William F. Buckley Jr.

Not having written before about her presidential campaign, maybe we can claim here a certain freshness on the matter of Mrs. Clinton. The entrance of Barack Obama into the Democratic race had a special bounce for the reason that the public inevitably deduced that an important advantage for him is that — Obama is not Hillary.

Her preeminence has been so well established as to pretty well efface other presumptive candidates. Obama was never one of those. In fact, one of his charms is the enormousness of his ambition. Because he is so young, because he is the ultimate racial hybrid, he is given a pretty solid welcome as a Democratic candidate. But all that the typical voter knows about him is that he made an electrifyingly successful speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004. That — and that he is not Hillary Clinton.

This edginess over Hillary requires that we probe the question: Why is it?

Well, one reason has to be that she married Bill Clinton. That should not be thought of as suicidally self-destructive. Somebody had to marry Bill Clinton.

But she not only married him, she stood by him athwart scandal after scandal. This is taken as fidelity of a singular sort, and it is exactly that. But does such fidelity imply a surrender to relativism? The adage is: I am for Harry through thick and thin. But being a faithful Mrs. Harry is a feat of personal durability not always admirable. If Bill had been caught traducing not Monica, but the local bank, would Hillary have been expected to stand by him?

Bill Clinton is perhaps the most effective politician in the history of the United States, but he is certainly the most reprehensible. He swore untruths, deceived Congress, the courts, the public, and however many ladies he left unattended. His contributions to statecraft are unrecorded because there weren’t any. The economy rose and fell and rose, as did threats of foreign disruptions. No detoxified area of the world owes its survival to an initiative of Bill Clinton, who presided over a foreign policy that permitted Osama bin Laden to gather strength undisturbed by any interference from the U.S. Marines or the Red Cross.

But Hillary was there, and when some people concluded that with the retirement of her husband she would lose the single prop on which she relied for public recognition, she slipped away for what seemed 15 minutes before announcing that she would run for the United States Senate, to succeed Daniel Patrick Moynihan. She won office and did so easily, in part because her opponent was simply unnoticeable.

One ground for nervousness, mostly unspoken because it is politically incorrect, is that Mrs. Clinton is a woman. According to measurements that spring from egalitarian premises, that makes no difference whatever, but of course it does. If a woman in the Oval Office were as commonplace as affirmations of the equality of women, one would expect there’d have been one before. So there has to have been prejudice — another word for prejudgment: i.e., it is better not to run the risk of electing a chief executive who goes to sleep at night while armed legions responsible for our safety feel the uncertainty of having a woman leader.

But vaulting over that prejudgment, in the age of Margaret Thatcher, what are the skeptics left with?

Well, she is sort of … left-wing, no?

Well, not entirely. In her early political life she was a cheerleader for Barry Goldwater. If she had married George Wallace, and if he had then gone to the White House, is there any reason to suppose that she would not have espoused the views expected of Mrs. George Wallace?

There are those who point to her preposterous health plan as evidence of her ideological naivete, her capacity to fondle statist models for dealing with social issues.

Well, yes, she is certainly a liberal. But there aren’t any grounds for believing she is a hard-core socialist.

There are only grounds for believing that she is comfortable occupying positions that maximize her political popularity. She does this with a broad smile, a lovely face, and a piquant sense of destiny. Barack Obama has to pry out a position more central, and then center in on it. Either that, or find for the Democratic party some other, engaging view of what to do for our fatherland/motherland.