What if the Hillary haters were right?
Never in recent American political memory has anyone been so hands-down reviled as Hillary Clinton.
It would have taken a great deal for Hillary Clinton to throw away my vote.
I was determined to give her every chance. When she won in New Hampshire, I made a conscious decision to overlook the fact that Senator Obama's concession speech was at once inspired and inspiring, worthy of the majesty of the office of the American presidency, while Senator Clinton's victory address was so pedestrian as to make one wonder where her speechwriters were expecting to earn their next meal.
I had made a promise to myself to keep an open mind, particularly in view of the abject irrationality displayed by her detractors over the years. Never in recent American political memory has anyone been so hands-down reviled as Hillary Clinton.
The more adult among them accuse her of being divisive, haughty, unrelentingly partisan, gratuitously abrasive, of having an overriding compulsion to win for winning's sake. The more infantile among them need no explanations to fuel their peculiarly gleeful loathing.
Despite them, and despite myself, however, I have begun to believe that those who hate Hillary Clinton may have a point.
After years and years of babyish, below-the-belt and, yes, hysterical attacks on Hillary Clinton, the problem is no longer her legion of detractors. Her problem, at this point, is her proponents.
There is Bill, of course, whose subtextual, often stunningly condescending attacks on Obama have done little to aid his wife, and may have crippled Hillary Clinton's ability to win in November, should she win the Democratic nomination. ("Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in '84 and '88. And he ran a good campaign. Senator Obama has run a good campaign here, he has run a good campaign everywhere.")
There are her campaign aides, whose efforts have proven as mechanical and forced as the candidate herself is often accused of being. (Don't waste a primary vote on Obama, their message to Democrats goes; he can't be elected. Rather, vote for Hillary, and you'll receive both a woman and a Clinton as president, and Barack Obama as a running mate into the bargain.)
It now appears that this bedrock theory of Obama's unelectability has a fatal flaw: What if it is Hillary who is unelectable?
A clue can be found in the text of the key endorsement of the campaign thus far, The New York Times editorial backing Hillary Clinton in the February 5 primaries.
The piece is uncharacteristically apologetic for The Times. In fact, a close reading makes one wonder which candidate has actually gained the paper's endorsement. It speaks of "the brilliant if at times harsh-sounding senator from New York." It speaks of a Mrs. Clinton who "sometimes overstates the importance of resume," whose first foray into health insurance reform was "famously disastrous," and whose vote in favor of the 2002 Iraq war resolution, the Times argues, was wrong.
At the same time, The Times calls Obama "incandescent," calls the idea of the first African-American nominee of a major party "exhilarating" and notes "the sense of possibility, of a generational shift" that brings Obama's audiences alive.
According to The Times, Obama understands how much voters "hunger for a break with the Bush years, for leadership and vision and true bipartisanship," adding: "We hunger for that, too."
What is lacking, the editorial concludes, is more specifics to fill out the sense of how he would govern.
In the case of Senator Clinton, what is lacking is the more general sense of how she intends to do what a great president must do - foster unity, inflame for the common good, draw a demoralized, rudderless, disoriented country out of a swamp and back onto the rails.
What is lacking, in short, is the kind of indefinable, undeniable spark of which Caroline Kennedy wrote in a Times piece published two days later. "I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them," Kennedy wrote in an endorsement of Barack Obama. "But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president - not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."
No one doubts that Hillary Clinton is in this to win. The real question, and the one she has yet to answer, is why. Does she want to win because that is what the Clintons do - try and try and try until they win? We know what is in the Clintons' interest. Hillary Clinton has yet to show where her interest and America's intersect.