Paul Mirengoff has a thoughtful post arguing that conservatives should be less relieved by the large presence of Clinton holdovers — and perhaps Hillary Clinton herself — in the incoming Obama administration. His case is threefold. First, he argues that Bill Clinton’s moderation was largely a product of the Republican Congress and other outside political conditions. Second, even if Clinton was truly a moderate many of his staffers were not. Third, the differences between Hillary and Obama during the primaries may have been more opportunistic than ideological.
There’s a certain amount of truth to all three points, particularly the first. Bill Clinton’s administration was further to the left in 1993-95 than it was after the arrival of the Republican Congress. Clinton made a career for himself as a DLC Democrat in recognition of the more conservative political climate of Arkansas and also to compensate for his party’s political weaknesses during the Reagan era. But it was only after the voters rebuked his turn to the left during his first term that Clinton embraced triangulation.
Nevertheless, the differences between the Clinton and Dean wings of the Democratic Party are not all window dressing or different reactions to existing political circumstances. Bill and Hillary have, since the 1990s, been more willing to use military force (even if not always when U.S. national security interests were most at stake). Rahm Emanuel is certainly more hawkish than your average liberal. And the relevant fact isn’t whether partisan Democrats eventually became critical of an unpopular war initiated by a Republican president — that part was inevitable — but how long it took these Democrats to follow the rest of their party to that point.
The real question mark here isn’t Hillary’s foreign policy views. It’s Barack Obama’s, which may or may not turn out to be more hawkish than either his supporters or detractors suspect. If conservatives do end up liking his foreign policy better than they originally thought, those conservatives probably won’t be the Obamacons.
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