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Tilting at Windmills

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January 7, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FALSE HOPES....I don't like to obsess too much over single sentences in presidential debates, but by far the most jarring statment I heard in Saturday's Democratic debate was Hillary Clinton's admonition that "we don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered." This came at the end of her now-famous defense of her record of change, and I think I understand what she was driving at: she thinks that Obama's belief that he can work in harmony with Republicans to pass liberal legislation is a naive pipe dream and that we all need to be a little more reality-based about what it's really going to take to get our policy preferences passed into law.

Which is fine. That's a key difference between her and Obama and she should certainly try to make the case that she's more likely to actually implement liberal change than he is. But what's surprising isn't just that the way she put it was horribly off-putting, but that it wasn't just a momentary gaffe. Back in December, when Obama's poll numbers first started turning up, she said the same thing:

Clinton's response has been to turn aggressive. For the second day in a row, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in national polls sharply attacked her leading rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, using some of the harshest language of the campaign. Arguing that her campaign is in a "very strong position," Clinton hammered Obama for offering "false hopes" rather than action. She predicted that voters will want, in her words, "a doer, not a talker."

This language backfired back then, so why would she deliberately resurrect it in front of a national audience? I thought she was doing fine up until that moment, but I'll bet that "false hopes" line stuck in a lot of craws. After all, I'm pretty sympathetic toward her, and it stuck in mine.

Kevin Drum 12:19 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (76)

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Because she was mad, that's why she said it.

Posted by: Boorring on January 7, 2008 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

...she thinks that Obama's belief that he can work in harmony with Republicans to pass liberal legislation is a naive pipe dream and that we all need to be a little more reality-based about what it's really going to take to get our policy preferences passed into law.

If you think you can or if you think you can't, you are probably right.

If voters choose Obama in a general election and that has been his platform, then at least the voters will have voiced their preference.

Posted by: SJRSM on January 7, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think she was mad. "False hopes" is what is wrong with her right now: she is negative. As she learns that hope is real, she will change. It will be a virtuous cirle, with she, Obama and JE learning from each other and then challenging each other.

Posted by: Bob M on January 7, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Since Clinton's last remaining strength vs. Obama lies in the fact that she commands the loyalties of more registered Democrats, she should be telling a story, talking about the history and the accomplishments of the Democratic Party going back to FDR and JFK, and positioning herself as their proper heir, and then sketching out a vision of the future of the party.

But she doesn't do that; she doesn't have a historical narrative to speak of. She also doesn't have a personal narrative that is all that inspiring. And so the only story her campaign is telling is about her personal accomplishments as senator and First Lady. These are fine accomplishments, as far as they go, but they are puny when compared to the accomplishments of the Democratic Party as a whole; and insignificant when compared to the accompishments of the United States of America as a whole, which is what Barack Obama has been talking about.

Hillary's problem then is that she has no idea how to tell a national story, construct a historical narrative; and she is going up against someone who, as all his speeches and books reveal, is very good at that. And the result is that she comes off looking selfish, unimaginative, and small.

Posted by: lampwick on January 7, 2008 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

As someone who's not on board with the Clinton campaign, I'll admit that I'm surprised at my disappointment in seeing the wheels fall off her wagon so fast. I prefer both Obama & Edwards as candidates, but I have a lot of respect for Clinton -- both in terms of what she's done, and in terms of what she offers the party & the country. It's strange to hear myself saying this, but I'm a little depressed to see her campaign in the downward spiral it's in.

Posted by: junebug on January 7, 2008 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

I thought she was going fine up until that moment, but I'll bet that "false hopes" line stuck in a lot of craws.

Kevin, I saw that exact same line while watching the debate, and I felt the same, way and that's the reason why people are driving to Obama's cause. Even ignoring the seething anger she displayed throughout the debate, her response was dismal.
Rather than telling us to be hopeful, she's telling us to be apathetic. Rather than being optimistic, she tells us to be pessismistic. Rather than dream of the best that America can be, she is telling us to think of what little America can be. America wants a forward looking President not a backward looking one. Obama is everything Hillary is not, and that's why he's going to win.

Posted by: Al on January 7, 2008 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

I saw some pundit mention that at FDR's funeral a reporter asked a crying man if he knew FDR, the man said "no, but he knew me."

