There's a lot of talk in Washington about the sudden, unexpected alliance of Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich (see the front page article in the Saturday New York Times). Icons of the left and right from the 1990s getting together once seemed unimaginable--at least from the point of view of all the direct mail campaigns pillorying each of them. They were the faces of all that each side hated about the other. Now Newt has been pumping up Hillary's chances of winning the Presidency, and they are even promoting a health care plan, of all things, together.
Maybe they'll both run for President, and we can watch them do their little dance on the national stage.
But this alliance is not really so surprising. Craven self-promotion often trumps ideology in Washington. The buzz Newt and Hillary are generating is something akin to the inside-the-Beltway excitement about the unveiling of a Vice Presidential candidate. Joe Lieberman! Imagine! How daring! How outside-the-box!
As Hillary rolls on toward her inevitable run in 2008, Democrats, progressives, and pundits are talking more and more about whether the old lightning rod for rightwing resentment could turn out to be a viable, moderate candidate after all. Everyone loves the contrarian, "surprising" analysis on Hillary, and the Newt Gingrich news feeds into it: Maybe she's a moderate after all. Maybe she's for a stronger military and a weaker plan for health care.
Actually, Hillary's hawkishness and incrementalism have been on view for a long time.
The enormous hatred she aroused in the Clinton years had little to do with her actual policy positions. As much of the Hillary-bashing focused more on her hairstyle and facial expressions and presumed ball-busting personality as on her (wrongly) perceived leftwing politics. That's why a little shift to the right won't make much difference in how people perceive her. Just the fact of her running will motivate tons of angry Christian soldiers to go to the polls.
Remember, the Republicans took down John Kerry on his Vietnam War record--and for running away from his progressive positions, including his principled opposition to Vietnam. Do you really think Hillary can pull off the moderate makeover that Kerry did not?
You don't have to be a real leftist to be pilloried as one.
But that's the boring, straightforward analysis. It's the same dull view that made it so obvious that Kerry was the worst candidate in the primary field--boring, uninspired, lacking the courage of his convictions.
Too bad we had to go through a year of thinking outside the box, waiting for Kerry's hidden charisma to appear, before we lapsed back to the original, obvious take on his candidacy.
So before we begin the long march to November 2008, let me say what Newt Gingrich won't. Hillary is unelectable. She motivates the hell out of the Republican base and leaves her own base cold.
The giddy chatter in Washington about two icons of what passes for ideological right and left getting together is the gossip of junior high school kids over the alliance of two popular kids. The bully and the girlfriend of the hottest guy on campus are hanging out! Ooh!
The rest of the country doesn't care.
Far more interesting to people who care about the progressive politics mistakenly associated with Hillary is Rep. Bernie Sander's run for the Vermont Senate seat about to be vacated by Jim Jeffords in 2006.
Sanders, in his role as an independent member of Congress, is a better counterpart to Newt Gingrich. He is a true opponent of the White House, and he has the courage of his convictions, speaking in a direct, populist language people outside the Beltway can grab onto. The Vermonter with the Brooklyn accent, who talks about the troubles of working families in a Wal-Mart economy, is everything Hillary is not: in favor of universal health care, opposed to the Patriot Act, speaking out loudly against "the most reactionary government in modern history."
Though he's not a Democrat, Sanders is a much better role model than Hillary for what the opposition party ought to be.
Ruth Conniff is Political Editor of The Progressive.
© 2005 The Progressive