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The Hillary Effect
Politics, Sexism and the Destiny of Loss
By Taylor Marsh
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2011 Taylor Marsh
All rights reserved.
Hillary deserved a lot better than what she got from her campaign team.
What if the numbskulls in her campaign had kept their mouths shut and kept their internal bickering private?
The girlie-type gossip coming out of Hillaryland was galactically self-defeating, and nothing was more frustrating than reading this drivel splashed across the web. The orgasmic gloating that ensued because Ms. Inevitable couldn't control her campaign was as predictable as it was nauseating.
What if the national news media hadn't become part of the primary story?
What if the elite Democrats who inhabited the upper echelons of Camp Clinton hadn't been so self-destructive?
How could the '90s Dem dinosaurs not "get" online fundraising, causing Hillary Rodham Clinton to end up writing herself a whopping multimillion-dollar check at the height of the primaries? Had campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe been asleep during Howard Dean's rise? This embarrassing nightmare of a fundraising fiasco galvanized Hillary's fan base, but it also freaked the hell out of everyone. (Since my site was the safe haven for many Hillary fans at the time, I witnessed this first hand.)
What if Hillaryland hadn't bought into pollster and analyst Mark Penn's assumption that the race would be over by February 5, as Clinton herself said off-camera to George Stephanopoulos in December, 2007? It hardly matters that her respected veteran political strategist Harold Ickes believed it too, but it sure does explain the caucus-states clusterfuck that ensued.
What if Maggie Williams, Mandy Grunwald and Howard Wolfson, with Peter Daou's expertise showing the team the way on the web, had been on point from the start?
What if Hillary had known and understood what it meant that Iowa was as backward as Mississippi when it came to electing women?
I know this what-if stuff is insufferable, but I've got to get it out of my system, because it's not just that Hillary lost the nomination due to sexism, compounded by media malpractice and general American misogyny alone. The campaign's own unforced errors ensured political panic and general mayhem. After all, we're talking about a front-runner who blew a thirty-point lead. A male would have been inducted into the political collapse hall of fame for such an epic cave-in. On the other hand, if a male had a thirty-point lead, it's just as likely everyone else would have respectfully folded.
And don't get upset at me for leveling a little Trumanesque truth. Anyone following Hillary in the '90s knew she was going to have a formidable force opposing her nomination from the right. While Democratic primary voters wanted her to choke on her Iraq war vote, so she couldn't afford self-induced mistakes.
What if Hillary hadn't placed loyalty above her own candidacy?
What were Patti Solis Doyle and Mark Penn doing at the top of her campaign pyramid? As campaign mistakes go, we're talking the dumb and dumber of decision making.
What if Hillaryland had remembered Obama's 2004 convention speech and understood he was a formidable — aw, hell, no one believed Obama would be a presidential threat in 2008, a point in time when paying political dues was wiped off the map. (See Sarah Palin.)
Sarah's not a focus of this story, but she weaves through it, her headline role on the right a first, as she followed Hillary's lead, lending her support for other women like Rep. Michele Bachmann, South Carolina's Nikki Haley, who became governor, as well as New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, who bailed on being attorney general to run for Senate in 2010, which got her pegged as "the next Sarah Palin." The last laugh was Ayotte's, however, because she's now sitting in the Senate.
The Hillary Effect phenomenon occurred the moment Fighting Hillary of the late 2008 primary season left the political stage, and the one-time candidate began campaigning for Barack Obama, leaving women and many other Americans with the feeling that a great opportunity had passed us by.
Don't get me wrong. In the Drexel University debate in October 2007, when Hillary was still the front-runner, she talked about her "record of thirty-five years fighting for women and children and people who feel invisible and left out in this country," as well as her efforts in Arkansas in expanding education and health care in that state. But Fighting Hillary wasn't the carrier of her campaign's message, which seesawed from one theme to another, from "In to Win" and "Renew the Promise of America," to "Working for Change, Working for You."
The what-ifs for Hillary began with her Iraq war vote in 2002. No, wait, what was the rationale again? Her vote was simply to authorize George W. Bush to have the power he needed as commander in chief to do what he felt was necessary.
What if Hillary had read the ninety-page classified version of the National Intelligence Estimate? Clinton never said she read the classified NIE, saying instead she'd been "briefed" on it. That story originally broke in the book Her Way, co-written by Whitewater fiction writer Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. Philippe Reines, Hillary's Senate aide at the time (who later followed her to the State Department), confirmed this in a widely reported email, saying Senator Clinton was "briefed multiple times by several members of the administration on their intelligence regarding Iraq, including being briefed on the NIE." Now, only six or so senators read the classified version, which is unconscionable, but one of them, Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Intelligence committee, urged his colleagues on the Senate floor to do so. Graham voted no on authorization, because of what he'd read in the classified NIE.