This is what Sen. Clinton is fighting now. She wants to talk about being capable and ready to serve, but voters want to hear a message that resonates with what they are thinking and feeling. Sen. Obama is making that message. Sen. Clinton needs to find her way back to the village in order to re-connect with Democratic voters. Clinton was popular in the first place because she was addressing the concerns and hopes of many Democrats and Americans. By addressing capability and realistic goals, she has moved too far away from the internal dialogue her potential supporters are having about the direction they want public policy to go.

Posted by: Brojo on January 7, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with Hillary has been the belief that she would be the front runner, that it was a forgone conclusion.

While I admire her tenacity, I don't think she is what our country needs right now.

What's impressive (at this point- Mon pm) is that more people are waking up to the fact that this election year is going to get interesting!!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 7, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Obama agrees with you because he's been throwing it back in her face ever since the debate.

Posted by: scruncher on January 7, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "This language backfired back then, so why would she deliberately resurrect it in front of a national audience?"

Hillary Clinton's manner of speaking reminds me, unfortunately, of John Kerry. She seems to have a lot of difficulty getting to the point, specifically and succinctly. Every sentence seems to begin with a lengthy stretch of clauses before arriving at the essential nouns and verbs. "We need a president who understands that this country needs a president who ..." blah blah blah.

She sounds like she's flipping through a collection of flash cards with vague, generic, confident or reassuring-sounding phrases, stringing them together to string the listener along until she finds the card with the scripted talking point on it. Unfortunately I found myself wanting to change the channel before she got to the end of any given sentence.

I suspect that she hit on the "false hopes" phrase not so much "deliberately" as because it just popped up in her mental flash-card flipping and she went with it.

I'm not sold on the "Obama charisma" and I didn't understand all the adulation for his speech on caucus night in Iowa; it was just another high-falutin' low-content political speech as far as I could tell. But Obama is at least able to organize words into relatively succinct, and coherent sentences, that effectively communicate the point he is trying to make.

Hillary Clinton needs to cut the average length of her sentences in half, purge them of useless introductory clauses and get to the point.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 7, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I think Ms. Clinton's warning as to false hope does have some basis with regard to Obama, to the extent that he may be overselling the idea of being able to work constructively with Republicans.

Today's Republicans are a mean-spirited and determined bunch. There is little reason to think that they would work constructively with persons of good will. If Obama thinks he can work with them is a spirit of harmony, he may be (1) naive or (2) more willing to cave in to the Republicans than he is letting on.

Posted by: sally on January 7, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

...but I'll bet that "false hopes" line stuck in a lot of craws. After all, I'm pretty sympathetic toward her, and it stuck in mine.

To me, that was like taking a bucket of cold water and dumping it on everybody's head. I don't think many would want to come back for more. All along, I thought it was her *voice* that bugged me, now I think it is what she is saying that's bugging me.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 7, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

she's more likely to actually implement liberal change

Based on what? She's more likely to have some liberal changes around the periphery. On anything involving foreign policy she's likely to continue to be as afraid of appearing weak as she's been so far, except that as president it wouldn't just be her deciding whether to vote for a war/surge/threat, it would be her deciding how the country should respond to whatever new incidents arise.

On health care, she's got another extremely ambitious approach. So give her credit for advocating large-scale liberal change, but what makes anyone think that she'll have a better sense this time around about how to effect that change than last time?

And finally and very generally, triangulation is her "thing". It's how she approaches everything. If she gets veto-proof majorities in Congress that would be one thing, but if not, then I'd expect that she'd give us some big compromises, with some positive changes but not sweeping liberal change.

Posted by: bob on January 7, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Probably not one of her best statements, her point though is that know one can produce what Obama is claiming. It is naive and it is manipulative, he knows he can't produce it, yet he states the rhetoric. Maybe he believes it I don't know, he seems rather egotistical to me, I am not sure that is a great quality. For him to believe he is qualified amazes me. This is the wrong time for inexperience to take the lead.

What can we say about Clinton, She has been attacked for 16 years, part of the reason is that she is a smart female in what is still a man's world. My personal belief is that she will produce twenty times more than Obama.

She raised a great daugther, she is well respected in the Senate, no small feat, she works diligently, non stop. She does the work. Obama hasn't even called a working meeting of the committee he is in charge of. Yet, do we hear about that in the media, no we don't.

Truth is as a culture, we want to believe it is different, and so when someone tells us what we want to hear, we go for it.

I do have hopes that things can improve, I just don't think inexperience can do it. My hope is that a real leader will be elected not a fantasy man.

