She can adjust her positions on issues all she wants, but her ultimate success as a presidential candidate will turn more on issues of character and trust—values that Deep Throat, the most celebrated source in American history, can finally savor after decades of silence.