Progressives to Hillary: OK, but please no Lanny Davis

The left seems largely happy with Hillary now, because she can beat Republicans. Just please no wars or Mark Penn!

By Jim Newell

Published June 24, 2013 12:30PM (EDT)


There was a story this weekend on Politico about the feelings progressives have toward Hillary Clinton, titled "Progressives at Netroots Nation 2013: Hillary Clinton must win us over." Within it, the "more than two dozen" attendees interviewed offer some hesitations about going with another Clinton in 2016 and her still-hawkish foreign policy. But as the author of the piece admits, "the backing of progressives appears to be Clinton’s to lose."

Another NBC News story on precisely the same topic comes away with a similar conclusion: "progressives are ready to give her another shot."

Progressives are basically fine with Hillary Clinton taking the 2016 nomination. There! Settled.

And why shouldn't they be? As Markos Moulitsas puts it, “The fact that she makes 2016 uninteresting makes that attractive." Yeah, that's about all you need, too. She would win. And you know who's a good nominee to go with, in general, in politics? The one who would win the election. Progressives overall might prefer, say, an Elizabeth Warren or Martin O'Malley for the nominee, but they likely won't run if Hillary Clinton runs, so whatever.

One thing we should've learned by now is that a presidential nominee isn't that important if they have this good a chance of winning. You all are welcome to get all worked up for two years about which candidates sign what pledge and pander to what group and voted which way on some agriculture amendment back in the aughts if you enjoy that; I've found that it's a better use of time to take a walk in the park or stare at the wall.

Uh-oh, here I am discarding the civic duty of vetting presidential candidates altogether. It was a bit of an exaggeration. There are still some things that progressives should watch for if (when) Clinton announces her candidacy, in seriousness. No, not the dumb agriculture amendment or whether she signed X petty pledge for something that no president will ever do.

But a couple of things:

1) Her foreign policy. Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 election largely because she loved war too much. Even if you forgive, as many (but not all) do, her Iraq War vote as "a thing of the past" by now, keep in mind that as secretary of state and a more generally a top adviser to this administration, she pushed (and got) her intervention in Libya and and pushed (and didn't get) serious intervention in Syria. She's still a hawk. Maybe some of you are rediscovering your interventionist spirit these days. Some of us aren't. Looking at the modern presidency, foreign policy views are typically the most important thing to consider in primaries, since it's what presidents have the most control over. And a quick look at the scoreboard shows her to still be a hawk. Not an insane hawk, but a hawk. This should be progressives' biggest concern about a Hillary Clinton presidency.

2) Her advisers: Basically, how close to the campaign will Lanny Davis be? Will Lanny Davis be a top surrogate on television, like he was the last time, for whatever reason? That won't fly. Just don't put the world through that again, please. Fortunately, Mark Penn seems to be busy picking his ass at Microsoft these days, so he's out of the picture. Please, no Lanny Davis.

Maybe you can think of a couple more. The best impression we took away from both the Politico and NBC News pieces, though, is that Netroots Nation attendees weren't even thinking about the 2016 nominating contest at all, but for the reporters that kept asking them about it. That's a great sign. Because the focus on a nominee isn't that important, and people have picked up on that. This really is a from-the-ground-up business, and building the coalitions for action on particular issues is much more important than focusing on the quirks and tics among candidates with largely the same platforms.

You don't have to love them; they don't have to love you. Isn't that a refreshing feeling?

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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