Why Clinton Lost: Too Soon a Bulldog

July 29, 2008 9:37am CST
Her politics never really thrilled me, but then I was never thrilled by Bill's, either. Both of them had a tendency to compromise when I thought they should stand tough, and stonewall when they should have been open. The whole third way / DLC tactic looked to me like nothing more than an excuse to call weakness a strength, and I could never see any relationship between what passed for moderation and the success that Bill Clinton had in 1992. Hillary's health care plan may look pretty good, especially in retrospect, but the process that produced it was both Byzantine and self-defeating. Bill and Hillary were as much responsible for its failure as Harry and Louise. But then my perfect politician probably doesn't exist, and when I compare the last seven years to the eight years under Clinton, it's like comparing midnight and noon. I was ready to cheer on Hillary's 2008 campaign and excited to see a woman not just as a candidate, but as the early favorite. There was, of course, just one little thing: that vote. You know the one I mean. By 2008, I wasn't going to be satisfied with an "if I knew then, what I know now." I wanted a full out realization that pre-emptive war is wrong prima facie. Voting yes on going to war in Iraq wasn't a matter of being misinformed, it was a matter of making an immoral decision. Hillary's failure to recognize that rankled then, rankles now, and will continue to be a burr under my blanket until I die or she repents. Even so, the excitement of having a woman and an African-American among the top three candidates was irresistible. When Obama took Iowa and Clinton took New Hampshire, I settled in for the best political show of my life. But for me, the show ended in South Carolina. It was there that the Clinton campaign took two unfortunate and related turns. One was a shift away from ideological differences with the Obama campaign, and a turn toward basing her case along demographic lines. The second was the full emergence of Bill Clinton, bulldog. In many presidential elections, the vice-presidential candidate often gets that bulldog job. It's the veep who throws out the tough statements, allowing the presidential candidate to glide along above the controversy. The veep who says the things that may be below the belt, but which leave doubt in the voter's minds. This season, Bill Clinton took on that role. But there's no room for a bulldog in primary season. His actions served first to cause fissures in the party, and then the campaign became about those fissures. Tearing them open generated votes by causing the same kind of fear that's soured that last seven years. There may be a need for a bulldog in the fall, but not in the spring. A campaign run on splintering along demographic lines caused a loss of faith among those who put the good over the party over any candidate, and for a primary campaign, that's a fatal problem.
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