The Winds of Change

Posted: Dec 17, 2007 9:45 PM
The Winds of Change

The great irony of the Democratic primary is that Hillary seems to have won the battle but lost the war. Voters believe she has the best experience to become president but she still can’t get a majority to vote for her. People may respect her accomplishments, or have fond memories of her husband, but that doesn’t mean they like her. Lacking a clear message or rationale for her campaign, and the charm and personality to connect with voters, Hillary now seems intent on winning by going ugly.

Thanks largely to the inexperience of her chief rivals, Hillary has amazingly sold voters on the idea that eight ineffective and scandal plagued years in the White House and seven bland pork barrel years in the Senate make her the most qualified candidate.

Her veteran and dedicated campaign staff, and her ability to raise outrageous amounts of money, led most in the media to anoint her the frontrunner. And she rode her husband’s popularity and her celebrity status to large national leads.

The media, however, failed to consider a few crucial issues: voter’s dissatisfaction with the status quo and Hillary’s utter lack of a compelling message or winning personality.

Hillary’s strongest message has always been that she is the only one tough and tested enough to make it through both the primaries and the general election. Her “experience” argument really meant that she has been battling the “right-wing attack machine” for years and so would know how to fight back. She hoped to combine a liberal platform, strident promises to end the war she voted for, and a reputation as a fierce competitor to win over a liberal base leery of her perceived centrism and opportunism.

The problem, however, isn’t that voters don’t believe Hillary has enough experience; it is that she fails to inspire or excite them. Hillary spent months convincing people that she knew her way around Washington and only to find they were fed up with Washington.

This is where her experience has undermined her campaign. Over the years, Hillary’s privative, almost secretive, nature and introverted personality has been magnified by the perceived slights and scars of her many battles. Her highly competitive nature has led to an instinctive reaction to fight hard and do whatever it takes to win.

But there is a reason campaign managers and staff doesn’t run for office. You need an inspirational leader as candidate; someone to put meaning into the campaign. It is this meaning that Hillary lacks. She has no central reason for running or a clearly communicable theme to her campaign. Her campaign is nothing more than personal ambition writ large.

When you combine this with her off-putting personality, and related reputation as an overly ambitious and calculating politician, the result is an inability to win the hearts of primary voters. For the last six weeks, Hillary has flailed about trying to find a tactic that could make up for this underlying deficiency.

Her first reaction was to try and play the victim as she did in parlaying Monica into a Senate seat. This was mostly ineffective as no one really believed that the clear national front runner was being attacked for her gender.

Her next reaction was to go negative but she bumbled this by focusing on issues that highlighted her own weaknesses. Was Hillary going to win a debate about who was overly ambitious in plotting to become president?

She recently moved from silly to ugly, however, when her New Hampshire co-chair Bill Shaheen raised the issue of Obama’s past drug use by claiming that Republican’s would use it against him. The Hillary was quick to deny knowledge or involvement - and went so far as to offer a personal apology - and dumped Shaheen. But it is hard to believe someone as controlling and knowledgeable as Hillary, and someone as experienced as Shaheen, acted without any communication.

Hillary quickly returned to asking for sympathy running ads with her daughter and mother in a desperate attempt to soften her image with female voters turned off by her negative attacks.

Voters, however, seem to be realizing that Hillary offers little more than empty promises and the ugly politics of the past. Despite her claims of strength, when pushed she turns negative, ugly, and increasingly brittle. Despite her claims of experience, she has traded on the political success of her husband to attain what power she has and lacks a signature accomplishment of any kind.

There was a time when, despite all their faults and baggage, it was foolish to bet against the Clintons.

Recent events offer hope that this time is coming to an end.