Columns » John Brummett

Is this new Hillary a stretch?

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Hillary Clinton has been doing some very noteworthy things lately as she gets ready to make a serious run at becoming the first woman president.

She’s showing a different side from the liberal child of the ‘60s who committed the health care debacle. The issue will be whether people see a credibly different side or a transparently hypocritical and self-serving transformation.

Actually, as one long inclined to see in her the latter, I’m beginning to think this may represent a credibly different side. I’m also beginning to think that maybe a few people are nearly ready for rejection of ideological and cultural stereotype in favor of consideration of nuance.

It’s already happened in upstate New York, where Republicans have come to like Hillary. It’s happened in the Senate, where Republican colleagues have remarked that she’s not at all the caricature they’d expected.

Here’s Hillary lately:

• She signed on with a Republican as a co-sponsor of a bill, not a constitutional amendment, to make burning an American flag a crime. She is trying to finesse free expression by saying the crime would be a disturbing-the-peace or intimidation kind of thing, like burning a cross.

• She signed on with Joe Lieberman to sponsor legislation to keep violent video games out of reach of children. She talks about getting the entertainment industry to change its marketing and packaging of those products to protect kids.

• She has agreed with her husband that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” But she’s gone further to say that she’s also sensitive to those who think abortion is a sin and even agrees to the extent that we must do everything we can to prevent unwanted pregnancies so that the horrible choice does not arise.

• She’s staying the course on Iraq, declining to disavow her vote in favor of the war and resisting any temptation to call for getting out by any sort of imminent and arbitrary timetable.

That’s not to say those aren’t political tactics. They plainly are. The question is whether they can be both generally tactical and specifically believable.

For sure, they’re straight from the playbook of the Democratic Leadership Council. That’s the centrist and corporate-friendly group that provided a national launching pad for Hillary’s husband and recently assigned her to head an effort to design new initiatives for 2008.

Al From, the head of the DLC, tells me that, in some ways, Hillary was an earlier and more committed “third way” politician than her husband — “third way” meaning neither tax-and-spend nor trickle-down, but committed to government solutions that demanded personal responsibility.

The DLC has been outspoken in asserting that Democrats must respond to their values-voter disaster of 2004 by showing new levels of sensitivity to those who hold different religious or cultural views, then by getting off the defensive to advocate a cultural values agenda of their own.

In other words, Democrats must begin to emphasize that they understand how conservative people feel about gun rights and gay rights and abortion, and that while they might disagree on those issues, maybe only on the margins in one or two cases, they have a few other fights for which they’d like to enlist the alliance of any and all voters concerned that the country is going to heck in a handbasket.

Those would include limiting the kinds of images kids can see all too readily on television and in videos, and doing all we can to prevent unwanted pregnancies to reduce the frequency of these horrible, if necessarily legal, abortions.

That Hillary Clinton might become the Democrat to put a face to this new message — well, the issue is how much of a stretch it will appear.

Actually, I always found Hillary on a personal level to be a tad stern, prudish and coldly judgmental. Maybe that will work for her and the Democrats in 2008.


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