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Hillary Clinton isn't as confusing as Maureen Dowd wants to believe

Maureen Dowd has savaged Hillary Clinton for years in her New York Times column.
Maureen Dowd has savaged Hillary Clinton for years in her New York Times column.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Maureen Dowd, who re-revealed her bizarre fetish for savaging Hillary Clinton in this morning's New York Times, used President Obama's recent praise of his former Secretary of State — she'll do well if she's her "wonderful self" — to ask a variation on a favorite question of Clinton critics: "Which self is that?"

"Instead of a chilly, scripted, entitled policy wonk, as in 2008, Hillary plans to be a warm, spontaneous, scrappy fighter for average Americans. Instead of a woman campaigning like a man, as in 2008, she will try to stir crowds with the idea of being the first woman president. Instead of haughtily blowing off the press, as in 2008, she will make an effort to play nice."

Leaving aside the problematic yearning for a female candidate to be one-dimensional, the oft-repeated trope ignores the reality that we actually know a lot about who Clinton is, what she does and doesn't stand for, and how she might approach the presidency. Like her or not, here are five things you can take to the bank about Hillary Clinton:

1) Hillary Clinton is a hawk

Here's how you know Clinton believes military force is a vital component of American leadership and leverage across the world: after she lost a presidential campaign as much for her Iraq War vote as anything else, she remained a hawk within the Obama administration.

Clinton pushed for more troops in Afghanistan, put together the coalition for launching an attack on Libya, and gave Obama important support for the Osama bin Laden raid — all at a time when Vice President Joe Biden, a possible foe in the 2016 Democratic primary, was taking more dovish positions.

2) She believes in redistribution

If there's a consistent theme to Clinton's work and positions as first lady, senator, presidential candidate, and foundation leader, it's that the least among us need more — and that it should come from the "haves." Clinton's failed health-care push during her husband's first term and subsequent effort to create the children's health insurance program point to that bent. So, for the most part, does her record on tax policy.

That said, she doesn't go as far as the most progressive in the Democratic Party on this score. While she echoed Obama's call for ending the Bush tax cuts for families making over $250,000 in the 2008 campaign, she did not want to raise capital gains and dividends taxes to the point that they would be treated as equal to regular income. The Tax Justice blog has a handy rundown of her rhetoric and record on tax policy.

3) She's a lackluster candidate

Take all the qualities you'd want in a presidential campaigner, drain them from the candidate, and you have Hillary Clinton. She doesn't connect with big crowds, she's less than comfortable in interviews, she's even a little awkward one on one, and her worldview — which incorporates a good deal of compromise — makes it hard for her to paint the black-and-white contrasts that are so endemic to modern presidential campaigning. She's no Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton on the hustings.

Then again, she may not have to be: George H. W. Bush, who won the presidency after losing a primary to Reagan and then serving in his administration, hardly wowed his audiences with marketable mass appeal.

4) She's a convener

Clinton, like her husband, rejects the paradigm of solutions coming from either government (Democrats) or business (Republicans). She learned the hard way during the health-care battle that she needed buy-in from industry to create a big government program.

As secretary of state, she formed partnerships among governments, businesses, nonprofits, and academic institutions to raise money and combine intellectual capital. This was done through the Office of Global Partnerships, which was essentially a mirror of the Clinton Foundation's Global Initiative. Once outside government, she continued to build on that model with her husband.

Here's the downside: she and Bill Clinton have taken a lot of money from Wall Street, major corporations, foreign countries with shaky records on a variety of issues — including women's rights — and individuals who are eager to launder their own reputations by aiding the Clintons' philanthropic work. It is reasonable and necessary to ask how often she is co-opting them and how often they are co-opting her, as well as who benefits and who suffers for these relationships. Bill Clinton gave a stunning response to criticism of the foundation: it's "done a lot more good than harm." That's a terrible benchmark for a charity.

5) She's an advocate of presidential power

Hillary didn't much like the way George W. Bush used his power as president, but she voted to give him the authority to go to war in Iraq. She hired Harold Koh, a renowned human rights and international law expert, to be her top lawyer at the State Department, and then used his argument that the War Powers Act is full of holes to justify going around Congress to strike Libya. She showed deference to Obama's decisions and urged fellow members of the Cabinet to buy into his programs and promote them, even if it meant putting their priorities on the back burner. And, of course, she praised Obama's decision — belatedly for some — to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

At a time when many candidates are questioning the wisdom of investing so much power in the presidency, Clinton has given every indication that she holds an expansive view of the role of the nation's chief executive in making policy — at least when a Democrat holds the White House.