I don't know exactly when it became cool to advocate that the founders wanted the executive branch to have unfettered war powers without congressional approval or a declaration of war, but it was cemented somewhere around the time of Vietnam. That legacy continued in 2011, when President Obama decided to attack Libya.
Hillary trying to sell Democratic primary voters that she didn't vote for war was like listening to John Kerry say he voted for the $87 billion in supplemental military funding before he voted against it. It was a nightmare. But it's not like Hillary was alone. All potential presidential candidates who were in the Senate did the same thing. No doubt she believed it, because you can't be the first female vying for commander in chief in America and vote against a war in the age of the war on terror. That was the conventional wisdom for good reason: Against Republicans you need your hawk status secured. Chicks must channel toughness. It was general election strategy thinking.
Hillary's Iraq war vote was the beginning of an offensive crouch that would eventually put her presidential campaign on the defensive for the duration. Considering that it also led to Bill Clinton's ill-received "fairy tale" line about Obama's voting record, it's an understatement to say that an apology would have been a hell of a lot cheaper.
But her Iraq war vote didn't take her down.
Timing is everything.
What if Hillary had run in 2004? George W. Bush was the perfect Democratic target, with no clear-cut candidate considered a shoo-in to take him on.
It was an open contest. So began the political "three bears" conversation for Democrats in 2004. Howard Dean had a lot of people behind him, but the Democratic establishment had no intention of letting that happen, even though no one could have predicted how he'd fall. John Edwards was too new. Or was he too slick? John Kerry was possible, but anyone could see the challenges his candidacy raised. From the start there was no clear answer to who could beat Bush, the war president.
So, why didn't Hillary run in 2004? The only thing blocking her was that she'd promised New Yorkers she'd serve out her first full Senate term. If watching Clinton in the 1990s didn't convince you she is a woman of commitments, well, you probably won't get this part of her story either. Even with the field filled with men nobody knew for sure could make it all the way, Clinton's eyes remained on the Senate.
Contrast that to Barack Obama in 2008. He didn't have the pledge problem, or at least, there is no evidence he felt encumbered by it. He likely saw it as an arbitrary line set by someone in the media asking a question he was under no obligation to honor. Even though he'd told Tim Russert on Meet the Press (November 7, 2004) that he'd serve out his full term as senator, Obama didn't miss a beat when he changed his mind. The people would either get over it or not, but he was running. Something told Barack Obama the people wouldn't care about some pledge, and he was right. Besides, he was getting all sorts of encouragement from the Democratic Party establishment under the radar that he'd have their covert support. His instincts took it from there.
Sarah Palin was the same. Sarah Palin got her chance after Hillary exited the scene by riding the Hillary Effect to become the first Republican female on a national ticket. Her galvanizing popularity also gave her the chutzpah to bail on being governor, which was based not on a calling of purpose so much as on an opportunity to cash in. And why shouldn't she? Oh, and it was also based on the media swarm, which she admitted to Tucker Carlson's conservative Daily Caller website in late July 2010: "By her own admission, Palin let the press play a key role in her decision to pull the plug on her governorship."
Sarah Palin was the anti-Hillary.
While Hillary remained committed to the Senate, it doesn't change the fact that a Clinton against a Bush in 2004 would have been quite a battle, perhaps the perfect contest. Two dynasties fighting it out once again, two heirs in different ways, but similarly suited in the game of political warfare. The hard-boiled fighting of Karl Rove versus the famous Clinton do-whatever-it-takes-to-win machine, with even Mark Penn fitting perfectly in this battle of the establishments. She could also have taken her Iraq vote and stuffed it down George W. Bush's throat, using it as an impeachment of Bush's judgment, as the Democratic primary voter was itching for. Getting even for being deceived would have been her sweet revenge. The people would likely have signed on and learned to love it, and she wouldn't have felt forced to say she was sorry for her Iraq vote, which was always a non-starter. The passion she would reveal in standing up against Bush, once commonly judged as shrill or un-ladylike anger, would have come through as tough commitment to a cause and would easily have converted into commander in chief stuff. One is left to wonder if anything could have stopped Clinton.
By the time 2008 came around, everyone was tired of anything tied to the past, which went double for a Bush or a Clinton. Hillary was also tethered to the Clinton '90s, some parts of which people still hadn't come to terms with (and many never will). This would play out in the 2008 primaries, when Clinton's campaign didn't have a solid answer to the "change" cry, which is likely why there was never a consistent message coming out of Hillaryland. Instead, they decided that even after the Keystone Cops routine of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., Hillary's presence inside Bill Clinton's presidency amounted to right-stuff experience. Because the experience pitch had turned out so bloody well during the Bush-Cheney era.
