07
Jan
08

Woman’s Issue

Weboy here. I’ll spare the long introduction – we did it last time. (Yes, I still look like Billy Bob Thornton.)
Speaking of last time, it’s fascinating to me that a year later, my observations on John Edwards, and the issue of New Orleans in the campaign, still seem pretty spot on. I thought then, and it really never changed, that Edwards never Hillaryseemed… entirely authentic, not in a way that would catch on with most voters. That appears to be the case, as his third place poll numbers have never really moved, the campaign has got angrier and more shrill, turning off yet more voters (as I observed after Iowa, I think voters have settled on a vaguely optimistic notion of change that works best with few specifics, not more).

At the time, a year ago, I didn’t discuss Hillary Clinton’s potential campaign… because it didn’t exist. Oh, we all knew she was going to run, but she was still being coy, and it made discussing her “potential” run very oblique and theoretical. Months later, there she was, and it was all real. Red’s made no secret – to me, anyway – of her generally supportive feeling towards Hillary Clinton, and so, I think it’s probably worth me giving her blog my Clinton-ic post-Iowa observations. We don’t entirely agree, but I do know where she’s coming from.

For me, watching the Clinton campaign has been somewhere between mystifying and frustrating – at first, it seemed she’d read the secret handbook on how to launch a Presidential operation, and she quickly established herself as a fundraising powerhouse (even with the whiff of scandal attached), and she draped herself in an aura of inevitability that made discussing her, and her in relation to her opponents, challenging, at best. It was frustrating, if one wanted to see a healthy consideration of all candidate possibilities, that Mrs. Clinton seemed to use up every available extra piece of air in the discussion.
But what was mystifying were the missteps and the mistakes, many of which seemed preventable. Most can be traced back to the decision of Barack Obama to jump into the race, forcing Clinton’s hand when she planned to wait several more months before becoming official. From the start, she seemed reactive to the moves of the Obama camp, though being reactive, put them in a good position to wait until Obama attacked her on the issue of “experience” and respond, successfully during the summer, with a series of well observed distinctions that underlined that experience was not a negative.

It’s clear now, though, that the Clinton campaign had no real argument to respond to the Obama campaign’s message of vague, positive change. Though Clinton hasn’t been helped by a vague media antipathy for her (and her husband) that led them to pounce at the first sign of weakness, the Clinton campaign didn’t help themselves either. The ham handedHillary, too attacks suggesting that Obama’s drug history was fair game, or that kindergarten scratchings qualified as proof of intent (that’s when Red decided to run for Prez, I’m convinced) did not come across well at all, and allowed Obama to take the place he prefers – on the high road, looking off into the distance.

Then too, it was mystifying that, after months of assessing that Clinton had no real shot in Iowa, the campaign decided that they could not afford to skip the caucuses, creating the impression that she was in it to win it. Though her organization was clearly strong (she surprised nearly everyone by doing much better in rural counties than anyone expected), Obama and Edwards had laid considerable groundwork well in advance, and polls that overstated her potential (polling in Iowa being notoriously hard to rely on), set up heightened expectations that could not, really, be met.

What’s been fascinating is that this series of really rather small reversals – the Iowa outcome hurt Edwards more than Obama or Clinton – has revealed a Clinton campaign that’s less effective and less adaptive than even I would have thought. Though many in the lefty blogosphere have bristled over Clinton’s use of Mark Penn, a pollster and PR advisor, I figured his voice was one of many, and Clinton had a strong team that could take on Obama and make her case. That really hasn’t happened, and it seems now that outside of her “inevitability” message, Clinton’s people really had no Plan B for what would happen if Plan A didn’t work. Their response after Iowa was to suggest that they could right their ship by going yet more negative against Obama, suggesting that he’s “getting a pass” where she’s heavily scrutinized, and that if you do look, he’s not everything he claims to be.

It’s an ugly tactic – underneath rests the suggestion that Obama’s getting kid glove treatment over racial discomfort (that anyone, Clinton included, who challenges Obama looks prejudiced on race), a topic of America’s racial history almost no one, ever, wants to discuss. And many people would say you have to play the hand you’re dealt. The Clintons have had this love/hate relationship with the press for a long, long time, and indeed get their reputation as highly seasoned players because they have played things so skillfully, so often. It is, as I said, mystifying and frustrating that Mrs. Clinton can’t seem to adapt to changing campaign conditions, and instead of taking the low road, challenge Obama on the high ground. There’s room up there – something Huckabee seems to know quite well.

In the end, this is not over, no matter how the press likes to suggest that after New Hampshire and Iowa, it will be. Mrs. Clinton’s substantial financial resources, and her ability to call on a wide circle of potential advisors, not to mention the glommed up Super Tuesday calendar when 20 states will decide on February 5th, all suggest the potential to turn thigs around. Still, Mrs. Clinton’s problems may have no more stark example than the man who’s supposed to help her most – Bill Clinton, I think, may not be able to let go enough to accept a campaign strategy that chooses a “forward, not back” strategy that leaves his accomplishments on the sidelines. And that, in the end, may be the point here – for Mrs. Clinton to win, she really has to prove that she’s her own woman.

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