Hillary gave a speech to the Democratic Leadership Council on Monday, and all hell broke loose. The funny thing is that if you actually read it, you'll see it was largely Democratic boilerplate with only a few vague rhetorical gestures toward the center, as Mickey Kaus pointed out. But lefty bloggers lost their s---, helping Hillary position herself as a centrist without actually acting like one. As Kaus wrote, "it's now also clear that her shift to the right doesn't have to be that dramatic, because the ... press is ready to interpret even the subtlest, most insubstantial shading as part of Hillary's New Moderation. She can get credit for centrism without having to actually take too many positions that the left would disagree with."
I don't understand why people are falling for this. Even the very smart Matthew Yglesias claimed that Hillary is a moderate:
Ron Brownstein's article on Hillary Clinton and the DLC twice asserts that she was once seen as a "champion of the left." The question is: by whom? Not by the left wing of the Democratic Party which has always, and correctly, seen her as a moderate. Not by the moderate wing of the Democratic Party which has always, and correctly, seen her as a moderate. Instead, she's been seen as a left-liberal by conservative propagandists and the public at large.
However, as I showed before, Hillary actually is a liberal according to the best indicators we have. Her Poole-Rosenthal DW-Nominate score (the standard in political science) rated her as the 12st most liberal member of the Senate in the 108th Congress -- substantially to the left of the Democatic mean. And this is after her supposed turn to the center in the Senate. Here's the chart again:
If she's a moderate, then Carl Levin (13), Pat Leahy (14), John Kerry (16), Chuck Schumer (18) and Chris Dodd (20) are practically centrists. You would think the left would be thrilled at the prospect of a nominee with a more liberal voting record than Kerry, but instead they're freaking out.
In the end, this reaction is very strange, but it certainly helps Hillary reposition herself stylistically, if not substantively, as a centrist. Kaus's readers may have it right:
Several readers have suggested that Hillary Clinton is only attempting a mirror image of the trick George W. Bush used to gain the presidency in 2000: Set a moderate tone ("compassionate conservatism") while making sure the fine print pleases the base.
If so, the question is whether that trick will work again. It depends on the underlying political circumstances (Bush's popularity, the state of the economy, the war in Iraq, etc.), but I doubt it. The way the press incessantly portrayed Bush as a "different kind of Republican" seemed driven by a combination of his charm, Clinton fatigue, and reporters' dislike for conservative ideologues like Newt Gingrich. It's hard to imagine that sort of dynamic lasting very long with Hillary given the way she's been treated by the media in the past.