Maggie Haberman is out with a terrific piece today, titled “Hillary Clinton’s delay: Frozen field or human shield?” In it, Haberman quotes smart sources who are able to make pretty compelling arguments either way.
Since the “frozen field” theory is conventional wisdom, here’s an excerpt of some of Haberman’s sources making the more interesting “human shield” argument:
“To be honest, people start these campaigns far too early,” said [former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed] Rendell. “The desire to keep a Democratic president will still be strong [within the party] … it’ll be a more compact campaign, and to that extent maybe a less damaging and divisive campaign.”
Democratic strategist Steve Murphy, who has long supported the Clintons, agreed, saying, “most of what” candidates do this far out from an election “is blow money and commit gaffes.”
Considering we’re talking about a very accomplished woman whose early career was overshadowed by her husband’s — before being pushed aside by Democrats in 2008 (in favor of Barack Obama) — the notion that she might now be just a “human shield” ought to sound at least a tinge patronizing.
In any event, this strikes me as (at worst) willful misdirection, or (at best) wishful thinking on the part of partisan Democrats.
First, the human shield argument presumes there is someone out there, waiting in the wings, worth protecting.
In football, a well-placed block can be a big bonus if there is someone running with the ball behind the blocker. In the case of Hillary, however, this seems like a bit of misdirection. At some point, a Democrat will have to run in the open field with the ball. Is there anyone on the left worth taking a bullet for?
Second, I think we need to grapple with the following philosophical debate: Does protectionism make us stronger — and does competition and trial and error make us weaker?
Now, anyone who has watched the GOP’s struggles these last two presidential cycles knows the problems associated with having a weak field exposed to too many debates. But let’s not forget the fact that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also engaged in twenty-some odd debates. And it’s pretty clear that Obama grew as a candidate during this time.
Meanwhile, consider how Gov. Rick Perry — whom most everyone assumed would be terrific — floundered on the national debate stage. Of course, he entered the race fairly late, immediately jumping in the deep side of the swimming pool. (Gen. Wesley Clark suffered a similar fate when he got into the 2004 Democratic primary late in the game.)
This is not to say that there might not be some good to come from this for Democrats, but it is to say that the happy talk sound to me like a plausible, but misleading, argument.