Here we go again: It’s American Idol, Presidential Edition. And we can’t even wait until 2012 is over, “Gangnam Style” has mercifully been retired, and Barack Obama has been re-inaugurated — this time without Rick Warren leading us in prayer. (The evangelical pastor who delivered the invocation at President Obama’s first inaugural now protests the administration’s erosion of religious liberty.) Since the Republican party clearly needs to amp up its Hispanic outreach, Marco Rubio is a leading contestant for their team. And Hillary — oh, Hillary! — is inevitable all over again.
Pundits on MSNBC who cast her aside for a young Democratic senator in his first term in the 2008 primaries — who regularly and infamously eviscerated her — are now expecting her to be their next candidate. Moving on from their presidential-campaign posturing, which ensured the continuation of their “war on women,” the National Organization of Women took to insisting this December that at least half of Barack Obama’s cabinet be filled with women secretaries. (Perhaps the next campaign will be to change the title of “secretary.”) Such trivial pursuits are, oddly, a sign of feminism’s success. Leftist women have driven their radical ideology through government so successfully that these kinds of silly numbers games are all they have left to pursue.
Still, in the rush to put the first woman into the Oval Office, we ought not to get ahead of ourselves. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo? Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley? Are they going to politely step aside for the Clintons, who have spent quite a bit of time in the White House already? Don’t count on it; there are a whole lot of ambitious rising stars in the Democratic party, and their plans are not the plans of TV pundits.
And why would they step aside? By all accounts, Hillary Clinton is a hard worker, but her tenure as secretary of state has by no means been stellar. Have you taken a look at how this administration has left the so-called Arab Spring? In addition to myriad questions over the death of diplomats in Benghazi, our “from-behind” president now watches as as rebels and Christians face increasingly violent crackdowns in Syria and Egypt.
“She’s been at the heart of foreign policy for the past four years,” John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College observes. “If 2016 is a time of international peace and prosperity, then she’ll be able to claim some credit. But current events in the Middle East suggest a darker future. If things don’t look so good on the world stage, she’ll have to take a lot of the blame.”
With all her purported influence in the first term of the Obama administration, “she did zero to rein in Obama’s worst tendencies” on foreign policy, James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation notes. “If we set aside the bonus her legacy gets from her last name, then Clinton should go down as the least effective secretary of state since Warren Christopher,” Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, says. “Her tenure has been marked by bashing allies and coddling adversaries to the detriment of U.S. national security,” he adds. “She might brag about being the most traveled secretary of state, but the position isn’t a frequent-flyer tier. She has no real achievements to her tenure, but she has overseen a hemorrhaging of U.S. influence that cannot be attributed to her predecessors but rather to the ill-advised strategies she sought to implement. If Hillary does to the country what she did to the world, then we are in very deep trouble indeed.”
Still, expect more of the Hillary talk. Governors who might be running in a few years aren’t household names, unlike the secretary of state. “The late Lee Atwater used to talk about ‘the invisible circle,’ the very small number of political figures that the public knows and can accept as potential presidents,” John J. Pitney Jr. says. “That is, if voters woke up and found that one of these people was in the White House, they could go back to sleep knowing that he or she could do the job. In their day, Nelson Rockefeller and Hubert Humphrey were in the invisible circle. Among Democrats not named Obama, who is there today? Hillary Clinton, full stop.”
Being in the “invisible circle” does not guarantee success. Nor should it. It’s other members “had liabilities, and so does Secretary Clinton,” Pitney continues. “First, she will be 69 at the time of the 2016 election. Unfair as the perception may be, some people will think she’s too old. Second, if voters are in the mood for a change, her credentials will work against her. After her many years at the center of Washington, the icon for ‘change’ would be a picture of her with a red slash through it. Third, all the Clinton-era litter would blow back onto her front lawn. Remember her mysterious success at commodity trading? Don’t worry: Oppo guys will remember it for you.”
I’ve long had a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton — the Daughters of the American Revolution accurately dubbed her a good citizen back when she was in high school. Certainly, she appreciated the power and importance of public service early in her life. But we can respect that without getting silly. There’s a photo of Hillary outside a Kennedy Center gala in Washington, in which we see Meryl Streep taking an iPhone photo of them both. The image captures the seriousness (or lack thereof) of some of the current political commentary about 2012, whether it’s on Clinton or Rubio and Ryan. Don’t run with it.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.