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May 12, 2008

Hillary Clinton Was the Near-Perfect Candidate . . . Too Perfect


Now that we have a fairly good idea that the candidacy of Hillary Clinton is finished, let the afterglow begin. That is, let begin those few moments when we reflect on a news story that has occupied us for what, in terms of news coverage, was an eternity.


The Democratic nomination was this year not supposed to be the big story in the race for the presidency. That was supposed to be the Republican nomination, where the once-dead John McCain came back from the grave and won the nomination with what appeared to be relative ease. It was supposed to be Hillary Clinton who was the anointed Democratic candidate, with this year meant to give some campaign time and experience to Barack Obama.


That was, of course, before anyone cast a vote. When people began to have a say, it turns out that they were of a very different mind. (This raises the question, the answer to which threatens to refute Clinton’s argument that she’d be the best suited to beat McCain come November. If she can’t win her nomination using her own party’s rules, why should anyone expect her to beat the Republican in November according to a different set of rules?)


The problem is that Clinton should be approaching as perfect a candidate as you can find. She’s capable of raising huge sums of cash, has good name recognition, is well aligned with popular opinion and the issues, and Republicans essentially threw everything and the kitchen sink at her during the ’90s. Plus, there is the tenacity that is keeping her in the race even after basically everyone else knows that she’s finished.


How she let it all slip away will no doubt keep a generation of political junkies interested. Hindsight will provide some valuable insights, but it will also allow important impressions from the moment to slip away. Those impressions are important.


What you hope isn’t lost in time is the feeling that Clinton turned into the sort of politician who would nakedly give voice to whatever fool notion came to mind in order to win. This was most notably on display towards the end of the race for Indiana and North Carolina, when Clinton endorsed a gasoline tax holiday. An idea panned by both auto industry insiders and economists, it also promised next to nothing in real savings for American taxpayers who understood they were being pitched a hustle.


This, too, was expressed by the campaign’s war on the English language. Politics the last few years have become especially diluted by jargon and double speak, and after it became clear that superdelegates would be necessary to give Clinton the victory, her camp started attacking the term superdelegate as not the official terminology of the Democratic Party. Rather, they argued – including the online encyclopedia Wikipedia – that the correct phrase was “automatic delegate” to soften the term describing people whose support came to be the lynchpin of the Clinton strategy.


Early on, the knock against Hillary Clinton was what appeared to be a shameless ambition.


Everyone understands that you don’t accidentally become a front-running presidential candidate, but there is also looking too much like you want something. Anyone who paid moderate attention over the last decade already knew Clinton coveted the Oval Office, having won a place in the Senate as a carpetbagger to New York.


Her “say anything” campaign contributed to that, making it look like her desire to be president was the only reason she sought the office, not that she wished to help the nation solve its problems.


This is the kind of thing that can be expected to turn people off, and it’s a helpful lesson for future campaigns. You can be the front runner, but you ought to hold off on declaring yourself the victor until at least the voting starts.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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