The Clinton Nexus: Critique and Purpose

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, 7 June 2016, after vote projections achieved a majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic presidential primary. (Detail of photo by Steve Sands/WireImage)

As editorials in the guise of reportage go, Niall Stanage’s effort to get into the presidential race for The Hill isn’t as completely terrible as it could be:

In the general election, Clinton can offer a depth of policy experience that far exceeds that of Trump, who has never held elected office. But she also has no slogan as simple and straightforward as his exhortation to “Make America Great Again.”

It’s a failure that some Democratic insiders find perplexing.

“It’s not clear what the over-arching message is yet,” said New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “It is clear that being the anti-Trump has some value; it is clear that offering economic policy has some value. But there is no over-arching message.”

An anonymous Democratic strategist asks, “What’s her vision for the country?” In a way it seems a pertinent question, but in the end it is just another reporter complaining about a non-traditional year.

Part of the difficulty, Democrats say, resides in Clinton’s cautious personality and her past political experiences. Her tendency toward incrementalism doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker slogans, but she learned the hard way how tough it is to enact sweeping change. Her push for health care reform during the first term of her husband, President Bill Clinton, ended in utter failure.

Those past political experiences help explain why Clinton exhibits a mild disdain for the soundbites that Sanders and Trump―and other candidates―can deploy so readily.

When Clinton met with Black Lives Matter activists almost a year ago, she told them, “Look, I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”

Her arguments are such moments may well be fair, or at least plausible. But “change allocation of resources” is not the kind of call to thrill the masses.

In addition, some people suggest that the sheer length of Clinton’s record means that it is hard for to her to gin up the same enthusiasm as new arrivals on the political scene.

Trump “can say anything and he gets applause because he’s fresh and new. She doesn’t get the same applause because she’s not fresh and new,” Sheinkopf said. “It’s more difficult for her than it is for him because Trump has no political history and can therefore say anything and do anything.”

The answer exists within the explanation; it’s just not necessarily apparent because we are all supposed to be looking elsewhere. Stanage’s entire article orbits a presupposition that Hillary Clinton is making a mistake, yet here we encounter an occasion when the question of a mistake seems counterintuitive.

“Part of the difficulty”, as Stanage explains, has to do with perceptions of “Clinton’s cautious personality and her past political experiences”.

Which have been largely successful.

And apparently lead her to the Democratic presidential nomination.

Which Stanage reports is somehow indicative of “struggling”.

And it is easy enough to suggest sexism, but there is also the general matter of Clintonoia. To wit, one of the obvious reasons Hillary Clinton shows such high negatives in polling is that she has had a long, successful career in the public eye. And the whole time Republicans have run a sleaze machine against her, and while these decades of wilful, vicious lies have done their damage, conservatives have been utterly unable to defeat her. There comes a point at which the high negatives actually speak to Hillary Clinton’s credit.

Additionally, this is, as noted, a year defying traditional political norms; the proposition that Hillary Clinton should defy her usual defiance in order to accommodate some vapid expectation of doing things the way the press says it should be done, or a blue-state Democratic strategist with fewer tactical concerns about the scale of the Party’s big tent, only reminds that people aren’t paying attention to Hillary Clinton’s actual success.

It is hardly obscure to suggest Democratic critics are worrying that Hillary Clinton is not behaving like a less-talented politician.

Or, as Stanage put it, “Her arguments [at] such moments may well be fair, or at least plausible. But ‘change allocation of resources’ is not the kind of call to thrill the masses.”

It is not supposed to be.

Consider the contrast; to the one:

Her tendency toward incrementalism doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker slogans, but she learned the hard way how tough it is to enact sweeping change. Her push for health care reform during the first term of her husband, President Bill Clinton, ended in utter failure.

Those past political experiences help explain why Clinton exhibits a mild disdain for the soundbites that Sanders and Trump―and other candidates―can deploy so readily.

To the other:

The [unnamed] strategist added, in relation to the Clinton campaign, “I think they might be overthinking it. Yes, she’s got the experience and the knowledge and the intelligence to lead the country. There’s no question about that. What people want to know is where she’s going to lead it.”

It’s a messy contrast, and difficult to figure just why a professional political strategist would, in the face of Hillary Clinton’s track record, think now is the time to tack into the superficial waters where the Clinton political machine has, historically, floundered.

And that’s also how Stanage closes; the article is a strange back and forth, but primacy and recency seem worth observing.

Primacy: Stanage opens with a lede that serves for a thesis:

Hillary Clinton is struggling to provide a clear rationale for her presidential candidacy, even after clinching the Democratic nomination and surging ahead of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump in polls.”

Recency: Stanage closes with a reiteration of the underlying question invoked by that thesis, that Hillary Clinton is making some manner of mistake.

In between is a brief consideration of real history, which disagrees with the thesis.

It is difficult to calculate the contributing factors and their proportions. Is sexism involved? There are perhaps no male politicians on par with Hillary Clinton, so it might be problematic to wonder if a man in the same position as Hillary Clinton would face such doubt or receive the benefit of confidence that he knows what he’s doing? What about Clintonoia? The Clinton political machine generally moves forward with astounding consistency despite a quarter-century spent doubting everything they do. And what of the trope about the press manufacturing stories in order to present the sort of sensationalism that helps draw audience and thus boost advert revenue?

Because the result is curiously contradictory, verging on paradoxical. In a year when voters witness a clear contrast between theatrical, sensationalist politicking without a care for reality and steady, sober, realistic leadership―the latter having received the endorsement of a strong majority of Democratic voters―the criticism is that Hillary Clinton is somehow mistaken for not shrugging off that successful track record in favor of playing a role as circus clown jezebel.

This is why politics are especially depressing, these days. It is almost as if the marketplace is absolutely determined to feel as miserably as possible in order to complain about feeling miserable. To wit, The Hill is not some tabloid rag; Niall Stanage is not some cheap, FOX News hackα. But this is where our discourse wanders, and let’s face it: This is stupid.

And for the press, it seems well enough at this point to wonder why.

____________________

α Okay, that’s not fair; even if I disdain the manner or even fact of Stanage’s article, it’s still leagues better than what FOX News puts out.

Image note: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, 7 June 2016, after vote projections achieved a majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic presidential primary. (Detail of photo by Steve Sands/WireImage)

Stanage, Niall. “Hillary struggles with going big in campaign message”. The Hill. 3 July 2016.

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