Posted by: LS on January 7, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Not being talented at language myself I tend to figure out what people are driving at and leave it at that. Or if I'm so inclined I give it the most soulless interpretation possible. Ha ha ha ha! (evil laugh of Charles Krauthammer)

I do think she is a bit ticked off about the goal posts in the presidential race. Folksiness, oratory skills, gravitas, chumminess in beer drinking situations . . . I'd be ticked off myself. But looking ticked off isn't that great I guess. Not folksy enough.

How about the "you're likeable enough, Hillary" comment? I need that one interpreted for me.

Posted by: B on January 7, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Any Presidential candidacy needs to be aware of its own candidate's weaknesses and be wary of taking its own spin too much to heart.

This has always been a potential problem for Hillary Clinton, whose experience with campaigns has mostly been the ones in which her husband was the candidate. Bill Clinton was an exceptionally talented politician able to elicit strong positive emotions from a wide range of people. Sen. Clinton isn't. Moreover she wears an extraordinarily strong sense of personal entitlement on her sleeve; witness her genuine exasperation at Obama's limited experience and the media's lack of attention to it, when her own record of accomplishment -- compared to at least one candidate still in the race and a couple who recently left it -- is pretty negligible.

Basically, Clinton believes she has the nomination coming to her; she is Bill Clinton's wife, she had to put up with all the talk shows and Republican politicians saying unfair things about him, and about herself as First Lady, and forcing all the familiy's dirty laundry to be aired in public and so forth. Think what you want about that, but what the Clinton campaign needs to understand is that most voters do NOT agree that she has the nomination coming to her. They share none of her indignation at Obama's success, and they don't at this point have any reason to think the marginal difference between her achievements in public life and his are any more important than the much greater differences between her experience and, say, Biden's or Richardson's were.

Clinton has still got a shot. The media are swooning now over Obama, and there is genuine enthusiasm for him among many Democrats and some independents. Maybe that lasts, maybe it doesn't, and whether it does isn't entirely up to Clinton. But she does have a chance if she can make a case that Democratic primary voters face an immediate threat that she might be better able to cope with that a candidate who talks in generalities about change and hope.

The threat is recession. In actual fact the risk of recession now is probably greater than it has been for a number of years, and a lot of Democrats who are unhappy about the economy already are more worried about the prospect of a genuine, job-costing recession than is the public as a whole. This, it seems to me, is Clinton's issue. If she can use it to break Obama's momentum, she has some others she can call on later. But running as the candidate who can deal with this threat to the livelihoods of Democratic voters is probably her best bet to stay alive right now. She'd probably have to exaggerate the imminence of recession, and how much a President could do about it. But this is a Presidential campaign and you do what you have to.

Posted by: Zathras on January 7, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a problem I see Clinton having. If she is going to run on the "battle tested" / "ready to take on the attack machine".... well, the _fact_ that Obama seems set to trounce her in NH kind of disproves her tag-line. I mean, essentially one of her main slogans is "I'm best because I'm battle-tested (i.e, will win)." Each victory by either Obama or Edwards refutes this slogan.

Personally, I don't care who gets the Dem nomination. Clinton, Edwards and Obama are each so much better than any of the Repubs (who, even setting aside the past 7 abysmal years of Bush II, are embarrassing enough on their own merits).

Posted by: Noogs on January 7, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

lampwick wrote: "... she should be telling a story, talking about the history and the accomplishments of the Democratic Party going back to FDR and JFK, and positioning herself as their proper heir, and then sketching out a vision of the future of the party."

If you want a candidate who embraces the proud history and accomplishments of the Democratic Party of FDR, and campaigns on a vision of the future for the party and the country based on fulfilling and expanding upon those core values, it's Dennis Kucinich, not Hillary Clinton.

If FDR were campaigning for the nomination today, on a platform of New Deal policies, corporate-owned debate moderators would ask him questions about UFO sightings.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 7, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Whether an Obama (or other Democratic presidency) can accomplish much liberal change depends strongly on the strength of the coattail effect in the coming election. If we win big, the hopes might not be so unrealistic. If we simply win, they will be unrealistic. At this point in time optimism as a strategy makes a bigger win more likely.

Posted by: bigTom on January 7, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK


You might be right as to what she meant by the phrase "false hopes" but the way a lot of us have interpreted Hillary's argument is that what she was saying "Nobody can fundamentally change the system. It is hopeless to even try." In my opinion that is a big reason Hillary is tanking. She is so embedded with the establishment that she is convinced incremental changes are the best anyone can hope to accomplish.

