Hoping for Hillary Clinton in 2016

Forget about Mitt and Barack. It's time to start hoping that Bill Clinton's better half runs for president.

I know, I know: It’s only September. We’ve got just over a month to go in the presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. There are several debates, a million gaffes, and endless punditry to endure before the 2012 election is over. But I can’t help but look ahead already and declare: I hope Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016.

This wouldn’t be worth mentioning at this point, except that Bill Clinton is already encouraging the speculation, saying he doesn’t know her plans, but adding: “”I’ve never met anybody I thought was a better public servant.”

So I hope she runs.

Which comes as a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t really a fan of her husband’s presidency. And when she faced off against Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential primaries, I rooted for Obama. Why?

  • Because she had voted to give President Bush the authority to launch the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I held a grudge on that issue.
  • And because I remembered the 1990s and how demonized she and Bill had been by Republicans; I assumed Obama would have an easier time with the GOP.

I was wrong on the second count: Turns out the Republican Party will probably demonize any Democratic president as being wimpy, evil, or in some other fashion unfit to be president. That’s just part of the game now, and it’ll apply to Joe Biden or Deval Patrick or any other Democrat whose popularity makes them a credible threat to capture the White House. In 2008, I still believed there could be a modicum of civility in our politics, and chose accordingly. Now? The illusion is gone. Hillary, at least, has earned the thick skin she’d need to endure such attacks.

As for the invasion of Iraq? I’ll never be convinced that Hillary Clinton voted for the invasion for any other reason but political expediency—fearing in 2003 that a vote against the war might hinder her presidential prospects. But it’s also true that the war is over, that Americans aren’t quite as hawkish as they used to be, and that (in the absence of signs Clinton is itching to embroil us in another overseas quagmire) maybe it’s OK for me to give up the grudge. I’m willing to move on if she is.

So those are reasons not to oppose her candidacy in 2016. What are the arguments for?

The first argument is tactical: With that thick skin she earned in the 1990s, Hillary Clinton should be more adept at parrying Republican attacks and opposition than President Obama initially proved himself to be. She won’t get caught flat-footed, and would thus be more effective in advancing her agenda.

The real question is: What will that agenda be?

It’s tough to say, obviously. We don’t know what the next four years will bring, which means that everything that follows is speculation and imagination. But my expectation, given her personal history, the Democratic Party’s preferences, and the general trend of our politics, is that she’d work to secure and improve Obamacare, that she’d be vigorous defender of and advocate for gay and women’s rights, and that she might even be able to strike a “grand bargain” to bring the federal budget back into alignment without unduly sacrificing Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and other safety net programs. I think she’ll be able to advance an agenda that Republicans of 2017 will hate and that Republicans of 2037 will remember fondly.

What’s more, I expect that maybe that vote for the Iraq invasion would ultimately redound to her benefit: Nobody will really question her toughness on foreign policy issues next time, giving her the ironic freedom to avoid sending American troops into an unnecessary war.

In the end: Who else will Democrats have who is ready for a shot at the White House? Hillary will be 69 in 2016: It will be her last, best shot to earn the presidency in her own right. I hope she takes it. And I hope she wins it.