A strange new respectability

Apparently, it’s not quite a winner, but what an interesting coalition Hillary Clinton has put together this year: working class whites, aging feminists, and random Democrats who haven’t gone completely soft on national security issues. Since the feminist component signed on only as a matter of identity politics, one’s first reaction is to think that the Clinton coalition is just a one-off deal.

That’s probably right, but it’s tempting to speculate that the coalition may have some lasting impact on Democratic politics. Surely, many feminists, as they hit 50 and beyond and in the aftermath of 9/11, have developed some sense that that the world is a dangerous place, and not because the U.S. is making it so. Life must have taught some of them, as it seems to have taught Clinton, that the central tenets of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy are misguided. Thus, presumably they have come to understand that strength is better than weakness; that we should favor our friends rather than trying to convince our enemies that we are “fair,” and that to talk unconditionally with our worst enemies to avoid the appearance of arrogance (a core element of Barack Obama’s foreign policy) is to carry self-loathing too far.

Why haven’t we seen evidence of these insights before? My theory is that hatred of President Bush has prevented them from surfacing. I’m guessing that they have been percolating in the sub-conscious of many an aging feminist. Now that Hillary Clinton has given them voice, at least to some extent, it is finally respectable to have these thoughts and even to articulate them.

I don’t want to overstate the probable impact of this phenomenon. I doubt that many feminists will defect to McCain this year. And, as a matter of demography, this cohort will be a diminished force before very long. Moreover, it’s possible that Hillary Clinton will re-re-invent herself, Al Gore style, as a semi-pacifist. It’s even conceivable, I suppose, that if he becomes president, Obama himself will “grow in office” and give hard-line foreign policy a good name among an even broader range of liberal constituencies.

Nonetheless, I see Clinton’s current re-invention as having a mildly salutary effect on our politics.

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