Political chatter from DC and NYC, the amNewYork way

Hillary, a polarizing figure

By Matt

Hillary Clinton is the candidate I’d least like to see taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009. I fear that a Clinton victory could again paralyze Washington — if not because of scandal, then because of the potential for renewed enmity and the re-opening of bitter wounds left by her husband’s terms in office. For better or worse, rightly or wrongly, Bill and Hillary Clinton are polarizing figures. I worry that the personal and political history with which Senator Clinton is saddled may burden her ability to compromise and to work cooperatively with other leaders, particularly congressional Republicans. While Senator Clinton has been a model colleague during her two Senate terms, as President, she will not have the luxury of being one of 100.

The buck will stop with her, and she will necessarily have to take clearly defined stances on the most controversial issues of the day. Indeed, she will be not only the head of government, responsible for the shaping of national policy in myriad ways, but she will also be the head of her own political party, shaping its agenda and defining the Democratic platform during her time in office.

She will have no choice at times but to be a partisan, and combined with her exalted office, this will make her the primary target of the opposition. This of course is no different than the political barriers faced by any other President; however, the unique amalgam of this expected political turbulence, the scandals of the recent past, her husband’s return to the White House, and lingering feelings of mistrust from her husband’s years in the Oval Office may affect President Hillary Clinton’s ability to govern.

(continued) Once in office, I think it will be difficult for Clinton to escape her husband’s shadow. This is not to say that Hillary Clinton will be unable to shape her own substantive agenda, govern in her own style, or pursue policy goals of her own, independent choosing. Rather, I fear that a Clinton return to the White House will lead to further polarization Washington, with many on the Right (members of the vast conspiracy or not) entrenching themselves in the mindset of the 1990s, perhaps without independent prosecutors and impeachment trials, but with dogged opposition and thinly veiled hostility.

This is one context where I find Barack Obama’s campaign message of “change” quite compelling. President Obama would take the oath of office with a clean slate and could create a legacy largely from scratch. Were Washington to return to the balkanized climate of the Bill Clinton years because of past personal and political battles being brought to the fore, conservative politicians and media figures would likely deserve much of the blame. Though she may have sins of her own, though, it would not be fair to hold Mrs. Clinton responsible for her husband’s as well. My biggest fear about President Hillary Clinton is that her opponents will not heed that message and we will be left to pay the price.

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