Today the St. Louis Post-Dispatch told me that Claire McCaskill is trying to “nudge” Hillary Clinton into the race for the presidency in 2016 by endorsing her in these very early days:

“This goes under the category of, ‘How do we help urge her to run?'” McCaskill, D-Mo., said in an interview.”When you have someone so strong,” she added, “the more people who come out with full-throated support, the better.”

Not surprising that McCaskill is jumping on a bandwagon that has been gathering momentum for some time. That said, there are some strong similarities between the two women: both are smart, they both like to play the no-nonsense, tough mama card and do it very well, and they are both relatively skillful players of centrist politics.

Nor do I think that McCaskill’s early endorsement of Clinton is meant to mitigate bad feelings that the current “front-runner”* might harbor because of McCaskill’s endorsement of Obama in 2008. There was certainly very little to choose between Obama and Clinton in terms of policy, but Clinton carried lots more negative baggage and, according to one one source, journalists agreed that “Hillary’s staffers were much bigger assholes than those of any other campaign”. Think Mark Penn here; these kinds of things affect the ability of a candidate to campaign effectively. Why would anyone endorse the weaker candidate?

If Clinton is the nominee in 2016, I’ll support her wholeheartedly; after all, as is the usual case, one has only to consider the likely poisonous GOP alternatives and suddenly Clinton seems like a stupendously wonderful choice. That said, I preferred Obama over Clinton in 2008 and I still think I was right.

I did, however, believe that if Clinton won, it would be fine and I would happily life with that eventuality. However, she lost me forever when I learned how low she was willing to sink in order to win. Michael Hastings, the young journalist who sadly died yesterday in a car accident, described the same type of disillusionment that I felt, but from the perspective of a first-hand observer covering her campaign for Newsweek Magazine:

But the goodwill I felt [towards Clinton] disappeared in Youngstown, Ohio. We were in a high school gym, and Hillary was being introduced by Tom Buenbarger, who heads up the International Machinists Union. Bused-in union members cheered and chanted. Buffenbarger started out by taking a swipe at Obama’s white supporters. “I’ve got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing trust-fund babies crowding in to hear him speak!” he said.


Buffenbarger launched into a rant in which he compared Obama to Muhammad Ali, the best-known black American convert to Islam after Malcolm X. “But brothers and sisters,” he said, “I’ve seen Ali in action. He could rope-a-dope with Foreman inside the ring. He could go toe-to-toe with Liston inside the ring. He could get his jaw broken by Norton and keep fighting inside the ring. But Barack Obama is no Muhammad Ali.” The cunning racism of the attack actually made my heart start to beat fast and my ears start to ring. For the first time on the campaign trail, I felt completely outraged. I kept thinking, “Am I misreading this?” But there was no way, if you were in that room, to think it was anything other than what it was.

Things got worse after that. The attempt to smear Obama as a Muslim ratcheted up. A picture of him in Somali garb was leaked to the Drudge Report; soon after, a Clinton surrogate went on TV to say that Obama shouldn’t be ashamed to be seen in “his native clothing.” Finally, they even dropped the pretense of a cover when Clinton claimed in a speech that all the hardworking white Americans would vote for her. …  

This appeal to racism revolted Hastings just as it revolted me, especially since it was coming from a Democrat for whom I had had positive feelings. But for many of us, perhaps particularly those who came of age in the 1960s and who could remember the bad old days, race-baiting is the line in the sand that cannot be crossed without consequences.

Five years later, give time to reflect, I am even more convinced that Clinton is hardly the best choice that the Democratic Party could make. She is too mired in the political expediency of the 1980s, the “triangulation” strategy that her husband introduced which catapulted the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) into ascendancy.

Hillary Clinton’s essays in triangulation have proven equally problematic. Consider her efforts to define common ground with anti-abortion advocates, while supporting its legal exercise.  She famously endorsed her husbands dictum that our goal should be to make abortion “safe, legal and rare,” and described it as a “horrible procedure.”

According to Planned Parenthood President Dawn Lawguens, women found the mantra “safe, legal and rare” judgmental and shaming” – as is the denigration of safe, legal medical option as a “horrible procedure.” And it plays into the hands of anti-abortion fanatics who consistently claim that ending a fetal or embryonic life is the same as murder of a sentient, fully developed human being. Stop and think about the reams of state level laws infringing on women’s right to govern their reproductive choices and tell me that such memes, coming from prominent liberals has not to create the current environment. According (pdf) to Tracy Weitz, Director,  New Standards in Reproductive Health, UCSF and San Francisco General Hospital:

… the rhetorical strategy to support making abortion “safe, legal, and rare” does not achieve the underlying goal of reducing the social conflict over abortion and has real consequences for women’s health and well-being, including reducing access to care, increasing stigma, justifying restrictions, and establishing unattainable goals. Consequently, it is unrealistic to equate the debate over abortion to the number of abortions that occur and to assume that a reduction would be met by an equal reduction in the strength of the conflict.

Yet this is the direction endorsed by Hillary Clinton, who, like her early supporter, Claire McCaskill, often seems committed to placating the opposition no matter the cost to her supporters.

* Front-runner is in quotes because how can there be a race with a real frontrunner in 2013?