To say that Barack Obama is preferable to Hillary Clinton is not the same thing as saying that Barack Obama is preferable to John McCain. (More on that point Thursday.) However, here's hoping that Clinton's defeat marks the end of the Clintons as a political force in this country.
The most important letter in the word "Clinton" is the letter I. This space has long advocated a more cynical view toward politicians, but everything negative you believe about politicians can be seen in the Clintons. Though politicians are stereotypically said to be willing to do anything to get elected or re-elected, the Clintons are willing to do anything to get elected. Remember the "permanent campaign"? Bill Clinton's 1990s complaints about the "politics of personal destruction" were simply the echo chamber throwing his own strategy back at him. The Clintons attracted scandal (Whitewater, the Travel Office, various bimbo eruptions, etc., etc., etc.) like magnets attract metal, despite all their media sycophants who parroted off-the-record comments about how brilliant Bill's politics were, and if anything, it's gotten worse with Hillary's chief political advisor. (For Bill’s reaction to that devastating Vanity Fair piece, read this.) Had I suggested before Saturday that Hillary Clinton was going to bolt the Democratic Party and run as a third-party candidate for president, you might have been able to think of valid reasons for her to not do that, but you probably wouldn't have been surprised at such a self-centered move.
It's become obvious that the Clinton magic is gone, if in fact it really existed. Let's remember that Bill Clinton's first two years in office went so well that the Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress after the 1994 elections, never to get them back during Clinton's term in office. A large reason that happened is, of course, Hillary Clinton's health care plan, which even Democrats in Congress could see wasn't going to work. Bill Clinton was such a popular president that he failed to get a majority vote during either of his elections, even though aided in his first election by a third-party candidate who siphoned more votes from George H.W. Bush than he did from Clinton, and even though aided in his second election by a Republican Party that essentially conceded the election right after it selected a candidate. Unlike Ronald Reagan, who was successful in getting his vice president, George H.W. Bush, elected, Clinton could not get his vice president, Al Gore, elected. (Thankfully for all of us.)
Clinton's successes as president, beginning with the North American Free Trade Agreement, were largely due to Republicans, who prevented him from trying much more stupid ideas when they took over Congress. The canard that Clinton was responsible for the economy we all enjoyed through most of the 1990s comes from people who don't grasp that American business, not Clinton, fueled the 1990s expansion. (The only economic expansion Clinton fueled was among lawyers.)
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was simply disastrous as a candidate. She has none of her husband's positives (his ability to appear as though he cares about the person to whom he's speaking, his interest in finding common ground with selected political enemies), and most (obviously not all) of her husband's weaknesses. The same person who touted the (unconstitutional) assault weapons ban during her husband's presidency suddenly became a Second Amendment fan because it suited her candidacy. Recall how often her "accent" changed during the campaign? Recall those crocodile tears in New Hampshire?
What's worse is that Hillary Clinton abandoned the things that made Bill Clinton less objectionable than most other Democrats — mainly free trade and support of investment-related tax cuts — positions, incidentally, that Bill Clinton had as a primary candidate. Had Clinton gotten elected (and note that first paragraph), she would have been well to the left of her husband when he was president.
Hillary Clinton is, interestingly, the Democratic version of Richard Nixon — a person uncomfortable in her own skin. As author Camille Paglia puts it:
Though she would specialize in women's and children's issues, Hillary's public statements have often betrayed an ambivalence about women who chose a non-feminist path. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies," she sneered during Bill's 1992 presidential campaign. Then, defending her husband against the claims of a 12-year affair by Gennifer Flowers, Hillary snapped: "I'm not sittin' here like some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette" - a sally that boomeranged when Hillary had to make an abject apology. The irony is that Hillary had offended the very group of stoical, put-upon, working-class women who are now proving to be her staunchest supporters. ...It is the lament of the loser for Hillary Clinton's supporters to claim that she lost because of sexism. The Democratic primary race was pretty much the Democratic Party at its identity politics zenith, appealing to the aggrieved instead of to the actual voter, who may be facing economic strains, but who will not be well served by positions within the mainstream of the Democratic primary season such as universal health care (imagine your health care being provided by the Internal Revenue Service or the Division of Motor Vehicles). Voters are willing to vote for a woman for president; not enough voters were willing to vote for that woman for president, particularly with the Boeing 747 of baggage the Clintons bring with them. (Go back to that link and note the irony of complaints of "blatant sexism" by the creator of Emily's List, which raises money for women political candidates, as long as they're Democratic women who favor abortion rights.)
The argument, therefore, that Hillary's candidacy marks the zenith of modern feminism is specious. Feminism is not well served by her surrogates' constant tactic of attributing all opposition to her as a function of entrenched sexism. Well into her second term as a U.S. Senator, Hillary lacks a single example of major legislative achievement. Her career has consisted of fundraising, meet-and-greets and speeches around the world expressing support for women's rights.
Obama should choose Hillary Clinton as his running mate only if he wants to guarantee losing. I think he's smarter than that, but he may not be. The Clintons are not only bad people, they are like vampires, so if Obama wins in November, expect to see one or both of the Clintons in other places where they can do actual damage to our country — the Supreme Court or the United Nations, for instance.
The better thing for our country would be for Hillary to announce she's not running for re-election to the U.S. Senate and for the Clintons and their Sherman's-march-to-Atlanta politics to go away. The fact that every campaign for president and most campaigns for U.S. senator or governor now look like a years-long slog through a mud bog is the Clintons' real legacy.
Official photo from HillaryClinton.com.