Monday, November 26, 2007

Hillary: The Case for Humility

The other day, Andrew Sullivan distilled his and America's '08 dilemma into a choice "between fear and loathing. I loathe Clinton; I fear Giuliani."

The Rudy side of the equation is easily quantified (see below), but the hatred of Hillary Clinton, not only Sullivan's, but that, if polls are to be believed, of close to half of all Americans, is more complicated.

A visitor from another planet might see her as a former First Lady of undoubted intelligence who stood by her husband in a pre-election sex scandal, was later victimized by another in the White House and then went on to an independent political career and the brink of nomination for president. As they used to say on Seinfeld, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Critics call her cold, calculating and ruthless but, in some political circles, those are qualities deemed vital in a president. Among the less sophisticated, there is a resentment over exploiting her spousal status that overlooks George W. Bush's leveraging of his filial tie into the White House.

But underneath all that, I would suggest, is a vague rage at her sense of entitlement, the unquestioning attitude toward her right to be President, the confidence she projects of having somehow earned it by claiming her White House years as executive "experience."

That Achilles' heel has, in recent days, been exploited by her opposition, as in Barack Obama's observation, “My understanding was that she wasn’t Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, so I don’t know exactly what experiences she’s claiming.”

In some ways, Sen. Clinton may have damaged her own campaign narrative by framing the choice as experience vs. change. Some of those experiences are turnoffs for voters, who might be impressed by strong stands on issues that concern them but see her waffling only as reinforcement for the feeling that she takes her succession for granted.

Humility is not high on the list of qualities the electorate wants in a president, but modesty could go a long way in offsetting the arrogance Hillary Clinton projects and, in a general election, it might serve her well against Rudy Giuliani, who is over-endowed with it to the point of frightening Andrew Sullivan:

"His obsessive loyalty to aides, his reflexive defense of the security and police forces, his discomfort with any argument smacking of civil liberties, his mean streak, his desire to extend his own term of office as New York City mayor, his authoritarian, meddling instincts, and his frequent, hotheaded outbursts: all this make giving him the Cheney-style presidency a huge risk."

Hillary haters and supporters, take note.

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