Every new generation has to try. Hillary is unwilling to give real change a shot. That is why she isn't forcefully arguing for real change.

Posted by: corpus juris on January 7, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

This is bad, but Clinton's "action and results" talking point is even worse, since it so clearly brings to mind Bush's "a reformer with results" theme of 2000.

Posted by: aretino on January 7, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

It's a tough message to frame. If you're hoping to pick up independents, a few moderate Republicans, and some of the low- or medium-information voters who are feeling put off by extreme partisanship, it's hardly inspiring to say or even solidly imply, "Look, we're up against an entire party of psychos, dumbasses, self-absorbed twits and reality deniers, and it's going to be a damned rough road." Who responds to that besides geeks like us? Most people aren't even aware of how Republicans are obstructing every move the Democratic majority makes.

There are legitimate points to be made about Obama's optimism not playing out with hard results in the current climate, but surely there are better ways to make them than "Let's not be too positive!" What is she paying Mark Penn for? :)

Josh Marshall had some interesting thoughts yesterday or today about Clinton's campaign being staggeringly unprepared to deal with an Obama boost. This seems like another example of that.

Posted by: shortstop on January 7, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

" ... both in terms of what she's done, and in terms of what she offers the party & the country."

Could you elaborate on what she's accomplished?

Posted by: Buford on January 7, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

This language backfired back then, so why would she deliberately resurrect it in front of a national audience?

—Kevin Drum

Why indeed? Here is some of what Obama had to say about HRC's silly and mean-spirited warning against "false hope":

"Now think, think about that as a concept. Think about that ... not imagine that we're going to the moon and we'll figure out a way to do it. Understand we can't do that. We can't rebuild Japan and Germany after we defeated them in war --that would make no sense. Why would we do that?"

"Imagine the gall to believe that women have the right to vote. They've never had the right to vote before. Imagine a country that was no longer half slave, half free. How can that be? How can you offer people false hopes?"

"We don't need leaders who are telling us what we cannot do. We need a president who can tell us what we can do! What we can accomplish! Where we can take this country!"

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 7, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

What I heard with those comments was not so much that she was the candidate of realism, but that I should forget about the possibility of any real change. No health care for all, no big alteration in foreign policy -- just more of the same, only less so.

Of course, I'm not a fan of Hillary's at all -- I truly don't understand the veneration or the hatred that the Clintons have accumulated over the years. To me, the Clintons stand for assiduous policy competence, political acumen (fortunately growing wan -- Hillary doesn't have Bill's charisma), and holding the line against further Republican outrages -- but never, never, never any progress and too often even regressing (i.e., backing out of Kyoto, unconscionably opposing the World Court, etc.).

Clinton's first job in 1992 should have been rolling back 12 years of Reagan/Bush, but he has always seen his primary job as winning reelection for himself so, after blowing healthcare and gays in the military, he basically gave up on all liberal sounding high profile initiatives and made all Democrats look like somewhat pathetic losers or dishonest pols with no interest in actual progress by association. With nothing affirmative left for voters to be "for", no wonder that a lot of voters were taken with the grandiose promises of Newty and the boys. At least they offered some false hope. Better a false hope than no hope at all.

I, like most other supports of Obama and Edwards, very much realize that deals have to be made and compromises struck. I am no proponent of mindless ideological purity, but the Clintonian style of almost mindless bipartisanship reminds me of David Mamet's famous comment on the role of writers in filmmaking: Referring to the industry truism that writers that "film is a collaborative medium." Mamet responded that, from the point of view of writers, the missing words from the statement are "bend over."

Hillary might well have been repeating the anecdote. I applaud her honesty.

Posted by: Bob on January 7, 2008 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not going to support Barack until he shows me he can kick a Republican in the teeth.

Posted by: bob h on January 7, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's pretty clear what Hillary means. Obama's candidacy seems to be based on the fact that him becoming president in and of itself will solve most of our problems. He's said almost as much himself when he says the world will view us differently. He also suggests that him becoming president in and of itself will suddenly unite Democrats, Independents and Republicans.

No one has bothered to probe why the world will suddenly wake up so different the day after Obama is elected or if that is even going to happen. What she obviously meant, and no one is bothering to pick up on or probe, is that things won't "magically" be different because Obama the man is president. That's the false hope she is talking about, not that we can't make things better.

But hey, Hillary is just a "mean", "cold-hearted", "calculating" "bitch", right? When 20% of Obama's Facebook supporters say a woman can't govern as effectively as a man, I think its pretty clear what's driving Obama's increased support.

