False Hopes

I suppose that in pure campaigning terms, Kevin Drum’s right and Hillary Clinton’s complaints about Barack Obama and John Edwards raising “false hopes” was a gaffe. But I think it’s an interesting theme, and sort of wish she would explore it in a more rigorous and thorough way.

The trouble is that as is, she’s raising essentially the same hopes as her competitors — hopes of fundamental change in health care and energy policy. It often does seem to me that all three Democrats are overpromising here, and I think it would be interesting to hear Clinton try to specifically make the argument that her rivals are promising too much and that doing so is dangerous. The trouble is that while I’m open to the idea that either Obama or Edwards is engaged in a certain amount of magical thinking about their ability to implement their agenda, she then just turns around and does the same thing. It’s true that high aspirations and inspiring rhetoric won’t produce fundamental policy shifts. It’s also true that getting really outraged won’t produce fundamental policy shifts. But neither will Clinton’s years of experience — you can see it in her own list of legislative accomplishments as Senator and First Lady, there’s just nothing in there of remotely the sort of scale that she’s now promising.

So if it’s true that Edwards and Obama are raising false hopes, then show is she. Ultimately, I think whether or not those hopes prove false will mostly turn not on who the president is, but on what the outcome of the congressional elections are. Still, it would be interesting to see veteran centrist Hillary Clinton run as veteran centrist Hillary Clinton and make the case on the merits for the kind of legislative approach that she and Bill adopted for the bulk of their time in the White House. Instead, though, she’s campaigning on an agenda that’s every bit as ambitious as her rivals’ and then asking us to believe that her experience being married to someone who governed successfully as a cautious centrist makes her uniquely capable of producing dramatic change. It doesn’t really make sense.