OK, she wins.
Let’s follow all the conventional wisdom of the moment. Hillary sweeps the primaries, then goes on to rout Rudy or Mitt or McCain or Fred. It is now January 21, 2009, one day after she is inaugurated as the first woman president of the United States. President Hillary Rodham Clinton sits down behind the big desk in the Oval Office, relishing the moment. In walks her chief of staff, looking clearly disturbed. The traditional presidential honeymoon is, he or she says, not to be.
For the first time a new realization dawns. The Bush payback has begun.
President Hillary’s first task, once unthinkably routine for all new presidents, is to replace every U.S. Attorney in the country. The Constitution says clearly that she has every right to do so. But up on Capitol Hill, the pent-up fury of Republicans at the precedents set by Democrats during the Bush years has finally boiled over. The Republican Senate leader has sent word that a single firing of any Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney anywhere in the land will be received with cries of scandal. Investigations will be demanded in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The call will go forth for — you guessed it — a special prosecutor. The Hillary Clinton administration will be barely twenty-four hours old before its very first scandal will be the subject of conservative radio talkers and bloggers. Hillary will proceed anyway, giving birth to a string of new celebrities — a handful of fired U.S. Attorneys claiming that their investigations against a local Democrat have been smothered by the Clinton Administration. Week after week the once humdrum activities of “abruptly fired” federal prosecutors will become the toast of Fox News and the blogosphere as the phrase “Clinton cover-up” once again begins to crowd the airwaves.
Trying to focus on her new health care initiative, word arrives in the Oval that an aging Supreme Court Justice who has been hanging on until her arrival has at last resigned. Before President Clinton’s decision on a replacement has even been announced the word comes back from the Senate: filibuster. Unlike the docile and respectful treatment the GOP accorded her husband’s two liberal Supreme Court nominees, Judges Ginsburg and Breyer, confirming both with not only respectful treatment but overwhelming support, that respect and support was not reciprocated for Bush nominees Roberts and Alito. Both superbly qualified men were subjected to a bitter and controversial confirmation process. Memories of Bork and Thomas, easily stirred, come to life. “I don’t care if we ever confirm her Supreme Court nominees,” says one bitter GOP Senator anonymously. “A liberal Justice has voluntarily resigned. That gives us a 5-3 margin instead of 5-4. As far as I’m concerned we will let it ride until she leaves, whether it’s one term or two. I’ve had it.”
The anger ripples through the reception of the new President Clinton’s appointments to the federal appeals courts. “Remember Miguel Estrada” buttons begin appearing on the lapels of GOP Senators and the GOP Senate Judiciary staff, a reminder of the humiliating treatment dished out to one of the brightest and most capable Bush nominees who was specifically rejected for a seat on the D.C. Court of Appeals because, according to an internal Democratic Senate memo of the day, Estrada’s Latino heritage made him “dangerous” as a potential Supreme Court pick. Names of a number of other Bush nominees are recalled, along with the reception they received. “I thought she was opposed to packing the Courts,” said one Judiciary Republican sarcastically as he announced that unless Hillary sends up a list of one conservative nominee to match every liberal nominee “I don’t give a damn if we ever confirm a single federal judge for the next eight years.”
But nothing causes quite the disturbance accorded the appearance of President HRC’s replacement of General David Petraeus. The new commander, appearing somewhat uncomfortable as he sat in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee explaining why he thought the war on the Iraq battlefield was lost and that it was time to bring the troops home, was told by a snappish Senator John McCain that, “with all due respect, General, for me to think you really believe what you’re saying here would require a willing suspension of disbelief.” With that, Senate Republicans hold a press conference suggesting that the new commander-in-chief is politicizing the military, and that they would be investigating this newest scandal in the Clinton administration. “We had women in the military in the 1960s. Yet she never served a day in Vietnam, did she?” said one leak attributed to a “high ranking Pentagon source.” Rumors fly that the new president’s unwillingness to serve in the military when she was of age, combined with her insistence on withdrawing from Iraq, has won her a new nickname among rank-and-file GI’s as “the Chicken Lady.” Said another Pentagon source when verifying he had heard the sobriquet “everywhere” in military circles, “Margaret Thatcher she ain’t,” an apparent reference to the first female British Prime Minister’s own nickname during the Cold War as “the Iron Lady.”
Now “Impeach Her” tales begin to sweep the House cloakroom. A young Republican member who was a teen-ager during the first Clinton presidency learns that a prosecutor had actually drawn up an indictment of the then-sitting First Lady, and a campaign begins to get the draft released and put on the public record. The confirmation of the new Clinton-nominated Attorney General is put on hold as demands increase to discuss the role of the new President in the hiring of the scandal-tarred and later convicted Arkansas crony Webb Hubbell to her husband’s Justice Department. The new President’s role, and that of her brother and husband in granting last-minute pardons, is put under new scrutiny. Others revive the proposal of Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russell Feingold to censure Bush because of alleged abuses of wiretap laws, demanding censure of Clinton for her role in the invasion of privacy of numerous women allegedly targeted by Clinton-supported investigators during her husband’s career.
When the President addresses the nation to announce her new health care plan for kids, Republicans quickly demand a plan to “save the seniors first” with agreements to “fix Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” regaling the press with instance after instance of “failure and corruption” in the nation’s largest government run health care programs. Bumper stickers appear proclaiming “Don’t Give Britney or Hillary Custody of the Kids.”
Demands to “hold the movie industry accountable” begin surfacing, with calls to investigate the connection between record-breaking entertainment industry profits and the bankrolling of Democrats who protect their interests as films were made attacking Bush policies, effectively making films like Michael Moore’s Sicko and Fahreneheit 911 and George Clooney’s Syriana as well as Rob Reiner’s first Clinton-era The American President in-kind contributions to the Democratic Party. “You want tax hikes?” laughs one GOP member of the House Ways and Means Committee? We’ll triple Rob Reiner’s.”
And so it will go. The Clinton Vice President will be hit within days of his own swearing-in to open all his private meetings to press coverage, or to have transcripts of each and every word provided to the American public. A failure to comply will launch lawsuits from any manner of conservative watchdog groups. The role of professional environmentalists appointed to the Interior Department or the EPA will be scrutinized for ethics violations, with appointees from the environmental movement unhappily realizing their dream of being treated on a par with appointees from the oil industry. Any public criticism of holdover Bush-appointees at the CIA will be cause for calls for a special prosecutor.
It’s too bad. But out the window will go solid criticism based on genuine philosophical differences, the once-upon-a-time gentlemanly art of agreeing to disagree that made Republicans famous (or infamous) among their own ranks.
What Democrats lost with the election of George W. Bush, so furious were they over failed attempts to…ahhh…shall we say “appropriate” votes they did not win in Florida, was the ability to serve as an agent for positive change while Bush was in office. Instead, they spent much volumes of videotape bungling their time in opposition, giving way to an urge to feel good instead of do good. Feeling good specifically meant tossing over the side a legitimate role as the party of the loyal opposition, giving in to Bush Derangement Syndrome and the frothing demands of the American Loony Left. In so doing they finally exhausted the patience of conservatives. The spoiling for a fight attitude, however unhelpful and even destructive it may be in turn for Republicans, will rule the day.
In reality, it is far too early to hand the 2008 election to Hillary or anyone else. But make no mistake, if in fact Hillary Rodham Clinton does in fact emerge as the next president, being tagged “the Chicken Lady” will be the least of her problems.
Based on the treatment she and her party accorded to George W. Bush, it is safe — very safe — to say one thing right now.
Congratulations, Madame President. The honeymoon is off.
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