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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
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.
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