Posted by: gq on January 7, 2008 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

They're all pretty much more talkers than doers. The main advantage any of them will have in November is that they are not Republicans.

Posted by: AJ on January 7, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary was angry, so she committed Michael Kinsley's definition of a gaffe, i.e., saying what she really believes. She conceives of change as incremental, and rejects the possibility of fundamentally altering the direction of politics. She had backed off from saying that in her stump speeches because she knows it doesn't play politically, but when she got angry in the debate she let it out.

Posted by: Tom on January 7, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

What she obviously meant, and no one is bothering to pick up on or probe, is that things won't "magically" be different because Obama the man is president. That's the false hope she is talking about, not that we can't make things better.

I've no doubt that's what she meant, and it's a solid criticism of Obama. But when you already know your opponent is running successfully on a message of hope, you'd better be damned careful how you construct a message like that. She's a seasoned politician and campaigner, too seasoned to have dropped this clunker. It was an invitation to be misunderstood by millions.

Posted by: shortstop on January 7, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not going to support Barack until he shows me he can kick a Republican in the teeth.
Posted by: bob h on January 7, 2008

Exactly - and that's why she's saying it. Obama is naive to think he'll be able to do anything working to meet republican's halfway, etc. Hillary knows how these clowns operate, Obama clearly doesn't.

Posted by: NC Dem on January 7, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

I liked Obama until I started having Elmer Gantry flashbacks....I'll just vote for him and keep my fingers crossed.

Posted by: Pat on January 7, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop wrote: It's hardly inspiring to say or even solidly imply, "Look, we're up against an entire party of psychos, dumbasses, self-absorbed twits and reality deniers, and it's going to be a damned rough road." Who responds to that besides geeks like us?

Well, we do keep coming back to Kevin's threads, populated as they are by the psychos, dumbasses, self-absorbed twits and reality deniers who still embrace the modern Republican Party. :)

Posted by: Gregory on January 7, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

bobH, NCDem,

What if an Obama candidacy reduces the GOP to such a small minority that we don't need to kick any Americans in the teeth?

Wouldn't that be even nicer?

Hillary can't deliver anything other than a small margin of victory. Obama evidently is capable of generating a large majority. Please get on board and stop whining.

Posted by: Manfred on January 7, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I will never forget Bill Clinton's words to an Iowa audience in 2004. He said, pointedly to the Dean supporters, "Fall in love, and then fall in line."

It is beginning to look like he will get a chance to take his own advice. Many of us came to Kerry reluctantly, but we came. Now it may be Bill's turn to "fall in line." It will be interesting to see if he is as gracious as he expected us to be.

Posted by: susan on January 7, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I am a contemporary of Hillary Clinton and understand what challenges she has faced. We both graduated from college before the real start of the second feminist movement. I greatly admired the strong feminist Hillary of the 90s. I am infuriated by the sexist attacks on her and the left's failure to fight back.

But it is only when I read the latest sexist atrocity (meltdown) that I suddenly want to support her. Her campaign has been terrible. I hope she knows better, is a genuine liberal, but perhaps women of my generation only feel safe working much harder than anyone and avoiding controversial stands.

I hope that my four daughters' generation can have the same confidence that Obama so abundantly displays. As a radical feminist in the early seventies, I was certain we would have a woman president before any of my daughters were eligible to run. The oldest turns 35 this year.

My grandmother was 21 the first time women could vote. I am 62 years old. I am no longer certain that I will live to see a woman president. And that is horrendous. The first viable woman presidential candidate should not be dismissed as an agent of the status quo.

Posted by: Mary Joan Koch on January 7, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

What she's saying is that the Obama campaign is a cult of personality that a huge number of people are happily buying into. If Mike Huckabee was running on a change campaign and promising to unite the Democrats and Republicans under his banner of conservatism would all of you embrace him?

I thought not.

Don't look for the Republicans to join the Dems under the Obama banner either.

Posted by: Cayce on January 7, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Get a photo of Mitch "the Bitch" McConnell on your desk and leave it there. After a few days, ask yourself whether he and his cohort will ever turn bi-partisan.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on January 7, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I also hear "false hopes" and think she implied "hopeless." I also read into to that a self assured cynicism and ego.
Kennedy had a riff on this subject. Some people a solution and say "why not?" Hillary's legislative "successes" have enabled horribly destructive policies to thrive. If she was going to run on experience, she should have run on filibusters and holds. But I triangulate, err digress. . .

