Published on TheHill.com on February 26, 2008.
Whether one likes, dislikes, loves, hates, admires, fears, despises, or envies them, every Clinton watcher has this in common: They are dumbfounded both by the incompetence with which Hillary has run for president and her intransigence at sticking to a failed message. In a demonstration of inability and inflexibility reminiscent of her healthcare debacle of 1993-94, Mrs. Clinton seems destined to fulfill Voltaire’s description of the Bourbon kings of France: “They learn nothing. They forget nothing.”
Even now, with her back against the wall, fighting for her political career, Hillary, presumably with Bill’s acquiescence, insists on making the same mistakes that landed her in the soup. No new tactics, no new strategy, no new message emerges.
Incredibly, both Clintons are harping, once more, on the theme of experience to carry the day. No matter that it hasn’t worked since before Iowa; they repeat the same mantra endlessly – that Hillary can “hit the ground running” on”Day One.” Will they ever realize that voters grasp two essential facts:
(a) That Hillary’s experience is derivative of Bill’s and her claims to his achievements are largely invented and spurious, and
(b) That the real edge she has in experience is her ability to repeat the strategies, tactics, message, fundraising models and campaign style of the 1990s, something modern voters reject emphatically?
Why, after losing 24 states, do Hillary and Bill fail to get these messages? Are they saving up these insights for their memoirs?
And why do the Clintons persist in running a negative campaign even when they can’t find anything to be negative about? Alienating voters with their abrasive attacks without attracting them with their content, they throw pitty-pat punches accusing Obama one day of plagiarism for borrowing speech lines from his close and consenting friend and the next day for accurately describing Hillary’s healthcare plan as requiring sanctions to make those who do not wish to sign up do so against their will (albeit for policies Mrs. Clinton deems to be “affordable”).
If you are going to pay the price of going negative, throw real punches. Hit Obama with big negatives. You take the backlash for going negative in order to pass the lethal message on to the voters. But if you don”t have any negatives to throw and your detectives have, indeed, come up empty, then stop trying to go negative. Stop alienating people to no purpose.
But as obvious as these observations are, they seem to be lost on Bill and Hillary and the geniuses who are running her campaign. Despite defeat after defeat, we still hear about experience and still get a daily dose of so-what attacks on Obama.
The deeper reality of this campaign is that Obama has shown, by his incredible skill in the way he is waging it, an ability to handle himself and a talent for the demands of center stage that show, experienced or not, he is better able to be president than the inept Hillary.
We are watching a grim re-enactment of all of the character traits that led Hillary to decompose in the healthcare debate of her husband’s first term. The blind reliance on a guru-delivered strategy, the religious insistence on following the same rhetorical line even when it obviously isn’t working, the inflexibility in adapting to one’s opposition, and the inability to formulate new strategies or to improvise tactics when her pre-conceptions are found to be so obviously faulty – this is Hillary at her worst.
As citizens, we are entitled to watch Obama’s skill, leadership style, and savvy sophistication and contrast it with Hillary’s doctrinaire insistence on approaches that aren’t working and to conclude that Hillary would be a disaster as president and that Obama would be pretty good. We can, at least, conclude that the same tenacity that led Johnson into Vietnam and may be inducing Bush to risk his party, his reputation and the attitudes of a generation in Iraq may be abundantly present in Hillary.
But we are driven to wonder: Does Hillary’s rigidity stem from a false conviction or from an absence of sufficient imagination and creativity to formulate an alternative course?