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Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Case for Senator Hillary Clinton

posted by on January 17 at 9:40 AM


Hillary Clinton, through the course of the campaign and the debates, has me utterly convinced. She really is the wonk of the group with the keenest sense of how the political process grinds to create policy. Without a doubt, she makes a completely compelling case for herself… as Senate Majority Leader.

Before I am accused of writing yet more “pro-Barack Obama propaganda,” I have an embarrassing fact to admit: I love the United States Congress. And I believe the Constitution and founding fathers—endowing the House and Senate with the control of the budget, the right to approve all appointees, set all laws the executive branch must follow, and decide when we go to war to name a few exclusive powers—have my back. The presidency, by comparison, is meant to be a vestigial limb—a fake king for a people shaking off monarchy—shackled by the laws of the land, the courts, and the will of the people.

Since the Republican revolution of 1994, Congress steadily declined to the present state, a training ground for future lobbyists and a farm league for piles of inept presidential aspirants. Few remain with any interest or talent in legislation. Most bills passed are written by powerful outside interests, concatenated into an impenetrable mass, left unread and forced through the vote in the dark of night.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. Congress should be where the brightest minds, the most detail-oriented minds, the minds most able to evaluate complexity gather to make the needs and bold sweeping goals of the nation happen—minds, it must be said, like Clinton’s. It’s hard to remember this, to even conceive of this in the Bush-era unitary executive. The decline of our nation, in no small part, can be attributed to the decline of Congress in power and as a deliberative body. We need more congressmen and congresswomen like Barbara Mikulski, Carl Levin and Paul Wellstone under the leadership of someone with the breadth and eloquence of Hillary Clinton.

Great presidents are left six, maybe seven years to accomplish their goals. Great congressional careers are measured in decades. Clinton’s interests and talents—a glacier-like focusing in on details and policy crafting—are ideally suited to the Congress, this branch of government, and this sort of public career. I have no doubt she could come up with detailed and compelling plans of action—plans that could out compete the conflicted crap written by lobbyists. We need Clinton, or someone like Clinton, running the Senate. Pair a Clinton-led Senate with a series of rhetorically strong Democratic president—like Obama, who can sell her brilliant plans to the public in a way that she cannot—and you have the mixture to accomplish great and world changing acts.

Hands-on and detail oriented, or visionary and inspiring? To borrow from Eli, it takes both. Using Clinton’s own example, it didn’t just take MLK’s soaring rhetoric and LBJ’s signature to bring the Civil Rights Act into reality. It took brilliant political maneuvering by Mike Mansfield (the Senate Majority leader from 1961 to 1977)—building a unique collation of Northern Democrats and Republicans—to finally overwhelm the Southern bloc of votes that had consistently filibustered the bill in the past. Without a talented and brilliant Senate Majority Leader, it never would have happened.

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Josh Green made an interesting case for this in a great article in The Atlantic back in 2006, in which he explores how Senator Clinton has managed to be unexpectedly successful in the Senate.

Posted by bohica | January 17, 2008 9:54 AM

It takes both. That's the key.

Inspiration and experience. In the case of the Civil Rights acts the legislative mastery also came from LBJ. Not just Mansfield. LBJ who had been Senate Majority Leader and who had gotten the very first civil rights act passed while in the Senate in 1957.

Posted by Cleve | January 17, 2008 9:55 AM

well put, jonathan. you almost convinced me, and i've been for hillary a long time.

Posted by kim | January 17, 2008 10:00 AM

What if today's venal, repulsive, grotesque Congress people really are the best this country can do?

*double shudder*

It’s a good thing they’re focusing now on steroid use in Major League Baseball, which is more in line with their interests and intellectual capacity.

At this point, if the terrahists blew up Congress, God would do a jig.

Posted by Original Andrew | January 17, 2008 10:05 AM

I've been saying the same thing to my friends for over a year now. She's IN the Senate already (so no contentious national election necessary), she's already being effective, and the "liberal" or progressive forces need an heir apparent for Ted Kennedy, who won't be around forever.