Hillary's adversaries only remembered years of Clinton drama and the failures of "Hillarycare" at a moment when health care was one of the main issues. Movement progressives, a major political force after Howard Dean's incendiary presidential bid and very successful Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman tour, were skeptical of Hillary over Iraq. But the abysmal outcome on health care made them doubly doubtful, though there were other issues too, starting with her husband's Third Way strategy, NAFTA and Wall Street coziness.
People had also started dreaming about the post-Bush era very early. We couldn't wait to put the torturous nightmare behind us.
Hillary was tied to George W. Bush through her Iraq war vote, which Democratic primary voters intended to make her pay for or at the very least explain away. It was a challenge from the start, but by October 2007 she was thirty points ahead. Her lead would be wiped out by the time voting started in Iowa, January 2008.
What if Hillary had begun her campaign understanding what it meant that Iowa had never elected a female governor or member of Congress?
Senator Clinton told a Des Moines Register columnist that she was "shocked" to hear of Iowa's failure to elect a female governor or member of Congress and said it posed a "special burden" for her. "I have to maybe reassure people here maybe more than I do in New Hampshire, which has had a woman governor," she told the Christian Science Monitor on October 26, 2007.
A special burden — was she kidding? Try an insurmountable obstacle, unless met directly. Especially since, according to the Associated Press, as early as June 2007 deputy campaign manager Mike Henry wrote in a campaign memo that Iowa was "our consistently weakest state." Iowa came smack up against the Clinton campaign's inevitability mantra, turning it into a cow pie of presumption.
The traditional and rural nature of Iowa was stacked against her unless she did something to turn it upside down. What if she'd campaigned with her daughter and mother by her side from the start in this state? The quote she would later use about her mother being born before women had the right to vote, as her daughter Chelsea stood next to her representing an empowered new generation, hangs as the mother of all what-ifs. Iowa had been a place where "standing by her man" had polled well during the '90s impeachment hearings, giving her the highest approval of her public life, 67% according to Gallup, which obviously helped her with Iowans. Playing the traditional generational card for all its corn-pone worth was a natural.
Before Hillary finally freed herself of Mark Penn, her political survival instincts seemed to be in the deep freeze. By the time Penn went back to polling patrol, it was too late. No one had figured out what it would take to mount a campaign in an environment where she had to change public perception about who she was.
It wasn't until she'd lost the numbers game that Hillary was freed from the fear of failure, with her loyal supporters pushing her on because they still believed. That's when Fighting Hillary surfaced, an integral part of her persona once again up front, and she started taking it to Obama across blue-collar America. Late in the primary race, Fighting Hillary mesmerized crowds, for a moment making Barack Obama recede from view. Hillary now appeared as the heroine of the middle class in a way that had Clinton supporters wondering what if?
By the time the debt ceiling deal was reached, blogs like Talking Points Memo, the front line in Obama support during the primaries, ran a post with a "Buyer's Remorse?" headline. Thomas Lane wrote, after quoting an email that expressed real anger over supporting Obama over Clinton, "To judge from TPM's inbox that fury is not isolated."
But the power of fan politics ruled in '08.
What if Fighting Hillary had shown up from the start? What if the inevitable Hillary had never been launched? What if?
There are moments you learn about when you're lying in a heap of exhaustion, tears and frustration, when the genesis of things you once ranted about comes to light and pushes you to line up tequila shots.
Take a Clinton campaign anecdote that surfaced in the New York Observer on February 27, 2008. In response to an aide suggesting that Hillary show a little bit of humanity, Mark Penn responded, "Oh, come on, being human is overrated." Yeah, because poll-driven politics is so freaking inspiring.
Emotion is the most powerful force in American politics, and 2008 was the political tsunami of emotion. Nothing beats it. Right-wing radio exists because of it. Talk radio hosts have been rubbing Democratic noses in it for two decades. Far right institutions have been using emotion to drive elections since before Ronald Reagan. Emotion drove John F. Kennedy to make his speech on Catholicism. Karl Rove didn't pull anti-gay marriage referendums in 2004 out of his ass; they came out of emotion, proving the adage that the most committed wins. Emotions drive people to get out and vote and often to make the difference.
When a politician captures the emotions of a moment in time, it's like bottling lightning. It created Barack Obama's voter connection, which Clinton mined as Fighting Hillary.
There is nothing more personal for people who vote and pay attention to politics than their choice for president. The president comes into our living room every single day for at least four years. How people feel about him or her matters. It's not a rational aspect of politics. Emotions fuel fan politics, which attaches voters to a particular politician, rather than the issues. They turn politics personal. The connection can happen in an instant, and facts have little to do with it.
Excerpted from The Hillary Effect by Taylor Marsh. Copyright © 2011 Taylor Marsh. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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