Bruce Bartlett is crazy.
That may seem a little harsh, but Bruce Bartlett is asking for it literally. In a column last week entitled “Conservatives for Hillary,” the conservative economist predicts a big Republican loss at the polls and a Democratic president in 2008. Instead of going down with the sinking ship, he urges his fellow Republicans to engage themselves in the Democratic nominating process and support the most conservative Democratic candidate. “Call me crazy,” Bartlett writes, “but I think that person is Hillary Clinton.”
Like I said, he’s asking for it.
And I’m not the only one. Apparently, Bartlett received so much grief, he wrote a second article defending himself, but while he ratchets down his enthusiasm for Hillary, he doesn’t change his basic argument.
There are two problems with this argument. The first is the patently ridiculous notion that Hillary Clinton can be described as a conservative, even relative to her Democratic opponents. On economic issues, Bartlett offers no evidence in either of his articles to support this belief other than her marriage to Bill Clinton. This lack of evidence is compounded by the reams of evidence to the contrary.
Over her seven years in the U.S. Senate, Hillary has attempted to position herself towards the center of the political spectrum. This unsubtle positioning, however, is not a reflection of a genuine change of heart but a strategy for reclaiming the White House. The real Hillary Clinton is an inveterate liberal who would use her power as president to fashion the country in her own image.
Though she is often practiced and polished to a fault, the occasional slip of the tongue reveals her true sympathies. In a 1996 interview, C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb asked Hillary if she agreed with the Alan Arenholt quote used in her book, It Takes a Village: “The unfettered free market has been the most radically disruptive force in American life in the last generation.” Hillary’s answer is as telling as it is frightening: “Yes I do,” she said. “That’s why I put it in the book.”
If this statement is not evidence enough of the kind of anti-free-market policies a President Hillary would advocate, consider the array of Freudian slips amassed over the years.
In a 1995 conversation with Dennis Hastert on Social Security, Hillary argued against personal accounts saying, “We can’t afford to have that money go to the private sector. The money has to go to the federal government because the federal government will spend that money better than the private sector will spend it.”
In her aforementioned book, Clinton rhapsodizes about an America modeled after European socialism: “Other developed countries, including some of our fiercest competitors, are more committed to social stability than we have been, and they tailor their economic policies to maintain it.” In a speech in support of alternative energy, Hillary described exactly how she would bring her European America to fruition: “The other day, the oil companies reported the highest profits in the history of the world. I want to take those profits.”
And if these disparaging comments do not sufficiently reveal Hillary Clinton’s hostility towards the free market, recall her 1993 attempt to foment a government-takeover of the health-care industry. Fourteen years after her first attempt at socialized medicine, Hillary is intent on making a second run at HillaryCare.
Hillary’s economic philosophy is based on a fundamental mistrust of individual freedom combined with a naïve faith in government’s ability to solve all of the world’s problems. This philosophy can be aptly summed up by a statement she made in May of 1993 while talking about health care: “Too many people have made too much money.” Unfortunately, this notion is shared by many, if not all, of her Democratic opponents — which brings me to the second problem with Bartlett’s proposition.
Bartlett’s argument is based on the flimsy assumption that all hope is lost for Republicans in 2008. To be sure, Republicans will have their hills to climb, with dissatisfaction over Iraq running high, new Republican scandals, and an unpopular administration. But I would caution the Democrats against polishing the champagne glasses just yet.
With the general election 18 months off and the first primary nine months away, it is silly to discount Republicans out of hand. In national head-to-head polls, Giuliani beats Clinton soundly and matches up competitively with Barack Obama and John Edwards. John McCain comes out with a slight edge over Clinton in some polls and demonstrates the ability to overcome Edwards and Obama. While Mitt Romney falls well behind in these polls, 18 months is a long time, especially when you take into account Romney’s low name I.D. compared with the other frontrunners. And that is assuming the Republican field remains closed. A likely entry by Fred Thompson or another Republican could shift the playing field dramatically.
Nor are the Democrats inoculated from their own array of personal and political vulnerabilities. The leading Democrat, and Bartlett’s “conservative” of choice, has a higher unfavorability rating, at a whopping 52 percent according to USA Today, than any other candidate in the race and enough political baggage to fill a 747. Even Fred Thompson is only down six points to Clinton’s 46 percent in an April NBC-Wall Street Journal poll — impressive for a guy who hasn’t spent a dime campaigning and is till completely unknown to 45 percent of Americans.
The other Democratic frontrunners are similarly flawed. Barack Obama talks a smooth game, but will have to overcome his lack of experience and very liberal voting record, while John Edwards will have to expand his appeal beyond the far-Left class warriors.
Substantively, it also clear that the Republicans outweigh the Democrats. For all their problems, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney have strong and proven records of effective leadership, and in the case of Romney and Giuliani — executive leadership. Of the Democratic frontrunners, Hillary is admittedly the most informed, but her stint as a lawyer, her marriage to a famous politician, and one and a half terms as a U.S. Senator hardly put her in the same league. Barack Obama and John Edwards are both skilled politicians, but does either one have the executive experience to be the CEO of the largest enterprise in the world? Let’s be serious.
Finally, the Democratic candidates’ race to move to the left of the other guy will come back to haunt them in the general election. Their support for universal healthcare and determination to raise taxes may play well with the Moveon.org crowd, but it is far less palatable to Main Street America.
One would have to be naïve to the point of delusion not to acknowledge the problems facing Republicans in 2008. But throwing in the towel this early in the game and embracing the likes of Hillary Clinton? Well, that’s just … crazy.
– Pat Toomey is the president of the Club for Growth.