Confessions of a liberal Democrat: Why I now wish I had voted for Hillary
For most of last week, I looked all over Houston for Game Change, the new book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about the 2008 presidential race, but every book store was sold out.
I finally found the last remaining copy at a Barnes & Noble near the Galleria and paid full price, which I rarely do for a best-seller. Once I got hold of the book, I devoured it. It's a juicy read, with a gossipy tone that demeans just about everyone. In Game Change, John Edwards is a cad (no surprise) and his wife, Elizabeth Edwards is a shrew (big surprise). Rudy Giuliani comes across as a henpecked husband. Sarah Palin is portrayed as charismatic but a little unstable, and certainly not-ready-for-prime-time, while John and Cindy McCain have such a lack of rapport that camera crews have to film them for hours to come up with a few minutes of warmth for a campaign video. It's proof that politics is one big soap opera.
But the undisputed stars are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Their epic battle takes up the first two-thirds of the book. Reading it makes me remember why I was so excited about Obama's quest for the presidency and why I'm so disappointed in him now.
When a friend of mine from the Washington Post visited just before the presidential election in November 2008, she was surprised to find so many Obama signs in our neighborhood. We may live in a red state, but our Montrose enclave is solidly blue. While many in the neighborhood — including my partner — backed Clinton in the Democratic primary, just about everyone I know was for Obama in the general election. Even though I hope to see a woman elected president in my lifetime, his post-racial message of change resonated with me, so I was with him from the start. And, frankly, I suffered from Clinton fatigue. I couldn't imagine four — or even eight — years of Bill Clinton as first spouse.
But now I'm having buyer's remorse.
According to Game Change, Obama based his campaign on the idea that voters were "looking for a president who can bring the country together, who can reach beyond partisanship, and who'll be tough on special interests." His advisers believed that "Obama could embody that change, but Hillary could not."
It sounded too good to be true. And it was.
During the campaign, Obama accused Clinton of acting like a Republican on foreign policy. But he has increased troops in Afghanistan, continued a strong U.S. presence in Iraq and kept the prison at Guantanamo open.
He promised to be tough on special interests. But banks that were rescued by the taxpayers continue to pay obscene bonuses to their top officers and Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner remain key players in the financial system.
He vowed to televise health care negotiations on CSPAN. But all negotiations have been in private and backroom deals have created a bloated bill that no one understands or can explain.
He promised gay supporters to overturn "Don't ask, don't tell" and repeal the "Defense of Marriage Act." But his justice department filed a brief in support of DOMA before backtracking and thus far he has done little to push the rights of gays to openly serve in the military.
Instead of change, it seems like it's business-as-usual in Washington.
Perhaps it's unfair to be so critical of President Obama so early in his tenure. At the same point in their presidencies, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton would have been considered failures. There's still a lot of time for the president to regain the trust of those who voted for him. I look forward to his State of the Union address Wednesday night and some hint that the change he promised is coming.
But I can't help but wonder what might have been. I now suspect that President Hillary Clinton would have had a much faster learning curve about the ways of Washington based on her years of experience and would have fought harder for the things she believes in. Heck, I even bet she would have kept her meddling husband in check.
But perhaps Hillary came out ahead after all. As Secretary of State, she is a respected world leader who doesn't have to deal with contentious domestic issues. Her approval ratings have skyrocketed and are now much higher than the man who defeated her for the presidency. (She got a whopping 75 percent approval rating in a December poll; Obama's rating hovered at 51 percent.)
It's so much easier to believe in someone when he — or she — is not in the nation's highest office.