George Will's preemptive strike

If Clinton wins, she won't have a mandate.

By Tim Grieve
November 15, 2007 11:26PM (UTC)
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George Will argues in today's Washington Post that conservatives have "two reasons" to "hope" that Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic presidential nomination.

Let's take them, like Will does, in reverse order.

Will's Reason No. 2 is the notion that Clinton is so polarizing that, if she wins the general election, she'll do so only narrowly, and such a slim victory will deny her the mandate to enact any sweeping changes as president. "Large undertakings in domestic policy -- e.g., the enactments of Social Security in 1935 and of Medicare in 1965 -- often follow landslide elections," Will writes. A "close election" in 2008, on the other hand, will "guarantee another four years of paralysis," and that's great news for conservatives "who think gridlocked government is wonderful."


Funny, but when George W. Bush took the White House in 2000 -- in an election so close that he actually lost the popular vote -- we don't remember hearing Will argue that the president-elect should somehow feel constrained in pursuing a conservative agenda. To the contrary, in a column published in December 2000, Will pooh-poohed the very idea that Bush, so narrowly elected, should take a bipartisan approach to governance. Bush, Will wrote, "probably knows that most political and journalistic boilerplate about the need to 'heal' the 'deeply divided' nation has the partisan purpose of paralyzing him, turning him away from his political program, toward therapeutic gestures of 'healing.'" In urging Bush to resist those calls, Will wrote: "Conflict avoidance becomes habitual. Risk-averse presidents are constantly at risk. The rule regarding power is use it or lose it. And Bush will never have more of it than he will have next spring."

And when Bush announced a string of conservative Cabinet picks in January, Will was right there cheering him on. "Bush's Cabinet selections communicate his conviction that the election, although close, awarded him 100 percent of the presidency, and he intends to use all of it," Will wrote.

So much for Reason No. 2.


What's Reason No. 1?

Clinton, Will says, "would be easier to beat than Obama, for reasons highlighted in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll: She is judged negatively by pluralities on sharing their positions on the issues and, even more important, on likeability and honesty." We've got to give him that one: In that Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Clinton leads Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney by one point and 11 points, respectively. Obama leads them by two points and 12.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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