Written by Liz Mair. Liz is a Republican-Conservative and dual US-UK national. Previously based in London, she now works as a political columnist, commentator and consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and writes daily at www.lizmair.com.
In Thursday's Telegraph, beloved bike-riding Conservative MP Boris Johnson made a startling announcement. He wants Hillary Clinton to be President.
Readers in America, familiar with Boris’ unique brand of humor and Britons’ reputation for sarcasm, wondered whether his endorsement was an effort to meld Blackadder with real life-- or whether, just maybe, he’d gone a tiny bit mad. Whatever the case, Boris’ backing of Hillary is likely to raise a few eyebrows—and turn a few stomachs, as well—not least because of his rather odd reasoning.
Boris says he prefers Hillary first because she’s a better candidate than the likes of Barack Obama or Fred Thompson. Second, unlike Republican Rudy Giuliani, her single marriage has endured. Third (and most importantly) she’s married to Bill Clinton—and having him back in the White House would be great.
Boris earns a pass with regard to the first point. Hillary is indeed a better candidate in the purely professional sense than other presidential contenders. Nary a week passes in which her staff is not praised by pundits for the tightness of its operation. She is consistently crowned the winner of Democratic debates, courtesy of her perfectly vague, yet smart sounding sound bites. And, the quality of her candidacy is obvious when one considers that, according to a recent LA Times/Bloomberg poll, nearly 50 percent of Democratic primary voters now back her.
But, determining that she should become president because she and Bill haven’t pawned their wedding rings? That’s likely to strike many on both sides of the Atlantic as questionable. Setting aside whether the ability to resist filing for divorce is really a “must-have” quality in a Commander-in-Chief, the fact is that the Clinton marriage is kept going in large part due to political calculation. Hillary would certainly not be where she is today without Bill. Bill, for his part, would look like an overgrown lager lad on holiday in Magaluf were it not for Hillary.
True, some might see in Hillary’s willingness to stick with Bill evidence of cool-headedness that Giuliani might be said to lack (the announcement of his most recent divorce certainly looked like an exercise in inconsiderate, on-the-hoof decision-making). But, cool-headedness in this case also looks like cynicism-- and to many American women, in particular, weakness. After all, Bill is well-known for his philandering, and many have wondered just what kind of a doormat would put up with such behavior, regardless of the political advantages in doing so.
But it is Boris’ third basis for his endorsement of Hillary that is most curious. Certainly, Bill Clinton is beloved by many at home, and abroad as well, and it’s not surprising that his admirers would like to see him back in the White House. But if he ends up there, Bill will not be the 44th president—he’ll be no more than a trusted adviser.
Does this have advantages? Certainly. Bill benefits from political experience that Hillary does not have and would no doubt make her presidency function more smoothly. But he would not be in the driving seat, and given the ideological differences between him and his wife, the results would definitely not suit Boris, who is himself several miles to the right of Bill.
Take for example the issue of free trade. Bill was an advocate of it, and ran as a supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). His wife recently called for trade agreements to be reviewed every five years (with the widespread assumption being that if the results of the review looked negative, they would be nixed).
Or welfare. Bill, with pushing from the Republican Congress, reformed and cut it. His wife, however, recently introduced, and then swiftly withdrew, a proposal to give every child in America a $5,000 baby bond—a scheme that would effectively have every kid in the country taking government handouts from the second they emerge from the womb.
Or taxes. Bill supported cutting capital gains taxes. His wife, by contrast, wants to raise them—and heftily.
Boris is certainly aware of all this, yet settled on Hillary he is. It’s little surprise, then, that a commenter on his own website should ask: Has Boris finally taken leave of his senses? Only Boris knows—and he’s not telling. Watch next week’s column for signs of support for Gordon Brown.