Thursday, May 19, 2016

When I first heard...

...that Jonathan Chait had written a piece comparing Hillary Clinton to Harry Truman I thought Daniel Larison had it right with this tweet:

Presiding over a costly foreign war and then leaving office with extremely low approval ratings? Sounds right

But then I read it and particularly liked the last three paragraphs (my emphasis):

There is a model here for Clinton, and not just that a presidency lacking in ecstasy can still deliver the longer-term satisfaction of effective governance. Though the country is not in a 1940s-style crisis, its politics is strained. A passion for conflict and ideological purity defines the Sanders movement on the left; the right is enveloped in reactionary madness. (During Truman’s presidency, that madness took the form of the surreal ascent of pathological liar and demagogue Joseph McCarthy.) Clinton, by rejecting both impulses, has reminded us that she has always been a creature of the middle. An Über-Establishment president leading in anti-Establishment times may, over the long run, come to be seen as commanding the American center — even, perhaps, something like an American consensus.

Truman was a figure of crushing ordinariness, a quality that, over time, came to assume something close to greatness. Clinton gives off a similar sensibility (despite her extraordinary life experience). If you withdraw the presumption of calculation that is attached to her every action, one can see her character aging well through history: a woman who broke into male-dominated fields; a policymaker who is one of the few nerds who are still not cool. It is impossible to predict how Clinton will handle foreign policy, but it is not fanciful to hope that her experience (unusually deep for a president) will enable her to imaginatively face the confounding challenge of radical Islam.

And even if Republicans stymie her domestic initiatives, she might put her imprint on new policies that inspire successors. Clinton has proposed a modernization of the welfare state to include early education and child care. Though Truman’s proposal for universal health insurance failed, the power of his vision remained, and over time its association with Truman added to its grandiosity. And when Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, that evening, he and his aides celebrated its passage on the Truman Balcony.

As I mentioned in a previous post, more people have voted for Mrs. Clinton in this year's primaries -- 13,192,713 -- than any other candidate. It's easy to miss that in a year when two other candidates have gotten so much attention.

(Donald Trump, the modern-day "pathological liar and demagogue Joseph McCarthy," garnered 11,266,422, while the quixotic Bernie Sanders, the modern-day left-winger Henry Wallace, has received 10,158,889.)

Mario Cuomo once famously said, "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose." Mrs. Clinton would probably not only govern in prose, but she campaigns in prose. And that's her biggest problem.

But I still think, just as in this year's primaries, Hillary will end up with the most votes come November. (The true "Silent Majority" in America will quietly, if not passionately, support her.) I expect she'll both preserve and expand on President Obama's legacy while governing from the center. Mrs. Clinton may not be flashy, like the Donald, or inspirational, like Bernie (or Obama), but I think she's both highly intelligent and highly capable -- not at all "a figure of crushing ordinariness" like Truman -- and will turn out to be a much better president than anyone expects.

And I'll also bet she serves two terms.

3 comments:

Ed Crotty said...

Truman's plan was rejected because of racism. "Separate but equal" nationalized hospitals would be too expensive. Now almost 70 years later, the "tea party" and the rise of Trump show that racism ( or "tribalism" or "white resentment" aka "soft" racism ) is still a huge part of the American psyche.

Ed Crotty said...

Truman's plan was rejected because of racism. "Separate but equal" nationalized hospitals would be too expensive. Now almost 70 years later, the "tea party" and the rise of Trump show that racism ( or "tribalism" or "white resentment" aka "soft" racism ) is still a huge part of the American psyche.

James said...

That's a quaintly favorable comparison for Clinton with her deep corporate alliances that would put her far to the right at least economically for a lot of people. Also, while Sanders the candidate may be quixotic, the following he garnered as an avowed socialist shows that there is a desire for an actual left right debate rather than just conservative v crazy.