The campaign for President

Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for President the other day. It used to be that Presidential campaign announcements were these big events, with lots of balloons and marching bands and frippery and folderol. That may be going out of style. Hillary Clinton’s announcement came via a Youtube video.

It was widely mocked, but I don’t know, I kinda liked it. The thing is, Hillary Clinton doesn’t need to introduce herself to us. We know her; we’ve known her for a long time. I think a big Super Bowl halftime show kind of announcement would have backfired. She’s just Hillary. I know that feels sexist, to call her ‘Hillary.’ We could call her ‘Secretary Clinton,’ or ‘Senator Clinton.’ But we know all that; we know she’s a well-credentialed woman. Most Americans, in fact, have already made up their minds about her. She’s put her announcement on Youtube, like we all do when our cats or grandkids do something particularly adorable. She’s just plain folks.

That’s all pose and artifice, of course. Presidential campaigns are theatre; carefully scripted and staged and designed. The first days of the Clinton campaign were completely nuts, with CNN breathlessly covering her visit to a Chipotle, as she–the future of the free world may be at stake here, people–ordered a chicken burrito and carried it to her table. She drove to Iowa to campaign, because she wanted to talk to ordinary Americans along the way. And listen to their concerns. While news vans clogged the parking lots of every rest stop along the path. It got pretty funny. Let’s face it: Hillary Clinton isn’t an ‘ordinary American’ and we don’t want her to be one. She’s running for the most powerful political office on the planet. She’s probably going to win. It’s really really important for her to be good at her job.

So what do we want to learn about her? What criteria should we use? What’s important, what’s not important? What is this campaign likely to reveal?

When she was running for the US Senate, in New York, my brother, living in Ithaca at the time, said he was worried about her being essentially an outsider. What did she know about the biggest issues facing New York? I told him not to worry about it. We know two things about Hillary Clinton; she’s really smart, and she works hard. She’ll be up on New York issues. And it doesn’t matter what the issues are today. Six months from now, the issues that consume us will be either resolved or forgotten. We want to know two things: how quick a study is she? And what beliefs/philosophy/ideas/ideologies will inform her decisions.

When George W. Bush ran for President, did he know that the defining event of his Presidency would be the 9/11 terrorist attacks? When Barack Obama began campaigning in 2007, how much did we know about the world-wide financial crisis, the defining issue of his Presidency? Did Jimmy Carter anticipate the Iran hostage crisis? George Bush Sr. did have an inkling, in ’88, that the Soviet Union was collapsing, and that he’d have to deal with it, but he didn’t have any idea that Saddam Hussein would invade Kuwait. And so on. Remember what the biggest issue was in the Nixon/Kennedy debates? How much do we care today about Quemoy and Matsu?

So as I watch this Presidential season unfold, I don’t particularly care about where the candidates stand on, say Social Security reform. But I do want to know how they approach the question. When Chris Christie recently proposed raising the Social Security retirement age to 69, that specific proposal isn’t one that’s likely to pass. But the fact that he would propose that–and the specific issue-positioning it implies–is very significant. It tells me that he just flat doesn’t understand the issue. He hasn’t studied it, he doesn’t understand the economics of it. Essentially, that proposal eliminates him, for me, as a serious candidate.

I want to know where they stand on the issues not because the issues of April 2015 are likely to be issues in January 2017, or because I think campaign proposals are likely to be enacted into law (though of course, some are), but because they tell me a lot about how candidates think. Or do they not think; do they shoot from the hip, so to say. I want a policy wonk President. Failing that, I want someone sensible enough to find smart people who can give good advice. I don’t want Chris Christie, making a silly proposal to separate himself from the Republican pack.

Their campaign videos don’t matter. TV ads, for or against them, really don’t matter, unless we’re talking about ads so nasty or witless that we can’t imagine a sentient human being approving them to air. Gaffes don’t really matter much; nobody can withstand that kind of 24/7 scrutiny without getting a little dinged. Though, of course, sometimes candidates say things so over-the-top idiotic that it just destroys any chance of survival.

In this election, the Democrats are pretty much all-in with Clinton. Martin O’Malley is a decent guy, and the fact that he was the model for Carcetti (the Mayor on The Wire) is both super cool, and more than a little creepy, considering that Carcetti was played by Aidan Gillen, who also plays the slitheringly slimy Petyr Balish (Littlefinger) on Game of Thrones. (Don’t trust him, Sansa!) Anyway, O’Malley has worse name recognition than Mayor Carcetti–he can’t win. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going to run, and Bernie Sanders is a wonderful public servant who’ll do a nice job competing for Dennis Kucinich voters. It’s going to be Hillary.

Against, almost certainly, 15-20 serious Republican candidates. And I don’t have the faintest idea which of them should be favored for the nomination. Well, I guess Jeb Bush. (Sigh. Bush/Clinton, again?) Or Marco Rubio. Maybe Scott Walker. It’s going to be that uninspiring.

43 people have served as President of the United States. Amazingly, all 43 have been dudes. I understand that it was difficult for women to run for President back when they were prohibited from running for public office or, you know, voting. Still, it’s well past time for a woman to serve. Go Hillary. I don’t find her a particularly inspiring candidate; I’m a Warren Democrat. But she’s smart, she’s tough, and she’ll be effective. If she wins. Someone’s got to. And we have this preposterous process to decide it. Yay for us.

Above all, I want to see a candidate with some humor, some humility, some sense of the ridiculous. The American electoral process is, let’s face it, completely insane. For months and months and months all these people are going to be vying for our attention, our interest, our money and our votes. And flooding the airwaves with the most preposterous ads. And, next fall, we won’t even have Jon Stewart to help mock it. Let’s ignore the campaign nonsense when we can, laugh at it when we can’t help ourselves. And let’s go elect ourself a President.

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