Of course, this may all become moot. Maybe John Edwards or Evan Bayh will catch fire in the primaries, or maybe a MoveOn.organized party will bring the Iraq-Vietnam analogy full circle by nominating an antiwar candidate like Al Gore or Howard Dean, the way we dinked Edmund Muskie in favor of George McGovern in 1972.
Hillary’s position on the war is politically risky. It isn’t simple and unambiguous, like Bush’s and the antiwar left’s. In the end, it may be proved wrong. It differs from the administration’s not in its basic outline but in the particulars of its execution going forward. And she is already being slagged viciously for it. “Hillary Clinton can kiss my butt,” Tim Robbins said on Air America the other day, and Jimmy Breslin wrote that “she sneaks and slithers past you with her opinion on a war that kills every day” and “should send her daughter to fight in Iraq.” The left demands that Hillary show “backbone,” by which they mean recanting what they’re sure is a purely political position and calling for a total U.S. withdrawal ASAP. In fact, she is arguably showing backbone, given that about half her party want to bring the troops home right away. The middle ground sometimes isn’t the easy, wishy-washy option but the intellectually and morally most demanding one.
For now, heckling by the Robbinses and Breslins and Grandmothers Against the War is, in a political sense, useful to her, solidifying her reputation for national-security tough-mindedness. Yet by 2008, whether or not the counterinsurgency and embryonic democracy in Iraq have gathered momentum, she won’t be able to run as a clear peace-and-war alternative to McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, or any other plausible Republican, because their records will all be about the same. While she becomes electable in theory—no wimpy waffler she!—she will be electable only against a Bill Frist or a Jeb Bush or a Rick Santorum.
Still, the Democratic nomination is hers to lose, just as the general election will be the Republicans’ to lose, which they might manage by failing to nominate McCain or Giuliani. If the race is John McCain versus Hillary Clinton—by far the most likely possibility—and the electorate craves competence and integrity and common sense after eight rotten years of Bush, both candidates will look like equally reasonable choices. But alas, like every modern Democratic nominee except her husband, Hillary Clinton comes across as wooden, priggish, cold, too much superego, and too little id. I bet she and McCain will engage in an unusually civilized campaign. And whoever the nominees are, I bet the more likable, lusty, obviously human candidate will win.