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General Hillary

It’s one thing that the national calendarof presidential primaries leapfrogs forward with every passing day. It’s quite another that the leading Democratic contender, Hillary Clinton, now wants to hopscotch over the whole mess. To heck with actually getting elected to be the nominee — Hillary simply wants to be appointed.

So in case you haven’t noticed it already, let me fill you in. Senator Clinton has already jumped from a primary-election posture to a general-election strategy. She’s no longer bothering to run against Edwards or Obama. She’s already taking on Rudy. Which means, in turn, that if you consider yourself anywhere vaguely to the left of Clinton, she’s already taking your vote for granted. You’ve got nowhere to go, she figures, and now she’s free to shore up her right-wing flank.

No better proof of my theory than Clinton’s ominous recent vote in the Senate endorsing a measure that declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a part of the Iranian armed forces, a “foreign terrorist organization.” The nonbinding resolution, endorsed by about half of the Senate Democrats (but none of the other presidential contenders), helps pave the way for any eventual U.S. military intervention against Iran. Supporting a bill that clearly delights the Bush White House and that was sponsored by conservative Republican John Kyl and non-Democrat hawk Holy Joe Lieberman sends a very clear message: At the risk of inching us even closer to a needless war with Iran, Ms. Clinton is inoculating herself against the inevitable Republican general-election accusation that she’s some sort of Berzerkeley Defeatocrat.

When challenged over this past year by anti-war critics angered by her similar 2002 vote to authorize war against Iraq, Clinton has haughtily cackled that if she only knew then what she knows now, she might have voted differently. Maybe. Because, she says in a gross rewriting of history, her 2002 vote was less of a blank check for Bush than it was a vote for more diplomatic pressure on Saddam. Never mind that the sponsors of the authorization-of-force measure were thinking of anything but more diplomacy.

Hillary apparently knows as little today as she did back then. She eerily repeats the same distortion of reality she did five years ago, once again claiming that her recent bellicose vote was cast only “in order to apply greater diplomatic pressure on Iran.” Sorry, Hillary, but you don’t advance diplomacy by branding your adversary’s army a terrorist organization subject to extralegal retaliation.

Clinton’s willingness to ignore the anti-war current in her own party and to plunge further to her right has been fueled by a spate of polls, both nationwide and in early-primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, giving her at times a commanding lead over her rivals. In some of those surveys, Clinton already tops 50 percent and leads second-place Obama by more than 20 points.

That would arm any reasonable candidate with the sort of chutzpah now evidenced by Clinton (in the last major televised debate, she was already acting like the sitting president, simply refusing to answer questions that weren’t to her liking).

What scares me is that Clinton might be right. Maybe she already does have this thing sewn up. Maybe she is inevitable, electable, and full of enough bull to be a shoo-in. It’s a sobering thought because it flies in the face of most everything that I and most of my friends have long held as a political axiom: If only a forceful candidate were willing to do an end run around the conventional beltway centrism and would have the courage to present a frankly progressive program, ordinary voters would respond massively.

And in this go-around, there’s more than one viable, more-progressive alternative to Clinton. No matter how you cut them up, no matter what foibles and flaws you encounter, both Obama and Edwards demonstrate more courage, more boldness, more decency, more resonance with the everyday concerns of ordinary Americans. Neither can it be argued that they are somehow blacked out from the media or are underfunded, especially the former. Simply put, if there were ever a time that a more aggressive Democrat could win by coming forward, it would be now.

I’m at a loss as to what would motivate or actually inspire someone to proactively support such an obvious cynic as Hillary Clinton. The more I think about it, the less I understand. I suppose it’s mostly an academic exercise anyway, because Hillary sure isn’t thinking about me or anyone like me. Much worse, her eventual triumph could confirm the gnarly notion I’ve resisted all of my life: that, in the end, we get the governments we deserve.


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