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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is Hillary Clinton a Socialist?

by folkbum

I ask because any time I set foot into any of Wisconsin's more palatable right-wing blogs, I get pelted by that notion, that you can throw a beard on the senator and she'd be a dead ringer for Karl Marx.

Clinton is not my candidate (which is not all that significant, as I probably won't pick a candidate before the primaries), and not the first one I would choose if I had a gun to my head, so this is not some sort of knee-jerk defense of someone I have pledged my time and dollars to. But I do think I can speak with some authority as someone who has watched Democratic politics for some time now, someone who has watched Hillary Clinton since 1992, and someone who knows a thing or two about being a part of the drum-circle left, as we have been labeled.

And I say this: Hillary Clinton is not as liberal as you think she is.

A couple of items in particular prompted this post, the most proximate being comments below this Jessica McBride post. Specifically, someone calling him or herself "lugnuts" came right out and said it: "Bill was almost tolerable, but Hillary is a socialist--just what we don't need."

In response, I expounded on a theme that, if Clinton is the nominee, I'm sure you'll hear more of later: The right's narrative about her for the last fifteen years is that she's some kind of Red Menace in Pumps. But it's a lie, it always was and always will be. She came to national prominence at the time the right was perfecting its politics of personal destruction, and her Baby Boomer sensibility (vs. Barbara Bush's decidedly different affect) created the ideal personality and character wedge to use against her husband. But it was all a creation of the media and the spinners, not an accurate reflection of Hillary's actual person.

Tthe right's treatment of Hillary may in fact be the textbook example of the way it creates caricatures of the left to run against and argue against. (George W. Bush is now perhaps infamous for his straw men.)

Hillary's DLC-flavored centrism is so far from the caricature of her as a socialist, and it's reflected in the fact that she is the least popular candidate with many liberal interest groups, from MoveOn to labor. She often finishes fourth, behind "undecided," in on-line straw-polls.

There on the right is the Political Compass for most of the major-party candidates for president, based on their voting records and public documents and statements. (I threw myself in for comparison.) And while it may not be wholly accurate, as the candidates didn't do it for themselves, it shows quite clearly that Hillary Clinton is not anything like a socialist. It explains why the drum-circle left isn't out beating the pots and pans for her. (It's depressing that people who lack the temperament to be president are those who most closely agree with me.)

But my explanation that "lugnuts's" perception of Clinton as a socialist was just that--a perception--was greeted with derision by McBride herself, who commented later in that same post, "I think Hillary has been very shrewd appearing to move to the center. The shrill anti-war left has helped her in this manner. But she is far to the left of the American mainstream."

That is, of course, false in two ways: One, Clinton has not "moved to the center," because she started out there. If anyone is likely to have listened carefully to the righty-constructed fairy tales about Clinton, it's McBride. It is likely that as McBride sees more and more of Clinton, it conflicts with the caricature she's carried around in her head of what the senator is really like and really believes. McBride interprets this conflict as evidence that Clinton is moving to the center, rather than as evidence that her right-wing media has been lying to her for more than a decade.

Two, it's also false in that Clinton is not "far to the left of the American mainstream." This is just one more bullet point to add to the list of how often conservatives like McBride overestimate how popular their brand of reactionary throw-backism is with the American public, the way they believe that if they like it, then everyone must like it. On perhaps the most important issue of the day--Iraq--Hillary is being left behind as the American people move further and further toward withdrawal from Iraq. Look at the poll numbers and tell me whether Clinton's refusal to insist on a withdrawal timeline is "too far to the left." The American people agree with "the shrill anti-war left," not with Clinton or dead-enders like McBride.

I suppose Iraq may not be the best issue to examine on a left-right scale, so let's try what else was in the news this week: health care. Clinton's new health-care plan is not completely sucky, but, again, from my cymbal-wielding perch in the drum-circle left, it's disappointing. It's not even as "liberal" as the Healthy Wisconsin plan, which is, in its reliance on for-profit insurance companies, also disappointingly conservative (though better than the Republican plan--which is no plan). But she's still not "too far to the left" of anything: In the top poll right now at Polling Report, 55% of Americans want "one health insurance program covering all Americans that would be administered by the government and paid for by taxpayers." More than half of the American people want a single-payer system, and Clinton's plan is far to the right of anything like single-payer. I would call 55% mainstream; I would say Clinton's health care plan is not. And McBride and others who balk at single-payer are not, either.

I could go on, but I have to go to work, and you see my point, I think. I opened, though, with a question: Is Hillary Clinton a socialist? Obviously, I say no. The beautiful thing about the blogs, though, is that I can throw open the comment thread and let all of you who disagree have your say. And I'm interested, seriously, in hearing from you. If you think, as McBride apparently does, that Clinton has "moved to the center" more recently than 15 years ago when I first learned about her and the Clintons' decidedly centerist, triangulating ways, then tell me why you think that.

Things like this--the utter untruths being propagated about Clinton by people who clearly don't know what they're talking about--make me kind of root for a Clinton nomination. The more people see of her and hear the right blabbering about something this observably false, the less credible the right and its candidate will become. I don't think the prospect of a Republican implosion is worth compromising my principles just yet, but if Clinton is the nominee, and if the right keeps red-baiting her, it could be a fun election to watch.

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