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“Let Her Socialist Freak Flag Fly?”: Why Republicans Won’t Convince The Electorate That Hillary Clinton Is A Radical

One of the persistent conservative narratives about Hillary Clinton is that her identity as a supposedly moderate Democrat is a ruse, meant to conceal her radical leftist intents. If and when she reaches her long-held goal of becoming president, the mask will be removed and the true horror of her socialist scheme will be revealed.

That is, of course, assuming we reach January 2017 with Barack Obama having failed in his own plan to turn America into a dungeon of Stalinist oppression and misery. But the idea that Clinton is, like her husband, a moderate Democrat, is something that many conservatives have trouble abiding, particularly when the prospect of her becoming president becomes more salient.

So lest Republicans become complacent about the prospects for a second Clinton presidency (a real danger, no doubt), Liz Mair argues in the Daily Beast that Republicans shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that the former secretary of state is much like the first President Clinton:

…tying Hillary Clinton to her husband is an act of political malpractice that ignores the fact that on economic issues, she was—during his presidency, during her 2008 campaign, and still today—significantly to the left of him.

For whatever else one may say about him, Bill Clinton was and is a centrist. His presidency is remembered for the taming of the deficit, his advocacy for free trade, his signature of welfare reform, his legislation cutting the long-term capital gains tax rate, and perhaps most famously, his declaration that “the era of big government is over.”

That would not have been true if Hillary had had it her way. And if she has her way now—and if she makes it to the White House—a very un-Bill-like big government will remain in the cards for some time.

Even if her bill of particulars is pretty weak, Mair is right insofar as Hillary Clinton is running in 2016 and Bill Clinton left office in 2001. In the time since, the Democratic Party has itself moved to the left in some ways, and a party’s nominee is always going to reflect the party’s consensus (with some small variation). If Bill Clinton were running now, he wouldn’t be the same candidate he was then. It isn’t that Hillary has been waiting for two decades to let her socialist freak flag fly, as I’m sure many conservatives believe; it’s that her party has evolved, and she’s evolved along with it. For instance, to be a Democrat now means to believe in full marriage equality and to question the War on Drugs, which wasn’t true in 1992. At that time there was a comprehensive debate about the party’s ideological direction, which Bill Clinton led; now there’s a remarkable degree of ideological unity.

There are still ways in which Hillary Clinton is to the right of the median Democrat; she certainly retains more hawkish instincts in foreign affairs, and I don’t know if she has abandoned her previous support of the death penalty (though that’s something presidents don’t do anything about). However you might judge her, we sometimes forget when we try to make such an assessment that it isn’t necessary for a president to be an ideological radical for him or her to be a disaster in office. Richard Nixon was something of a moderate, but that made him no less corrupt. There are ways in which George W. Bush was less than a right-wing ideologue; that mitigates the disaster he wrought at home and abroad not at all.

The real things conservatives dislike about Hillary Clinton have little to do with ideology. They think she’s a power-hungry, dishonest, overly secretive conniver who has no scruples. Someone could be all those things, and believe almost anything about policy.

This is something both liberals and conservatives will argue about when it comes to the Republican candidates, too. I tend to think that the actual policy differences between those candidates are tiny, and it’s the attitudinal differences that are significant. If you actually went down a list of every issue you could come up with, you’d find that Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz disagree on only a couple of things, but Cruz presents himself as a proud far-right ideologue, while Bush doesn’t.

Many conservatives believe that Bush is actually some kind of liberal simply because he talks about immigrants as though they were human beings and supports Common Core (which many other Republicans used to like before they decided it’s some kind of communist indoctrination program). My guess is that Bush looked closely at Mitt Romney’s ham-handed attempts to convince primary voters that he was actually a doctrinaire right-winger (“I was a severely conservative Republican governor“) and concluded that the best course is to not fight too strongly against the notion that he’s a moderate, despite what little truth there may be to it.

In any case, this kind of ideological name-calling is a feature of nearly every presidential campaign: each candidate says, “I’m mainstream, and my opponent is a radical.” Sometimes it’s true and sometimes it isn’t, but I suspect Republicans are going to have a hard time convincing the electorate that Hillary Clinton is an ideological extremist, whatever they tell themselves.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 7, 2015

April 10, 2015 - Posted by | Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I wish Hillary had some radical leftist ideas.


    Comment by angrymanspeaks | April 10, 2015 | Reply

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