This may sound harsh, but the thought of another Clinton presidency is just plain dreary. Certainly there are far worse fates for the country (can you say “President Huckabee?”) and some scenarios scary enough to set off a stampede to Canada (can you say “President Ted Cruz?”), but the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton would be like a return to trench warfare — a grueling, mud-spattered battle fought over the same ground day after day after dispiriting day.
Clinton has not yet announced her candidacy, but Fox News commentators are already on the attack, fulminating about the “Clinton scandals” (note the plural). In the 1990s, Hillary was mocked for blaming her troubles, and Bill’s, on “a vast right wing conspiracy.” She was merely describing what has become a familiar reality. The broadly arrayed forces of the conservative media, right wing billionaires and Republican attack artists engaged in an all-fronts assault on the Clintons. Then, after an eight-year break, the same people came back with enhanced power to mount a relentless siege aimed at destroying Barack Obama’s presidency.
At least Obama brought something new to our political life. Contrary to the bizarre and cynical fantasies promulgated by the conservative scare machine (Obama wasn’t born here! Obama is a Muslim! Obama is the Antichrist!), Obama has proven to be one of the most decent, eloquent and intelligent men ever to take up residence in the White House. There has not been a whiff of personal scandal during his presidency and the so-called political scandals — Benghazi, Fast and Furious, et al — have been almost entirely trumped-up tempests in very tiny teapots.
Obama has not been a president without flaws and disappointments. As predicted by his opponents in the 2008 campaign, his lack of governmental experience has sometimes been a detriment. He was naive in his initial dealings with the Republican opposition, failing too long to recognize that they had absolutely no interest in governing with him for the common good. His solitary nature, his intellectualism and his mocking sense of the absurd were less than perfectly suited for the back-slapping, ego-stroking, dumbed-down ethos of the inside-the-Beltway political game.
Still, now in his final two years, the president is beginning to live up to the hope he inspired in his “Yes We Can” campaign. Compared with the country bumpkins, snake oil salesmen and such running Congress, he is a calm, firm voice of reason and inspiration. Just the fact that our first non-white president won re-election gives the modest hope that this country can become a more perfect union and that American government will one day rise from the current trough of dysfunction, mendacity and willful, self-serving ignorance.
It is much harder to imagine that hope being sustained in a new Clinton presidency. In 1993, the young Clintons did bring a rush of energy and high expectations. After eight years of triangulations, investigations and sordid revelations, that energy and those expectations were spent. Now, even the exciting prospect of electing the first female president is dimmed because this particular female and her husband have been here before. We know what to expect, both from the Clintons and from their enemies and it is far from fresh and new.
If they get their second chance — and I say they because, whatever role he is given in a Hillary Clinton administration, there is no way Bill will confine himself to serving tea like First Lady Mamie Eisenhower — they will arrive like a veteran rock band on a farewell tour. They will arrive with all the complicated connections to foreign governments and opportunistic power players who have donated millions of dollars to the Clintons’ philanthropic efforts and all the super-rich friends they have made at Davos and on Wall Street. They will arrive with mountains of baggage, including all the baggage from past controversies, from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky.
They will not intend to bring that old stuff along, but it will be delivered to their doorstep by their right wing enemies who are eager to cull through all the dirty laundry of the past. Of course, any Democratic president now has to contend with a perpetual assault from conservatives. But at least someone who has not been around as long might get a brief respite, a narrow opportunity to launch new initiatives and raise hopes that progress is possible.
For Hillary Clinton, there will be nothing close to a honeymoon. It will be a “Groundhog Day” of a presidency with each new morning bringing the same weary repetition of old battles between a power couple we know too well and reactionary political forces that would rather destroy another presidency than give an inch of ground for the sake of our nation.