Hillary Clinton is likely to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee because she is so much smarter than her rivals now on the horizon. Once in the Senate, she made a beeline for the armed services committee because she understood that the first female president will have to be a hawk, just as the first Catholic president (JFK) had to be adamant about not aiding Catholic schools, and the first Jewish president will have to voice doubts about Israel.
When she ran against young Rick Lazio for the Senate, my wife and I had dinner one night with four other couples. The four other women, all liberal Democrats, were bitterly and almost violently anti-Hillary, mostly because they thought she had served as the enabler for Bill Clinton?s self-destruction. But all the women at the table wound up voting for her, partly because Lazio was a poor choice, mostly because Hillary ran such a strong campaign.
She startled a lot of analysts by running so well upstate, an area New York City residents know nothing about and like to refer to as ?apple-knocker country.? This part of the state is traditionally Republican and reliably hostile to urban liberals. Hillary Clinton nearly carried it losing to Lazio by only 47-50 upstate. People tell me she knows more, and responds better, to upstate New York and its problems than any other statewide politician ever has. Imagine this capacity projected onto anti-liberal ?apple-knockers? nationwide.
Suddenly Clinton seems to be on the move, laying the groundwork for a centrist campaign in 2008. She has come out in favor of immigration reform, in effect, saying: close the borders. She has demanded a role for religion and faith-based programs in the public square. And last week, while clearly underlining her pro-choice position, she expressed many sentiments firmly held by the anti-abortion movement. She called abortion a ?sad, even tragic choice to many, many women,? called for pro-choicers and pro-lifers to work together to reduce the number of abortions, and praised the influence of religious and moral values in delaying teenaged girls from becoming sexually active. Imagine, an important Democrat saying a good word for abstinence.
On all three of these issues, Clinton is bucking the Democratic elites and the base of her party, less so on abortion than on immigration and the public expression of religion. She is also answering the big question currently bothering Democratic headscratchers: what do we have to do to win nationwide elections? Hillary?s sensible answer seems to be: stop trying to overcome and stigmatize huge majorities of voters. The number of Americans who want to seal our borders is in the 70 percent range. So is opposition to the anything goes abortion regime introduced by Roe v. Wade. Three-quarters of Americans believe abortion should be restricted. Under 25 percent would allow it in all cases. And America is lop-sidedly religious, with believers in the 90 percent range. Yet the Democratic elites are conducting a relentless and escalating campaign against any public expression of faith. I have never seen a level of anti-religious fanaticism like the one we have now. Read the hostile press releases of Democratic hit groups like People for the American Way and the Anti-Defamation League and you wonder if their leaders are secretly being bribed by Republicans to shrink the number of believers willing to vote Democratic.
The Hollywood left can?t resist pumping its contempt for religion into show after show. The other night in a re-run of Law and Order, Sam Waterston, the prosecutor character, said a white-supremacist group that had just killed two lawyers is something like the Christian right. Only in Hollywood would anyone casually compare conservative Christians to an organization of racist killers. This kind of stupidity delights the Democratic base, but it creates an enormous dilemma for Democratic politicians who actually want to win.
So far Hillary Clinton seems to be one of the few to recognize the scope of the problem. Besides, unlike John Kerry, a nominal Catholic who seems lost when the topic of religion comes up, Hillary Clinton is actually a religious person who can talk convincingly about faith without sounding like a hypocrite or a panderer. On church and state, she says, ?There is no contradiction between support for faith-based initiatives and upholding our constitutional principles.? Rather, she said believers must be allowed ?to live out their faith in the public square.? Clinton?s newfound moderation seems abrupt. Just a year ago she said that opponents of abortion ?are counting on the vast majority of fair-minded Americans to be ignorant, to be unaware? They think they can accomplish their goals as Americans sleep.? This is the standard view of opponents to abortion as sinister and sneaky. You don?t have to be overwhelmed by Hillary Clinton?s sincerity to conclude that she is making some smart moves now. She is beginning to distance herself from Democratic dogma.