The Real Origin of "Clinton Fatigue"

This week sees two big articles about the Clintons, one on Hillary in New York magazine, and one on the Clinton Global Initiative (but also about Hillary) in The New Republic. So it isn't too surprising to see Salon's Joan Walsh pen an article titled, "I have Clinton fatigue—and it's not even 2014 yet." I don't have much of a problem with any of the particulars Walsh cites, but since this is likely to be the first of about twelve zillion articles on the phenomenon of "Clinton fatigue" over the next couple of years, it's as good a time as any to point out that there's something problematic about the whole notion.

There are, without doubt, legitimate gripes you can have about the Clintons, whether it's their Third Way ideology or their accompanying comfort with corporate America (and of course, one can argue that in both these things, Barack Obama isn't much different). You can have legitimate concerns that Bill Clinton could find a way to "distract" (wink wink) from his wife's campaign. But I can't help but suspect that the real problem here is an emotional one, and it's about how Democrats felt in 2008.

That campaign, whether you joined the Obama bandwagon early on or only after he defeated Clinton in the primaries, was something magical. It not only promised deliverance from the long miserable period of the Bush years, when liberals felt so beaten down, it came in the form of a candidate who seemed like everything they ever wanted in a champion. Barack Obama wasn't just one of them, he was the person they wished themselves to be—cosmopolitan, erudite, confident, skilled, and yes, multi-racial in an increasingly diverse America. We are unlikely ever to see 2008's like again, and it isn't too early for liberals to feel nostalgic about it.

You can look at a potential Martin O'Malley or Andrew Cuomo candidacy and say that it probably won't be particularly romantic. But a Hillary Clinton candidacy definitely won't be. We know that because we already know her.

And I mean "romantic" almost literally. The 2008 Obama candidacy was a romance between him and liberal voters. Romance is all about discovery, the excitement of the new, the thrill of venturing into unknown territory with someone as you begin to know them. Perhaps most importantly, romance also allows you to reimagine yourself as you're seen through this new person's eyes. And that was the most important thing about 2008: how it made liberals feel differently about themselves. They weren't weak and defensive and they weren't losers. They were brave and strong and smart. They were history's actors, forging real, meaningful change with every yard sign and phone call and Facebook post. They were the future.

We can't ever have a romance with Hillary Clinton, because we're already in a relationship with her, one that's over two decades old. A successful Clinton candidacy isn't going to allow liberals to reimagine themselves. She could turn out to be the greatest president in American history, but the beginning of that presidency won't give liberals the thrill that 2008 gave them.

Of course, that thrill didn't last—eventually the romantic period with Barack Obama ended, and now it's just a relationship with him, too, for better (people's lives improved in many ways) and worse (too many compromises, not to mention the continuation of too many Bush policies). But when we hear about "Clinton fatigue" in the days to come, particularly when liberals say it, keep in mind that 2008 was the anomaly. Hillary Clinton may not be able to make you feel that way, but chances are you'll never feel that way again about any candidate ever again.

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