Where were you when you came to the panicky realization that Hillary Clinton was right?
For me, it was while driving to work one recent morning and talking with a colleague about the state of the health legislation. I was explaining how the Obama plan wasn’t really about universal coverage but rather cutting a deal with the insurance industry and then making it look good for liberals.
I paused, realizing that I had just repeated, almost verbatim, the lines that Clinton used to bludgeon then-Sen. Barack Obama during the Democratic primaries.
As they debated in Cleveland — the nastiest of their one-on-one matchups after John Edwards dropped out to spend more time with his families — Clinton charged that Obama wouldn’t play tough enough and would get rolled by the insurance industry.
Her words came back to me: “Senator Obama’s plan does not cover everyone. It would leave, give or take, 15 million people out.”
I expected to look into the rearview mirror and see her sitting in the back seat cackling and wearing that suit that looked like it had been plucked from the wardrobe trailer of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
I shuddered as I did the math. The plan backed by the White House would cover about 94 percent of Americans, leaving about 15 million without coverage. And as an added injury, under the Obama plan, the uninsured will now be paying fines for the offense of not being able to afford what will be more expensive coverage.
Not that Clinton’s plan would have been an idyll of Austrian economics and American self-reliance.
The weight of her mandate would have crushed businesses and young workers with a vengeance, but it would have been real, honest socialism. And everyone would have been covered.
With the mumbling, accidental socialism of Obama, the insurance companies get richer and the middle class gets to pay more for less care. And what the working stiffs don’t pay, senior citizens will sacrifice in the form of Medicare cuts.
That’s why so many liberals are now remembering Clinton’s other line from the Ohio primary of March 2008: “Shame on you, Barack Obama.”
Most conservatives had their moment of regret for Clinton’s loss long ago when they realized that Obama was completely out his depth.
It started during the period of “The Office of the President-Elect” and continued as Google proved better at vetting members of the administration than the transition team.
For those on the Right chiefly concerned with foreign policy, the lament about Clinton’s miserable campaign continues to deepen. They believe that radical Islam and Vladimir Putin will prove to be tougher adversaries than the insurance industry and the senior senator from Maine. The defense-minded Right is still thinking about the 3 a.m. call, and not the one from the Nobel Committee.
But for most conservatives, Obama’s incompetence is his best attribute. While it’s true that the president may dither his way into more trouble in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he may prove no worse than Jimmy Carter when it comes to deliberately weakening America’s position in the world. As Ronald Reagan showed, America can be made strong again.
But conservatives know that they never would have had a chance with Clinton. Where Obama has overfilled his plate like a kid at Thanksgiving dinner and now stares at an unappetizing mountain of cold mashed potatoes, Clinton would have taken measured bites and finished the whole feast.
By the end of her second term (oh, yes), Clinton might have undone the Republican Party for good, turning it into a marginal force that could occasionally block the majority but never really rule.
Clinton spent a lifetime studying the levers of power and 16 years getting ready for the top job. In fact, she was so busy preparing to be president that she let Paul Begala and the other faded glories from her husband’s political shop handle the whole getting-elected part.
It was a truly terrible electoral effort only outstripped by the hapless, fractious campaign of her friend John McCain.
But had she won, there’s no doubt that she would have ground up the bones of her enemies and baked chocolate chip cookies with them. Obama, though, has proven to be the only person who could make the GOP look reasonable again after the misadventures of the Bush years.
Conservatives can console themselves with the thought of 2010 and beyond.
For liberals, though, the strange, sad longing for the woman they rejected has only just begun.