Some political candidates come up with new ideas and new initiatives because they really want to help people. Yes, we've all become cynical -- but there are still some of that good kind.
Then there's the more pedestrian, and plentiful, kind of candidate, the one who will say things and present new initiatives not so much to help people (though that's a nice side effect), but to make him- or herself look good -- to give the impression that they're problem-solving go-getters instead of poll-tracking, focus-group-reading, self-seeking hacks.
Hillary Clinton claims Barack Obama is the second kind: all words, no substance. I believe she's not just wrong, but knows she's wrong; she's making false and harmful accusation not because they're true, but in order to win. Many of her supporters, though, still don't see it.
I've been paying a lot of attention to this specific issue -- substance vs. posing -- even, unlike more casual bloggers, listening in and sometimes asking questions during both candidates' regular press conference conference calls and reading all their campaign press releases. I even initially had some reservations about Obama (VichyDems has several of my posts on this), but the more I see of him, the more I'm convinced that he is the real thing. And "the real thing," in politics, is so rare that sometimes we can't even remember what it looks like. And as the campaign drags on, I also see more and more proof that Clinton is the second kind of politician: the kind who only does things if they'll help her, who wants to win more than she wants to do good.
But, as I said, that's hard to show. Then again, sometimes we get lucky:
Yesterday, both Democratic candidates gave what were billed as major economic addresses. But on Thursday a week ago, in an effort to counter Obama's accurate speech that morning about how the $3 trillion Iraq War that Clinton voted for is dragging down the economy, her campaign emailed me (and a few thousand other media outlets) a press release that demonstrates how Hillary Clinton really looks at the world -- and how any concern she has for the real people trapped by the foreclosure crisis is secondary to her goal of persuading superdelegates to award her the nomination.
The Clinton press release is titled, "Must Read: Business Week: Hillary Targets the Credit Crisis. She's stepping up with measures aimed at voters' pocketbook woes." And at first I thought, hey, that's a pretty good coup: a major business magazine sees her as the candidate who's taking the lead to really help people facing hard times in a tough economy. But then I actually read what her campaign had sent out.
Clinton's press release consisted entirely of excerpts from the Business Week article. Not the whole article, understand -- just the "must read" parts (to use their term); the parts that the Clinton campaign most wanted every political reporter in America to read. And I was brought back to the sad reality that all Clinton really cares about is getting nominated.
Boiling it down, here are the two things the Clinton campaign people really, really wanted journalists to take note of (bold emphases are mine):
1. Clinton Is Only Helping Citizens In Order To Win the Votes -- Of Superdelegates:
"Clinton plans to discuss the details of her stimulus plan in a speech on the economy set for Mar. 24. Further initiatives are likely in coming weeks. The idea, of course, is to show voters exactly what Clinton would do to head off the crisis if she were in the White House. ...
"With Clinton's emphasis on pragmatic plans and pocketbook issues, analysts say she could get a bump up if she can convince voters she's better prepared to handle the economy's deepening problems. With the next big primary set for Apr. 22 in Pennsylvania, 'she's got five weeks to show she can really dominate this issue,' says Daniel Clifton, a political analyst at investment firm Strategas Research Partners. 'This could be a huge opportunity for her to rack up big margins.'...
"The fight over Pennsylvania, which has a struggling industrial base, a large population of blue-collar workers, and rising foreclosures, will be critical. Even if Clinton tallies big victories in Pennsylvania or other remaining states, she will probably not emerge with a delegate lead. Yet by nurturing the perception that she's the one to save voters' jobs and homes, she could sway the critical superdelegates to her side. 'Her only case is: I've got the lunch-bucket votes, and we can't win in November without them,' says pollster John Zogby."
2. She's Not Doing Anything For the Economy That Obama's Not Doing, Too: As if to underscore the fact that Clinton's initiatives are just for show, the excerpts that Clinton chose to distribute make clear that there's no substantive difference between the candidates, who both are carefully watching the "Main Street" economy and supporting legislation to help unemployed people, homeowners, and local communities:
"Obama's advisers say that he, too, is studying further plans to address the economy's problems, including measures to extend unemployment benefits and aid communities that have suffered a loss of tax revenues through foreclosures. Like Clinton, he backs congressional plans to refinance homeowners who need cheaper mortgages. 'If conditions remain bad or worse, those are the things we'll push,' says Heather Higginbottom, Obama's policy director."
It's very important to grasp the nuance here. The Clinton folks didn't write the Business Week article, but they did choose which parts of it they wanted to emphasize. And instead of focusing on the parts that might have portrayed her as a true stateswoman working for the common good -- the face she presents at her campaign rallies -- they instead very intentionally chose to focus on the parts that portray Clinton as a shrewd political operator -- the kind that unelected Superdelegates might think is a good match for John McCain in November.
Why would they choose to emphasize the "she's a manipulative politician playing the angles" parts? Because that's actually how her campaign wants the press to start spinning things: that she's trickier than Obama. Why? So that despite the mathematical reality that it's impossible for her to catch up with Obama in the popular vote (she can't win 2/3 of the votes in every remaining state), and despite the polls that confirm more Democrats want Obama to be the nominee than Clinton (even post-Rev. Wright and even in places like California that Clinton won earlier in the race), she can still snag the nomination in August with a "Tonya Harding" strategy: kneecapping Obama so badly that he becomes unelectable, then getting the more craven or beholden Supers to ignore the voters and select her -- just like the Supreme Court ignored the will of the voters and selected Bush President in 2000.
I dislike the fact that the first woman with a serious shot at the Presidency has turned out to be just another manipulative, win-at-any-cost, last-generation, faux-progressive, pro-corporate, power-seeking pol whose chief campaign strategist is (honestly) a pollster, and that she's jeopardizing the whole Democratic Party's chances of winning back the White House by taking her spouse's advice last December to "attack" Obama even if doing so means slinging false and damaging allegations about the person who almost certainly will be the Democratic nominee.
But even more than that, I dislike the fact that Clinton is not only not trying to hide her true nature, she's actually subtly bragging about it. She's willing to appear Nixonian if that will help win over the critical subset of Superdelegates who are so circumscribed by their Inside-the-Beltway worldview, so beholden to the Clinton machine's favors, and so jaded in their view of the democratic process, that they would actually ignore the popular will, and sanction her "kitchen sink" campaign strategy, by giving her a nomination that she can't earn fair and square.
The first flaw merely shows what she is; the second shows that she doesn't even have the decency to be ashamed of it.
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