Just over a year from now, Hillary Clinton may be elected the 44th President of the United States of America.
My first reaction to that prospect is relief.
But once I get over my relief that it is not President Guiliani or President Thompson, what about President Hillary Clinton herself?
I feel mixed.
First, the good. I would argue that there are, to put it very bluntly, two competing narratives in American history: rights and power.
The Clintons, whose political education took place in the civil rights era, are part of the "rights" narrative.
This narrative, the Clinton narrative (and my narrative), goes something like this:
From its pinched beginnings (see the denigration and destruction of the indigenous people's way of life, the institution of slavery, etc.), America has steadily expanded the rights accorded to its citizens. Our ideals continue to live precisely because they are still unfulfilled ideals which require new efforts every day to acheive them. The Clintons' narrative is one of progress through process.
By contrast, under Bush and Cheney, we have had seven years of a "war" narrative. This shadow narrative of America, which takes aggressive form on Fox News every day, emphasizes above all the history of this country's ever-expanding power -- political, economic and military. Our greatness is our greatness.
So rather than think of ourselves as humble citizens, we are encouraged to think of ourselves as fighters for the cause of Freedom in a conflict waged overseas (so as not to interfere with our other "sacred" role as cheerful consumers).
History is written by the victors, so the war narrative looks pretty grand in retrospect. The genocide of the Indians was, well, an unavoidable consequence of Manifest Destiny. We crushed the British, the Mexicans, the Spanish, the Kaiser, the Nazis and the Japs, and our ideological figurehead Ronald Reagan vanquished the Soviet Union. (We'll skip over the Koreans, the Vietnamese and a certain bearded irritant named Fidel Castro.) We stand against Europe and the Arab World to defend our friend Israel and its efforts to establish a... well, if not a pluralistic democracy, then at least a stategically important outpost of empire. And so on.
Insofar as she rejects this war narrative in favor of a rights narrative, the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton is good.
But here's the bad part. Over her past seven years as a Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton has:
authorized the war with Iraq (which has led to a foreign policy disaster that is still unfolding);
refused to renounce the K Street culture of lobbyists in D.C. (the number of lobbyist has grown exponentially);
recently voted in favor of a resolution declaring the Iranian Republican Guard a "terrorist organization" (paving the way for a reckless military escalation sometime in Bush's final year);
and on the campaign trail, used the now familiar political techniques developed over the 1990s by the Republican Party (quoting out of context, knowing distortion of the facts, repetition in the face of denials) to label Senator Obama as "naive and irresponsible".
None of this is shocking.
Each of these can be explained by reference to that hoary old phrase: bare-knuckle politics. Clinton is willing to make concessions to the war narrative as necessary to secure political gains.
She knows that, as a woman running for President (as she has been all along in the Senate), she cannot seem weak on security. Hence the Iraq war and recent Iranian Republican Guard votes. She knows that money drives politics in Congress. Hence the position on lobbyists. She knows that she needs to get through the crowded field of the primaries to be the one Democratic candidate. Hence her treatment of Obama.
Indeed, the tone is familiar. The Clinton's, for all of their concerns about civil liberties and equality and inclusiveness, for all that they value the "rights" narrative of America, are ruthless political players if nothing else. They decided long ago that means justify the ends in politics.
Is this the only way to power in the current political world? I don't know. I do know that, if they are right, then the political model upon which this Republic is based is simply broken.
Who can feel triumphant about the future of America if politics has devolved into a charade, a game, a contest of wits. If that is so, how can we expect policy to lead to progress?
Here's where the parenting side of this post comes in. I would ask the moms and dads out there to look at their own homes as an analogy to this country as a whole. Can you raise healthy, loving, confident children in a household that functions on white lies and subterfuge? Even with the best intentions, parents who lie to their children undermine the basis for their family's love and closeness. Then they wonder why the children grow apart and stop calling.
In their many concessions to power, the Clintons concede too much.
I will vote for her if she is the nominee. I will feel relief and even a little exhilaration. But I will also feel a sense of sorrow. America the ideal will have to wait. We'll be back in the right narrative for this country, but it will be one with little momentum, little pace, and lots of maneuvering.