Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

While We Still Have Her to Kick Around

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is more than $20 million in debt, and Slate’s “Hillary Deathwatch” rates her chance to win the Democratic nomination at 1.7%. According to David Letterman, her campaign has become America’s most expensive fantasy camp.

The what-went-wrong stories are already appearing. The most noted, and best reported, is Michelle Cottle’s in The New Republic. She got “more than a dozen” Clinton campaign staffers to offer, anonymously, their post-mortems. None of them will startle anyone who reads the papers. My favorite, because it betrays the disorienting effects of working 90-hour weeks in a campaign’s echo chamber, is, “I don’t think anybody in America doesn’t think she can do the job. What they’re dying for is to know a little bit more about her.” It turned out that lots of Americans, including millions of Democrats and independents, had grave doubts as to whether Hillary can do the job, and were hoping desperately to avoid learning even one more thing about her.

Some Democrats, eager for the loser of their contest to go away quickly and quietly and not complicate the winner’s task in the general election, are partial to the most forgiving explanation of the final result. It holds that the only thing that really “went wrong” was that Hillary happened to run in a year when she faced a political phenomenon. According to Michael Tomasky, the only way a “relative unknown” like Barack Obama wrests a presidential nomination from the most famous woman in America is that he “wows people. He strikes an emotional chord that the better-known quantity, with all her formidable advantages and skills, just couldn’t strike with as many folks.” Had Hillary run the same campaign against the field from four years earlier, according to this theory, she would have steamrolled John Kerry and Howard Dean, and everyone would be writing stories about the strategic brilliance of Mark Penn, the managerial talents of Patti Solis Doyle, and the devastating cable TV charm of Terry McAuliffe and Lanny Davis.

The problem with this theory is that it’s too soon to tell whether Hillary Clinton was a good candidate who lost to an excellent one, or a lousy candidate who lost to a decent one. Barack Obama will have to win in November, to give the generous assessment traction. And even then . . . Jimmy Carter was a relative unknown who (barely) won a general election when the Republican opposition was battered. He then spent the next four years as president, and the subsequent 28 as an ex-president, diminishing the political reputation he established in 1976. No one would think to offer a kind word today for Morris Udall or Scoop Jackson by saying, “After all, he did lose to Jimmy Carter.”

Knowing only what we can know today, the fact that Hillary Clinton, with all her advantages, couldn’t beat an opponent who was a state senator as recently as 2004, then won a U.S. Senate seat only when his Democratic and Republican opponents’ campaigns self-destructed – a guy who, as the GOP consultant Alex Castellanos says, “just paid off his college loans a couple of years ago” – argues just as easily that she lost the 2008 nomination as that he won it. The eventual story may be, not that it was her bad luck to run against Obama, but his good luck to run against Hillary.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Looking to a future of as yet uncertain reputations, you put it very nicely.

Dear Mr. Voegeli: I think your analysis underestimates Obama. George Bush deserves much of the credit for creating a condition that benefits Obama: Bush is not an inspiring speaker, in the manner of Ronald Reagan. After eight years of GW, the electorate is receptive to such inspiration. Obama does this very well, when he has time to think about what he wants to say, and can say it without interruption. (The cut-and-thrust of a press conference or a debate is quite another tale.) He has great power on such occasions, and this has helped him so far in this contest. To be sure, many of us have the reaction Grover Cleveland did when he listened to one of Woodrow Wilson's speeches when Wilson was president of Princeton University: "Good speech. What was it about?" Eventually 50% of the Obamaniacs will have this reaction. Whether they will have it in time to save the nation from Jimmy Carter, Second Series is another question. But for now, immensely aided by the liars and dolts of the press, Obama's speaking skills are carrying him high.


Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

20 million is chump change to the Clintons. The Democrat party would assume her debt just to get her out of the race, and the Clinton's know that. The Clintons are not troubled by the debt, except to the extent that it betrays a weakness in her campaign, and an unraveling of her support.

The smart play for her is to stay in the race, and be available to her party if the false messiah's halo should tumble to the Earth.

None of the stated theories mention the Liberal Media going for Obama early on. With the media in his corner he never had to go beyond the sound bits. He never had to provide those pesky details that tend to get candidates into trouble. He was permitted to be the candidate of HOPE. It was another case where the Liberal Media operated in its own best interests. And while it did reveal Hillarys negatives nor did it support her. I suppose the Liberal Media is as tired of the Clintons as is America.

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