If Hillary cares about to moving America forward, she can--FOR DECADES (and not 4 or 8 years), she can effectively rule the Senate, sprearhead efforts against hostile judges and Supreme Court nominees, etc...

Posted by andy niable | January 17, 2008 10:17 AM

Great post, Jonathan.

Posted by povertyrich | January 17, 2008 10:17 AM

@4--If Congress were blown up, do you really think there'd be a shred of the Constitution or a civil liberty left after the terrorized masses willingly begged for a police state from the current Christofacists in charge?

Is that really your dream, Original Andrew, just because you don't like a few hearings on steroids? Get real.

Posted by andy niable | January 17, 2008 10:20 AM

before reading this post, i was hoping that Chris Dodd would take over as Majority Leader after running a noble campaign based on solid principles. part of his failure was that he talked like a Senator. He's been there for a long time and written solid legislation. Clinton's not a bad choice either and the country would be better off if she stayed in the Senate.

But at this point anybody would be an improvement over Harry Reid.

Posted by ghostlawns | January 17, 2008 10:24 AM

Excellent post, Golob; you make a good case. Congressional leaders generally do have more impact on our legislation than the president does right now, and can be at it much longer. They also don't need to be "likeable" to a majority of Americans.

Posted by yep | January 17, 2008 10:34 AM

@ 7,

You’re right; they’d better make sure they take out the White House and the Supreme Court, too.

It will suck living in a Christofascist theocracy, but it’ll be a huge consolation knowing that Ted Stevens and James Inhofe are being gently fucked by Satan with a rusty chainsaw.

Posted by Original Andrew | January 17, 2008 10:39 AM

Wow, this post is one of the better Slog or Stranger opinion pieces on politics I've ever read. Nice work, Golob.

Posted by Huh? | January 17, 2008 11:11 AM

U.S. president is the most powerful position in the world. Nothing else comes close. The brightest person, with the most know-how, who has a shot to get it right now should be the one who occupies it. If you think that's Clinton, then vote for her. Your idealized gov't, Golob, where Congress has the upper-hand isn't the world we live in now.

Posted by chicagogaydude | January 17, 2008 11:34 AM

But would she ever get elected as the Democratic leader in the Senate? How do they choose? I mean, how did they choose a pro-life Mormon to be their party leader?

Posted by spencer | January 17, 2008 11:35 AM

Ah yes, the pre-1994 Congress, which was filled with titans and legislative stalwarts before being stabbed in the back by evil Republicans and K. Street Lobbyists. Yes, look back with nostalgia on the careers of such incorruptible paladins as Dan Rostenkowski, Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini and Jim Wright. How could the voters have rejected a political party that gave them these fine, moral and upstanding politicians? What were they thinking?

Posted by wile_e_quixote | January 17, 2008 11:43 AM

@12, Actually, as I think both Bill Clinton and Al Gore would agree to, The U.S. Presidency may not quite be the best place to get things done any more...

Posted by Mickymse | January 17, 2008 11:56 AM

@15 Well, if Bill thinks that, then Hillary isn't listening. And sadly, I think Gore decided it was out of reach for him.

Posted by chicagogaydude | January 17, 2008 1:02 PM

You make a good point but is Obama's rhetoric really that strong? Can he really sell policy like you are talking about? He hasn't been able to convince me in any debate that he is the strongest candidate. Not to mention I disagree with him on some of my most important issues- energy and health care. I'm afraid we just won't see any change with him at the helm.

It may be he is just trying to stay clean in this campaign, but ultimately, people are going to want to see a strong leader. He is almost too cautious not to step on any toes in the primaries. I am worried the Rove machine is going to plow right through him.

Posted by Cale | January 17, 2008 2:03 PM


Posted by Judith | January 17, 2008 4:46 PM

oh jonathan, how i adore you.

Posted by Coco | January 17, 2008 6:41 PM

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