It is now widely expected that you will run for President in 2008, after successfully standing for reelection next year. By all accounts, you will enjoy the strong support of your party?s generally left-of-center primary voters. But to win the Oval Office, you will have to overcome a very different challenge ? persuading sufficient numbers of independents and perhaps even Republicans that you are the first Democrat in two generations who can safely be entrusted with the presidency in time of active, global hostilities.
Toward this end, you, your husband and other political advisors are reportedly assiduously working to demonstrate that Candidate Rodham Clinton will not be the sort of reflexively liberal partisan who would be unlikely to make such a sale. Your positions on such politically charged issues as the war in Iraq, defense spending and even immigration reform have lately been cast in terms that appear to be different from those of many of your party?s leftist standard-bearers in the Senate.
To be convincing, however, you are going to have start demonstrating leadership that genuinely sets you apart in the only way available to a sitting legislator: by casting actual votes in a manner that demonstrates your convictions.
Fortunately, this week you will likely have an opportunity to do just that by voting to help break the filibuster of John Bolton?s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. As you know, this appointment is currently being held up by such leaders of your party?s left-wing as Sens. Joe Biden, John Kerry, Chris Dodd, Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer.
If you truly wish not only to be seen as, but to be, centrist presidential timber, you could do worse than lead Democrats in rejecting the specious arguments your liberal colleagues are making to justify filibustering Mr. Bolton.
In particular, you can demonstrate your familiarity with ? and sympathy for ? the executive branch?s grounds for refusing to go beyond what it has already done to satisfy the critics? demands for highly sensitive documents. Like George W. Bush, as President, you would not want to jeopardize highly perishable ?sources and methods? by making raw National Security Agency intercepts available to Senators other than the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. Like him, you would recognize that, even then, the names of Americans whose conversations with foreigners were monitored must be withheld in deference to the Privacy Act. And like Mr. Bush, you would resist efforts to obtain access to sensitive pre-decisional documents like those produced as part of executive deliberations about the nature of, and policy choices concerning, Syria?s weapons of mass destruction.
Were you not only to break with your party?s Left in allowing a vote on John Bolton?s nomination but actually to support him in such a vote, you would also endear yourself to at least three constituencies that may be important to any general election strategy in 2008:
-- Mr. Bolton is greatly admired by Jewish voters and other friends of Israel ? a constituency that can no longer be taken for granted by Democrats ? for his engineering in 1991 of the repeal of the odious UN resolution equating Zionism with racism. Many who were offended by your longstanding sympathy for the Palestinian cause (epitomized by your controversial kiss of Mrs. Arafat in 1999) believe that a man who was able to achieve this sort of reform at the dysfunctional United Nations should be given a chance to accomplish more far-reaching change there.
-- You also have a chance to make inroads with the Cuban-American community in the battleground state of Florida ? a community still resentful of your husband?s forcible return of little Elian Gonzales to Castro?s island gulag ? by rejecting the pro-Castro sentiments that animate Senator Dodd?s opposition to John Bolton. That constituency understands far better than your colleague from Connecticut the abiding malevolence of Fidel?s regime. They applaud Mr. Bolton?s efforts to challenge the assumptions of intelligence analysts and estimates disinformed by a Castro spy who was, until the fall of 2001, the Cuba desk officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
-- Supporting John Bolton?s nomination would also afford you a chance to demonstrate that not all Democrats believe the U.S. must pass a UN-administered ?global test? for America?s efforts to safeguard its interests around the world to be considered legitimate. Last Fall, millions more Americans voted against this view than for it. You can associate yourself with the majority?s thinking by endorsing the Bolton-negotiated Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) ? a multilateral arrangement established where the UN could not, or would not, act. PSI has made a real contribution to halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, even as traditional arms control approaches have proven increasingly ineffective.
As a former staffer and life-long admirer of the late Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-WA), I am confident that, were ?Scoop? alive and in the Senate today, he would be leading the fight among Democrats for John Bolton?s confirmation. To the extent you wish to enjoy anything like a Scoop Jackson Democrat?s credibility on defense and foreign policy matters as you prepare to seek higher office, it behooves you to do the same.
Alternatively, you can vote as you did last month ? for the Left?s filibuster of the Bolton nomination. In that case, though, you may find the electorate in 2008 telling you, as they say in your adopted New York, ?fuggedaboudit.?