I have never warmed to Hillary Clinton. I was a big fan back in the early days of Bill’s administration, when she appeared to be sharp and committed to liberal ideas. After the failure of the health care initiative she faded from my consciousness, only to reappear as a political hawk in the Senate. My initial good feelings toward her faded as she seemed to swing right, she seemed to pander towards conservatives. I pretty much lost interest at that point. The social justice-driven person that I had truly admired seemed to have disappeared into the politician. With none of my favourite Democrats appears to be running for President (Al Gore, Elizabeth Edwards, Howard Dean), the field is dominated by three candidates that I find impressive, but still can’t quite manage to connect with.
It is in this context that I came across Michael Gerson’s article in today’s Washington Post. His description of her as someone rooted in the traditions of liberal Protestantism made me re-think my opinion of her. Gerson writes:
Clinton is neither secular nor awkward about her faith. She cites her Methodist upbringing as a formative experience, with its emphasis on “preaching and practicing the social gospel.” As a teenager in 1962, she heard and met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago — what would have been a profound experience for a spiritually alert youth — and was later politically radicalized by his assassination. The likely Democratic nominee participates regularly in small-group Bible studies and is familiar with the works of Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the theological heroes of mainline Protestantism (and of some stray Evangelicals like myself).
At this point you’ve got my attention. But then you have to ask yourself – isn’t that the point? Do I really want to reconsider Hillary because she uses the right code words? I mean, it’s great to see a Democrat try to appeal to liberal Christian traditions (after all, the mainline churches played a key role in the Civil Rights movement, the women’s rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam war, and have worked for the rights of the poor for over a century), instead of trying to be “Republican-lite” and appealing (half-heartedly) to evangelicals. But is that really good enough? How do you drop Bonhoeffer’s name, and vote to go to war? And while a theocrat who follows Jim Wallis instead of Richard Land would be a major improvement over what we currently have, I still don’t feel comfortable with anyone who seeks to blur the line between church and state.
The Gerson article makes me rethink Hillary a little. It adds an angle that, to me, isn’t a negative one at all. But it doesn’t do anything to move Hillary to the front of the pack. This isn’t 2003 – Clinton, Obama and Edwards are all much more charismatic than Kerry ever was. They are all people I could get behind, get enthusiastic about. But I’m not, yet.
H/T Howard M. Friedman.