As an incorrigible freelance writer, I rise to applaud fellow scribe John Podhoretz for his latest success Can She Be Stopped? Hillary Clinton Will Be The Next President of the United States Unless.... (Not much of a title, I'll grant you, but on length alone, Podhoretz is something of a hero to those who get paid by the word; typing the title is worth anywhere between a bagel and a coffee at a deli up to a couple of hardbacks and a coffee at Borders, depending on the publication.) With this book, Podhoretz has managed to wangle himself admission to the writer's Big Rock Candy Mountain. He's persuaded a legitimate publisher to fork over an advance to let him write a book about the 2008 election, composed in advance not only of the 2006 midterm elections but also of the 2006 campaign, produced without doing any real reporting, without knowing how Iraq will play out, without knowing whom Dick Cheney is going to shoot next, just kind of off the top of his head. Brother Podhoretz, here's to you.
Can She Be Stopped? by John Podhoretz Crown Forum, $26.95
Okay, so what if it is a tad early? Why not write this book now? Sure, there will be endless twists and turns and forks in the road before Hillary could possibly seize the Democratic nomination, but the shelf life of a political candidate is famously unpredictable. Suppose on New Year's Day in 2004, a reputable publisher had put cash money on the barrelhead and asked you to write a book called "Can Howard Dean Be Stopped?'" How foolish would you have felt if you had replied, "Let's wait a few weeks and see how the early primaries go"? Yes, it may be early in Hillary season, but Podhoretz is wise not to wait. People who have to buy orthodontia and pay tuition cannot be excessively dainty about timing. Hillary's hot now--why sit around and see if she has some life-destroying/enhancing/changing tantrum/crying jag/religious vision/love affair on the snowy hills of New Hampshire? Forget reality, life, facts, immediate relevance--let's slice and dice this baby now!
Moreover, in Podhoretz's case, this may be the perfect time to get out a new book, not merely on Hillary but on any subject, lest people inquire too much about his last book, which was titled Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane. In these dismal days, Bush seems less like a great president than like the Republican Jimmy Carter. Carter, you will remember, so alienated the public, particularly members of his own party, that they elected a man who was thought to be a dangerous far-right crank and whose presidency made possible a long conservative resurgence. (Perhaps Podhoretz is not keen to be asked if it's possible that Bush will be regarded as such a great president that he ushers in a 30-year liberal correction.)
As for the substance of the book, well, I don't think I'm giving anything away if I tell you that the answer Podhoretz offers to the question posed in his title is not "No, She's Invincible, Head for the Hills," but "Yes, And here Are the Eleven Herbs and Spices in My Secret Stop Hillary Recipe." But before he gets to that point, Podhoretz has to explain why Hillary presents such a terrible danger and why she will nonetheless be so hard to beat.
Hillary, he believes, is the mirror image of George W. Bush, a moderate-talking candidate who will, once in office, make her home with her party's wingnuts and work to enact their agenda. He foresees tax increases, more government regulation, and trial lawyers sitting in the Rose Garden filing lawsuits the instant she signs bills into law. More importantly, he believes she would "chip away" at "aggressive tactics taken in the War on Terror" that have kept us safe and would appoint judges who would "rule out of order any and all aggressive efforts at terrorism prevention." Most importantly, he believes that she would put a stop to Bush's "aggressive foreign policy" in which we take the fight to terrorists and rogue states and try to replace Muslim tyrannies with democracy, regardless of whether the plan seems to be working or not.
What's remarkable about Podhoretz's concerns is that even as he raises these questions, he acknowledges that Hillary has voted in favor of the Patriot Act and Bush's defense budgets and has supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "But it is also true that for twenty years before she became a senator, she was committed to a view of the world and America's role in it that was defiantly, even passionately hostile to a foreign policy that required America to stand tall, defy conventional world opinion, and do what was necessary to secure itself and free the world from tyranny."
Well, there is a question here. Will voters respond to what she has actually done, or will they respond to a caricature of who she might once have been? (Don't laugh--look how the GOP swift-boated the actual record of an actual war hero; surely some Rovian protégé is sitting in a basement somewhere, looking at B-roll footage of anti-nuke rallies in 1982, in hopes of finding HRC with an incriminating peace sign painted on her cheek.) Sen. Clinton might have to remind voters that presidents sometimes change in office, that Nixon found it possible to go to China and that Reagan found it possible to propose total nuclear disarmament to Gorbachev and that Dubya found it possible to learn to pronounce Pervez Musharraf. But change is likely to be a moot point. Podhoretz shouldn't put too much stock in finding a candidate who is going to stand in front of the American people and say "I pledge to run the Global War on Terror the same way President Bush did." Voters may well want a candidate who's going to rely more on soft power and multilateral action and less on Cowboying Up.
After arguing that Sen. Clinton would be a viper in America's bosom, Podhoretz takes on the second of his challenges, namely, persuading us that such a manifestly dangerous person could get elected. Well of course, she could get elected. Her husband won twice, Al Gore got more votes than Dubya in 2000, and John Kerry got more votes than Gore. Clinton just has to win the states Kerry won, plus Florida or Ohio. She's going to have a pile of money. George Clooney isn't apt to be a candidate.
But will she win? Elections aren't held in a vacuum; she has to run against somebody. Clearly Clinton has problems with likeability; fewer people like her than like the idea of her, and if her opponent possesses as much personality as John McCain, she will struggle. Podhoretz is right to say that her steeliness will be a help to her, but unless she runs against Cheney or Rumsfeld, she will need to summon up more warmth than she customarily displays if she hopes to win.
Podhoretz's third act, in which he's supposed to reveal his cunning plan to halt this threat, falls a bit short of its requirements. Some of the elements of his 10-point plan--like getting her to take positions and cast votes, and then attack those positions and votes--are blandly obvious. Point # 6 is to call for the United States to leave the United Nations, and then force her to defend it. On its face, this seems like a bizarre gambit designed to distract voters from real issues like war and peace and the economy. Somebody should tell Willie Horton it'll never work. At Point #10, Podhoretz's gently rising soufflé of a book takes wings and sails over the rainbow: He recommends that a GOP that wants to stop Hillary should nominate Rudy Giuliani, assuming he'll switch his position on abortion.
I can see that happening. Hell, why not? It's the spring of 2006, we haven't had the midterm elections, we don't know how things are going to work out in Iraq--anything can happen. Why shouldn't the GOP nominate Rudy? Better yet, why doesn't the GOP nominate Hillary herself-assuming she changes her position on abortion? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind--all the wind Podhoretz has generated with this book.