What If Hillary Were President?

Dana Milbank asks, "Would we be better off under a President Hillary Clinton?" His affirmative answer isn't very convincing.

Dana Milbank asks, “Would we be better off under a President Hillary Clinton?

Would unemployment have been lower under a President Hillary? Would the Democrats have lost fewer seats on Tuesday? It’s impossible to know. But what can be said with confidence is that Clinton’s toolkit is a better match for the current set of national woes than they were for 2008, when her support for the Iraq war dominated the campaign.

Back then, Clinton’s populist appeal to low-income white voters, union members and workers of the Rust Belt was not enough to overcome Obama’s energized youth vote. But Clinton’s working-class whites were the very ones who switched to the Republicans on Tuesday.

Back in ’08, Clinton’s scars from HillaryCare were seen as a liability, proof that she was a product of the old ways of Washington. But now that Obama has himself succumbed to the partisanship, his talk of a “growth process” in office makes Clinton’s experience in the trenches look like more of an asset.

What experience, pray tell, is that? She served in the Senate for eight years to Obama’s four. Before that, he’d actually been “in the trenches” in Chicago whereas she was married to the president. And it’s not like she — or anyone else who’d been elected — wouldn’t have been battered over the last two years.

Clinton campaign advisers I spoke with say she almost certainly would have pulled the plug on comprehensive health-care reform rather than allow it to monopolize the agenda for 15 months. She would have settled for a few popular items such as children’s coverage and a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions. That would have left millions uninsured, but it also would have left Democrats in a stronger political position and given them more strength to focus on job creation and other matters, such as immigration and energy.

Now, I’m not a fan of ObamaCare. But it’s arguably the most significant step in the Democratic agenda since the Johnson administration. And how was she going to create jobs, anyway?

Clinton, for example, first called for a 90-day foreclosure moratorium in December 2007, as part of a package to fight the early stages of the mortgage crisis with a five-year freeze on subprime rates and $30 billion to avoid foreclosures. But an Obama campaign adviser dismissed Clinton’s moratorium, saying it would “reward people for bad behavior.”

This would have been a wash politically. While it would have been popular with the Democratic base, it would have riled up the Tea Partiers even more. Aside from “rewarding people for bad behavior,” it actually punishes those of us who’ve managed to keep paying our bills.

Some differences would have been stylistic. As a senator from New York, Clinton had good relations with Wall Street. As the heir to her husband’s donor base, she would have had more executives in government – envoys who would have been able to ease the uncertainty about tax and regulatory policy that has been crippling business.

So, we’d have even more Timothy Geithners and Larry Summers? That would have helped . . . how?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. reid says:

    Sounds like a load of Monday-morning QBing, Hillary-fluffing, and concern trolling. I wonder how President McCain would have also done things perfectly….

  2. jfxgillis says:


    Nice takedown. EMPHASIZING, that it isn’t just the mortgage moratorium that would’ve riled up the Tea Party. If it wasn’t that, it would’ve been something else. And the Dem base would’ve been demoralized anyway because she would’ve caved on health care just as Milbank admits.

    All those white proles who preferred Hillary to Obama would’ve turned on her anyway. Anyone else but me notice that Bill Clinton had if anything a worse election night than Obama? He lost the two Senate races he committed to, Ark. and Ken. Obama lost in Ill. but won in Colo.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Would a Hillary Clinton presidency have taken a different tack on the handling of insolvent banks and collapsing auto companies than those of the Bush and then the Obama Administrations? I have no idea. I doubt it.

    IMO anger over healthcare reform only hurt Democrats at the margins—it wasn’t central to the reaction. More central has been that although the stark terror of late 2008 and early 2009 has passed the economy sure looks to be in a holding pattern. Would that have been different under a Hillary Clinton presidency? I don’t see how.

  4. Pug says:

    If Hillary had caved on health care it would have been the second time. These last two years would have been tough for anyone elected president. The real estate crash and financial collapse that devastated the economy were the worst downturn since the Great Depression and it will take a long time to recover.

    Soon, the new Repubicans are going to have to start telling us where they intend to make cuts to the out of control spending they campaigned against. The $100 billion they’ve mentioned in discretionary spending cuts won’t make a dent in the deficits. But nothing makes a politician more unpopular than actual spending cuts. People hate spending cuts. One of Obama’s biggest problems in this election was the spending cuts in Medicare in the health bill. The old folks don’t take kindly to any reductions in their entitlements.

    Having watched Obama for a couple years now, I do think he is inept enough to let the Republicans take credit for tax cuts and let him take the blame for ensuing deficits.

  5. Franklin says:

    There still would have been a Democrat in the White House and two chambers dominated by Democrats, who would’ve been pursuing a pretty similar mildly liberal agenda. I’m pretty sure this would have riled up most of the same people, including those of us who think a divided government is somewhat better than a united one.

    Not to mention, I remember the last time we had a Clinton in the White House. It wasn’t a Muslim from Kenya, but it was Vincent Foster this, Monica Lewinsky that, Whitewater blah blah blah. There’s a fairly successful smear machine producing works of fiction at all times, and now that every crazy bat is on the Internet, it would have been 10x as bad as last time.