Friday, August 10, 2007

A Hillary Clinton Weekend: Don't Understimate Her

The other day Hillary Clinton was asked if she was "Black enough" to earn the African-American vote from Democrats. She skillfully deflected the question and highlighted the fact that her Party's candidates included a woman (her), a Black man (Obama), and an Hispanic (Richardson). Then, she added -- I'm paraphrasing -- "The other side [the Republicans] doesn't have that."

She's right. She's saying the Democrats have a diverse pool of canidates, and the Republicans don't. As a lifelong Republican, I wonder: Why is that?

Recently, the Democrats appeared at a forum held by Gay and Lesbian Americans, people who made up at least 4% of the vote in 2000 and 2004. As far as the Republican candidates go, they'd be as likely to show up at such a session as they would to be on stage in a bedsheet at a Klan meeting. Why is that?

If 2008 is a fairly typical election, the Republican candidate will win the majority of votes by Caucasian males. That candidate will also do well with married Caucasian women, especially those who classify themselves as evangelical Christians.

The problem is that, if modern trends hold, we won't do especially well with any other group: Blacks, Hispanic, female professionals (teachers, journalists, MBAs, doctors, and lawyers), people under the age of 30, union members, and gays and lesbians.

Frankly, that's not the way to win elections. It's not even the way to be competitive. It is the way to being what the British call "the loyal opposition," an enduring minority.

At times, such as during the battle over immigration reform, we seem not even to care about offending important voting blocs. During a Republican debate, the question came up about whether elected officials should make English the "official language of the U.S." All the candidates said it should, although John McCain was clearly uncomfortable doing so.

Gee, what ever happened to Republicans being the Party that asserted that government shouldn't go around giving orders about how we should choose to conduct our lives?

How did the Democrats respond to the same question? They didn't think the government should declare English as the "official" language.

Hillary Clinton put it this way: "English should be the national language, but not the official language." I admit Mrs. Clinton really wasn't saying anything in making her distinction. What she did was to avoid offending a voting segment who rely mainly on the Spanish language.

In short, the Republican candidates were pandering to the Republican "base," while Mrs. Clinton was busily building the growing Democratic "base." What she said about the "national" language probably gained her some friends -- and cost her nothing with people who don't like her anyway.

Are we Republicans standing up for some "principle" (whatever on earth it might be)? Or are we just showing a lack of sophistication about politics and the way the world truly works?

There may not be a single important political issue on which I agree with Mrs. Clinton. But I marvel at her ability to do what politicians must: build coaltions and win electoral majorities. She can teach anyone how to win when it comes to voting booths, and we fail to learn from her at our peril.

As everyone has guessed by now, I believe Sarah Palin -- a conservative where Mrs. Clinton is a liberal -- has some of the same political skills. She knows how to appeal to diverse segments of the electorate and to win. Any politician who lacks those abilities needs to find another profession.

More this weekend on "how Hillary does it."

Stephen R. Maloney
Ambridge, PA

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