Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hillary Harbingers?

Recent elections in other countries have me thinking that Hillary Clinton will be trading "Senator" for "President" in 2008.

In Chile, Michelle Bachelet became the first woman president in the nation's history. Her remarkable story includes being imprisoned and tortured by Chile's military dictator -- and American ally -- Augusto Pinochet. Bachelet is a socialist who defeated the conservatives in a country long praised by American libertarians as a shining example of free market policies.

In Africa, the nation of Liberia has the continent's first elected woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Angela Merkel was recently sworn in as the first female Chancellor of Germany.

And in Canada, Stephen Harper and the conservatives have tossed out the ruling Liberal Party after twelve years in office.

Wait a minute, wasn't this supposed to be about the new wave of women being elected president? Not exactly. Each of these victories came about in large part because of the corruption and/or incompetence of the prior leader. Yes, being the first woman elected president in a country is significant. But to me, the real story is that voters are sick and tired of incompetent, dishonest governments -- no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.

If Hillary can develop a solid message of reform and "good government" -- no easy task in the face of the inevitable Republican onslaught of "swift boat" ads -- her gender can help bring back the difference-making percentage of female voters that the Democrats need to get into the White House.

Yes, it is true that Hillary is a "polarizing" figure. So is George W. Bush and he has been "elected" twice. The only question is whether Hillary can avoid the fate of the past two Democratic nominees. That is, can she run a competent campaign? It doesn't even have to be as good as the well-oiled Republican slime machine. Hillary's campaign just needs to be average and she will out-preform the dismal efforts of Gore and Kerry.

Some of this will depend on just who the Republicans nominate. Sen. John McCain, who has wide support among independents but much less support among Republican primary voters, would be likely to put a stop to many of the "attack ad" tactics used by the GOP. Unlike Bush, I suspect that McCain would disavow and condemn particularly nasty ads by conservative groups. It's hard to see any other GOP nominee doing that. In any event, it will be a very interesting couple of years leading up to the 2008 election.