Kokomo, USA, November 9, 2014 (Alochonaa): Citizens rarely vote on the basis of their best self-interest. Instead, it is fears, hopes and aspirations of what they would like to be in the future that determine how a person casts a ballot. For this reason, they choose leaders that they fear least, but who project an image of strength and best express hopes and aspirations with which people identify, even if those are unreachable. The question of expectations from politicians is key, and Hillary has an image that she is trying to reshape so that voters find her acceptable as president.
Can Hillary win the presidency in 2016 because she is least feared and best represents the hopes and aspirations of the citizenry? In 2008, I had predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the nomination for president. I believe that was the zenith of her political career, rather than the position as a rather undistinguished Sec/State. In 2008, she had a realistic chance to win the nomination and then the White House. Although Richard Nixon came back in 1968 to win after losing in 1960, I believe that for Hillary there is a very slim chance that she will be elected President of the US in 2016. At this point, it seems that she really has a chance, especially among a pack of Republicans that are weak and divided and she has a great deal of money and more to spend.
She must be flying high on optimism, facing no real rivals within her own party or the GOP. After all, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll, (March 2014), two-thirds of Americans would consider voting for her, although the “definite” category runs only at 25% and the “maybe” at 41%, largely because there are really no star candidates from her own party or the Republican this early in the pre-election game, and two-third of the Republicans are no longer afraid of her if she were president, with just 6% pleased if she won.
Never mind that the election is in 2016 and that she has the highest name recognition and lowest percentage of unfavorable traits in comparison with the current batch of potential Republican candidates. Never mind that she carries enormous baggage from the White House days in the 1990s and no matter how much she tried to move closer to the right on foreign policy while Sec/State, many still see her as a liberal Democrat. Nor does it matter that she is more or less going to run on the same platform as she did in 2008 but lost then to Obama.
To secure the lead for 2016, the former Sec/State has decided to adopt a hard line on foreign and defense policy, one that is about as close to right-wing Republican positions as possible. This is the safe thing to do to secure the votes of hawkish Democrats that may see her as a “weak female” on foreign affairs and defense, while at the same time counting on the traditional Democrat and independent voters. After all, how can she possibly win the presidency by having a ‘left liberal’ position on domestic issues as well as foreign affairs, especially as woman and one with a record that goes back to the days in the White House? Moreover, I predict that the US will continue on its long-established pattern of aggressive foreign policy, with targeted interventions and covert operations in developing nations for the rest of this decade. Moreover, the US is now setting the ground work for a new rise in defense and intelligence spending, asking that its allies do the same on the pretext that Russia poses a threat to the West, as does China and let us not forget terrorists are everywhere waiting to strike.
Clinton knows that the military-industrial complex exercises enormous power and she has accepted that it is impossible to change course, short of a major domestic economic crisis. Therefore, she is jumping on the militarist/interventionist/hawkish bandwagon because she has a lot to gain, or so she believes.
But is this going to be enough to win the White House in 2016? Is it enough to compare Putin to Hitler and to sound the war drums for Hillary when there are so many Republicans who are much more authentic militarist/interventionist advocates who will emerge once the campaign gets under way in 2015-2016. I would argue that Hillary cannot project an image of a hawk on foreign affairs and defense any better than a Republican, but then again, she has no choice but to do exactly as she is doing. To win the White House, she must redefine herself as strong advocate of defense and tough on foreign policy, while appealing to the business community and the broader middle class that has become much weaker and is in desperate need of revival.
That the aggressive interventionist/militarist policy she proposes will cost a great deal and divert resources from social programs and civilian-oriented economic projects is a consequence Hillary is willing to accept. Otherwise, she would not be calling not only for a John McCain-style response to Russia, but also questioning US diplomatic solutions in Syria and Iran. At an American Jewish Congress event honoring her, Hillary said: “The odds of reaching that comprehensive agreement are not good. I am also personally skeptical that the Iranians would follow through and deliver. I have seen their behavior over the years. But this is a development that is worth testing.”
Never mind that the alternative to a diplomatic solution in Iran is a very costly “Cold War-style” confrontation that would only help Russia and China at the expense of the West, and never mind that in the end the US military solution approach would fail as it has in the past with a legacy of a much larger public debt and weaker dollar. Coming out strongly against Russia, Iran and all real and potential enemies of the US as though they are about to land in Omaha Nebraska, and using the kind of rhetoric that one would only hear on right-wing talk radio, Hillary feels confident this is a winning strategy for the presidential campaign of 2016 because this would be the approach of her Republican opponents. One has to wonder the degree of political hyperbole and shameless opportunism when Hillary compares Putin and Russia in 2014 to Hitler and NAZI Germany in the 1930s. Does this politician really intend to convince the public that anyone who carves out an interventionist foreign policy, as has Putin, is a Hitler-like leader? If so, then there is a long line of US presidents who fall in that category.
But what if by 2016, the US has reached a deal with Iran, and Crimea is no longer an issue, and what if the Syrian situation is settled? Assuming there is no political solution to any of those issues and the situation is one of tensions between US and its rivals, why would voters trust Hillary as chief executive and not a right wing Republican?
Voters would really think twice before electing a Democrat with a past such as the one she has, instead of a new fresh face like Obama was in 2008. Times have changed with the internet and social media. Hillary has a generational gap issue that she cannot overcome, making her a relic of the past.2. Are Americans ready for a woman President?
Voters would think twice about having a woman in the White House, after two terms of the first black-American Democrat. Although this is the view of right-wing Republicans like Michele Bachmann (R-Min), it is largely true in a society that just beneath the surface remains sexist at its core.
3. Can Hillary deliver economic prosperity for all?
While the economy would probably be relatively stable and the stock market steady on a gradual upward trend in 2016, assuming of course no major war or a catastrophic scenario in the economies of the G-20, the American voters would feel confident enough to vote in change with the promise of prosperity, an illusion that can best be delivered by a Republican candidate rather than a Democrat, especially Hillary who is perceived as friendly to the lower classes.
4. Do people vote on the basis of foreign policy?
Hillary represents the 1990s in the minds of many voters, and that identity with the past is not easy to overcome simply by becoming a right-wing hawk on foreign affairs. Do voters elect presidents on the basis of their foreign policy platform, or for what they can do at home? Cheap right-wing rhetoric on Russia and the Middle East means nothing to the broader middle classes and workers Hillary needs to vote for her.
5. Do voters trust Hillary and feel she would be a competent commander-in-chief?
The question of trust is of the utmost importance because it means voters have to feel a sense of comfort and confidence about their leader. Because Hillary has undergone policy changes and superficial transformation in an effort to win the White House, the trust factor is diminished. Moreover, the personal lifestyle of a candidate also plays a role, because the US is not France where 80% of the voters do not care about the private life of their president. Therefore, the trust factor for Hillary has to do with how voters perceive her personal life, which may not be in the best “traditional” format of the all-American representing family values.
For reasons I have listed about, Hillary Clinton is a long shot in the race for the White House, although right now she is the front runner and she has the ability to secure money to make it difficult for anyone to challenge her. While it is true that she is well connected with Hollywood, business, and the Democrat establishment, and it is true that she could spend hundreds of millions to make the run for the White House. Miracles sometime do happen in politics, and Hillary could benefit from such a miracle, but anything short of that, she will lose.
*Jon Kofas is a retired Professor . He has published many works including; Independence From America: Global Integration And Inequality, Under the Eagle’s Claw: Exceptionalism in Postwar U.S, Greek Relations and The Sword of Damocles, and The IMF, the World Bank, and U.S. Foreign Policy in Colombia and Chile, 1950-1970.
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