The question itching le tout Washington is simple: why won't Hillary Clinton do the decent thing and quit? Well, my friend Mike Crowley has a grand piece in the latest edition of the New Republic that may explain why. The Clintons have been here before and, against the city's expectations, prevailed. Mike suggests that we should view Hillary's campaign in the light of her husband's impeachment. It's a persuasive thesis and, frankly, one that leaves you kicking yourself for not thinking of it before. The parallels cannot be exact, but they're sufficiently compelling to be useful.
As Mike lays out the scene:
The Clintons find themselves victimized and under siege. The presidency is being stolen from them. The press is out to get them. They deride elites and champion the masses. They live in a constant state of emergency. But they will endure any humiliation, ride out any crisis, fight on even when fighting seems hopeless.
Hence her appeal to byapss Washington and throw herself upon the mercy and common sense of the American people. It worked for Bill, so why not for Hillary too?
Populism is potent in the hands of many politicians. But the Clintons have perfected their own brand of it. Impeachment taught them that the specter of defeat could endear them to the public. It's no coincidence that, before several major primaries, Bill Clinton emphasized that Hillary's survival was on the line, or that Hillary's campaign has advertised rather than ignored efforts by pundits and party leaders to force her from the race. She has styled herself as a populist largely by adopting the pose of a fighter--one battling an elite political-media establishment that cares little for ordinary people (as exemplified by her derision of experts who trashed her gas-tax holiday proposal as a gimmick). What working-class American can't relate to feeling stepped on by the fancy-pants establishment?
True enough, but it's also worth recalling, I think, that this sort of self-pity -and self-indulgence - was a major contributor to Clinton's presidency being less than it might have been.
Beyond those particulars, however, one gets the overall impression that the Clintons feel Obama shouldn't be here in the first place--that this "young man's" very claim to power is itself questionable. In this sense, the Clintons may be victims of their own sense of victimhood. The vileness of the Clintons' past enemies seems to have convinced them that their enemies always are, by definition, in the wrong. And that Obama's candidacy is almost like another illegitimate attempt to steal a White House that, in some sense, belongs to them.
This too seems plausible. One point I'd add that tends to be ignored (including by me) is the question of why the Clintons should feel the White House belongs to them. I'd hazard there are two connected ideas at work here: firstly, there's the sense that eight fat years of peace and prosperity haven't given Bill (and by extension, his wife who, remember, aspired to be something of a co-President at one point) the place in history they dreamt of when first they arrived in Washington.
That way, a second Clinton administration offers a chance to correct the historical record, leaving the George W Bush years as just an awkward inter-regnum. History can be rewound and the project can begin again. Rubbing against this sense that history has not given Bill his due, however, is something else: the chance to take a Mulligan and have a second go. The Clintons are owed a second shot at the Presidency precisely because they didn't achieve all they wanted first time around. A hostile Congress didn't help, of course, but they must also recognise that Bill's recklessness deprived them of their chance to make a grand, historical impact. In this sense, then, there's the feeling that they need a secod go at the Presidency because Bill's first and final two years were largely years of failure. In other words, the Clintons feel they have unfinished buiness on Pennsylvania Avenue. Thus, a Clinton restoration would, paradoxically, be a confirmation that Bill's presidency was significant and a chance to complete a long list of unfinished business...