Grooming Hillary Clinton's "Centrist Crusade" for '08

Mrs. Triangulation is the title of New York Times contributing writer Matt Bai's profile of Sen. Hillary Clinton (on the cover the article is referred to even less plausibly as "Hillary's Centrist Crusade").

Bai has apparently been taken in by Clinton's centering propaganda, as has the Times in general: It's coverage of the senator has consisted largely of portraying her as a safe centrist and even a social conservative, while accusing those who call her liberal as guilty of "caricature."

While Hillary Clinton has perhaps not been the vociferous anti-war opponent of fantasies, she's hardly been quiet about her loathing of the Bush administration, as when she compared Bush to Mad Magazine's moronic cartoon mascot: "I sometimes feel that Alfred E. Neuman is in charge in Washington."

Just as in several stories by Hillary-approving reporter Raymond Hernandez, Bai on Sunday doesn’t identify Hillary as a liberal, instead claiming she's a centrist and even has "conservative leanings."

That spin is at odds with reality. The American Conservative Union gives Hillary Clinton a rating of 9 out of a possible 100 points. Meanwhile, she garnered a 95% rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (it should be said that 17 of the 45 Democratic senators had perfect 100% records in the ADA's 2004 survey, based on their position on 20 significant votes).

Bai writes: "Clinton…wants nothing to do with ideological crusades, and she has thus far resisted the pull of rising antiestablishment forces -- bloggers, donors and activists -- who are fast becoming today's equivalent of the 60's left. Instead, Hillary (as she is universally known) has navigated with extreme caution through the party's fast-changing landscape, and if she has evolved as a public figure, it is in a way that has distanced her from the party's more liberal base."

Typically, Bai sees unfavorable views of a liberal Clinton as "caricatures," and expands the thought: "Hillary the war-protesting, Joni Mitchell-loving feminist has now been transformed into Hillary the calculating Lady Macbeth who will deliver any speech handed to her if it helps reclaim her husband's throne. Neither stereotype, in fact, is especially credible, and neither helps to resolve the puzzle of where Hillary Clinton actually wants to take her party -- beyond, perhaps, returning it to the White House."

In fact, Bai indicates she's a secret conservative in some respects: "The truth that emerges from talking to many of those who have worked closely with the Clintons is that Hillary's ideology is best understood through the prism of her upbringing. She was raised as a Republican and a devout Methodist in suburban Chicago, and these influences, particularly in the turbulence of the 60's, created two philosophical impulses that were commonly linked in that era. The first is an unshakable notion of right and wrong and an almost missionary zeal for imposing it on others, mainly through political action. The second is a strand of moral conservatism that borders on prudishness."

The centrist spinning churns on: "When I asked one of Hillary's closest policy advisers, Neera Tanden, why Hillary seemed more comfortable with the Pentagon brass than a lot of her colleagues are, she thought for a moment before replying. 'She's not authoritarian,' Tanden said, 'but she has a deep respect for authority.' In this sense, Clinton is very much a Southern Democrat like her husband (or, for that matter, an Eisenhower Republican like her father) and less of a social liberal than she is often portrayed."

More repositioning: "It would be naïve to think that Clinton doesn't have a national campaign very much in mind as she stacks up one centrist credential after another."

And there are more citations of the "conservative" and "centrist" instincts of a woman who a first lady would have nationalized U.S. health care (a fact Bai fails to mention): "As first lady, it was Clinton's job to placate the party's base, even if that meant obscuring some of her more socially conservative instincts. Now, as a prospective candidate for president, she is operating in reverse, emphasizing the parts of her ideology that would not have served her in her former life."

The Times grooms Clinton for '08: "Assuming that Clinton is serious about a 2008 campaign, it's never too early to begin redefining her image in the minds of independent and conservative voters. And the thinking among her closest advisers holds that unlike other prospective candidates with conservative leanings, like Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana or Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, Clinton doesn't have to worry about winning over more liberal base voters; she's an icon of the left, and short of climbing into a tank and invading a country all by herself, she couldn't do much to change that. By this theory, Clinton gets to have it both ways: her consistent centrist record will convince general-election voters that she is not the archetype they thought she was, and Democratic-primary voters will forgive her more conservative positions because, in their minds, she is saying such things only to make herself 'electable.' It's a strategy so elegant that even Karl Rove would have to smile in appreciation."

For more details on Bai's story, and more bias from the New York Times, visit TimesWatch.

Congress New York Times
Clay Waters's picture