Being the tallest of the pygmies may prove a winning strategy for Hillary Clinton, but last night’s debate was a reminder of just how out of step Clinton is with her party — and thus how fortunate she is that a plausible progressive opponent is nowhere to be found.
Under Barack Obama, the center of gravity of the American Left has moved dramatically leftward, and adopted as its obsessions the minutiae of the social-justice warrior and the quasi-Marxism of Occupy Wall Street, all seasoned with continued rancor toward George Bush. Hillary does not fit neatly into those boxes.
That was on display Tuesday night. Hillary condemned Edward Snowden. She demurred on pot legalization. She said she had “no regrets” about voting for the Patriot Act. And she called for a no-fly zone in Syria. Who is this person, Condi Rice? Factor in changes of position (TPP, same-sex marriage) that even Democrats chalk up to political expedience, and a noticeable lack of interest on issues that fire up the progressive base (e.g., climate change), and Hillary’s situation is clear: She’s a 1990s Democrat in a Netroots Nation party.
Unlike Bernie Sanders, baying for a proletariat revolution, and unlike Barack Obama, Messiah-in-Chief, Hillary Clinton is an old-fashioned party-Democrat racketeer. She sees government as a vast complex of workers and machinery. Making it work for you means pulling the right levers here, twisting the right arms there. Her confrontation with Black Lives Matter protesters in August was illustrative: “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”
There are plenty of issues — abortion rights, for example — where Hillary cannot be outflanked, and I’ve no doubt that if she gets into office, she’ll push a whole gamut of progressive policies. But the Left is engaged in a progressive purity contest, and Hillary is an old-style political operator. At some point she is going to displease them enormously.
Lucky for her, last night showed that Democrats who actually want to win the White House have no real alternative.