Is Hillary the new Hubert Humphrey?

March 25, 2008

Why Hillary’s position may be similar to that of “The Happy Warrior”


Over the last twelve months Hillary has been compared to a lot of politicians. Critics on both the left and the right have called her ‘Nixonian’ while she has made explicit comparisons between herself and Lyndon Johnson. However, I feel that while she does have some of Johnson’s doggedness, a touch of Nixon’s paranoia and both men’s fondness for the occasional (and not so occasional) elbow, there is an even better comparison, in this case with Hubert Humphrey. Like Humphrey she started off her career in 1960 as a Democrat who was clearly from the liberal wing of his party, although on issues like civil rights his liberalism was clearly visionary. However, four years as Vice-President moved Humphrey back into the mainstream enabling him by 1968 to defeat the wild-eyed radicalism of both Gene McCarthy and George McGovern and nearly pull off a huge upset against Richard Nixon that November. Of course the story did not end there. Even though McGovern used shenanigans to deny Humphrey a re-match against Nixon, Humphrey’s stock would rise again, with only terminal cancer preventing him from accepting the 1976 nomination, which was all but offered him to him on a plate, even after Jimmy Carter had defeated all the other credible opponents.

So what does the story of Hubert Humphrey have to with Hillary Clinton? Like Humphrey, Hillary entered national politics in the early 90s as a figure who was seen as very divisive. Even as late as 2004 she was divisive enough for Kerry not to pick her as his running mate. However, like Humphrey she worked hard to reposition herself as a centrist. Some of her hawkish-ness was (and is) undoubtedly a façade, and she was always a very weak supporter of the war. However, like Humphrey she is centrist relative to the left wing of her party. Humphrey’s experience also demonstrates that you can lose a nomination twice, including to an outsider, and still have people begging you to run four years later. More importantly, it suggests that a loss to Barack Obama will not necessarily stop her running for the Democratic nomination in 2012, suggesting that it might be in her interest to keep this saga running for as long as possible, even if she fails to become the nominee this time around.


One comment

  1. Hillary, to me, seems most like Dante’s Ulysses who resided in Inferno for deliberately leading his men to their doom.

    In a “mad flight” to the western hemisphere, Ulysses urged his men in a suicidal course through the straits of Gibraltar and to Dante’s Mt. Purgatory. Ulysses didn’t care about his men, his duty as king of Ithaca, or even his own personal welfare. No, Ulysses sacrificed everyone around him to attain what he wanted: knowledge and power.

    Hillary fits the mold perfectly.

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