Posted by: Sparko on January 7, 2008 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think Obama's conception of bi-partisanship involves building a broad base of support for his agenda rather than making overtures to the die-hard opposition.

Posted by: Lucy on January 7, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Sen. Clinton had better reread her books. Perhaps at her speaking engagements. It was her message of the village and families' economic issues that created most of the good will that catapulted her to the front of the campaign initially. Without that message, she has very little connection with Democratic voters.

Posted by: Brojo on January 7, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Shoot for the moon and gain the sky, shoot for the roof and you get a hole in your roof.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 7, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

One of Bill Clinton's most effective responses to the GOP attack machine was not to answer in kind. It is entirely possible to undercut irrational opposition without being angry - although there are certainly moments where anger is appropriate. Obama is not my first choice - that would be Edwards - but his background gives me some confidence in his basic instincts. And those instincts are solidly progressive. I'm also encouraged because he is perceived as less progressive than he actually is. If you want progressive policies enacted this is a good thing.

Posted by: Marc on January 7, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Could you elaborate on what she's accomplished?

SCHIP, for starters. That's a significant piece of legislation. While some criticize her for not seeing her healthcare reforms through when she undertook that task, I give her a great deal of credit for putting the issue front & center when she did. She endured heaps of criticism (maybe a smidgen of it deserved, but most of it from batshit crazies who live AM talk radio lives & move their lips when they read -- if they know how to read at all), but the fact is that *whoever* took it upon herself to tackle that issue was going to be thrashed like a redheaded stepchild. She invested a lot of capital in that issue, and she hasn't given up on it. There's also her (decades of?) work on behalf of women & children. Maybe as much as anything, I love the fact that she never backs down from the lunatic fringe, no matter how nasty they get, and she never, ever stoops to their level. I have big problems with her AUMF & Kyl-Lieberman votes, but the bottom line is that, those issues aside, I appreciate the intelligence & tenacity she brings to her work. Plus, I happen to think she's pretty classy -- especially considering the shit folks have put her through (not the least of whom would be her husband). Just my two cents.

Posted by: junebug on January 7, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I found the debate fascinating from a brand perspective. Hilbot is really in a pickle, and statements like "reality check" and "we don't need to be raising false hopes" are absolute death. If she looks shrill now, just imagine the general election.

Now, full disclosure, I'm an Obama supporter. So I obviously wasn't looking at her with the most objective eye. In fact, when Edwards stuck the knife in, and she got all shrewish, I thought "she's done."


While the punditocracy all swooned over the "Gee, I'm nice too" schtick, they missed what was truly her most impressive moment. When the topic was Iraq, Hilbot laid out the real challenges - in detail - of getting out. The contractors. The translators. Businesses. Granular issues.
She was very impressive, and made even me think, "Huh. When it's time to do the hard work, I want her to be doing it."

That is what she ought to lean on.
Don't tell everyone you're "experienced," show everyone you're experienced.
And do it humbly. (Good luck with that.)

Posted by: cazart on January 7, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

She conceives of change as incremental, and rejects the possibility of fundamentally altering the direction of politics.

Posted by: Tom

An Achilles heel when running against a visionary leader who promises transcendent change.

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 7, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

This is the LOSER mind-set of the DLC:

"Roll-over, and let the Republicans do what they want - otherwise, none of us will ever even get elected."

This is precisely where the Clintons are.
This is precisely why Gore lost.
This is precisely why Kerry lost.

Democratic voters *KNOW* that candidates with this attitude are not going to fight for them.

Out with the OLD.

In with the NEW.

Progressivism means: CHANGE.
Clinton means: More of the same.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 7, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not going to support Barack until he shows me he can kick a Republican in the teeth.
Posted by: bob h on January 7, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Honestly, I think that would be a smart move for him right about now.

Pick the Republican front runner, and start hammering him. There would be many advantages to this:

1. He no longer needs to attack his Dem opponents - I think he's clearly beaten them by now.
2. The Republicans are down, they need to be kicked in the nuts, and hard! It's such a target-rich environment, it's not even funny.
3. If Obama can weaken the Republican front-runner; such that an even weaker one gets picked, he'll have a much easier time in the general (I think Obama would have the easiest time beating Huckabee).
4. If Obama can show that he can successfully attack Republicans and win, he'll gain credibility among Dem voters. (No, I don't think it will make a difference to paint him as an "attacker" like Fox did to Gore - remember the 2000 debates? they actually made people feel SORRY for W!).
5. Obama can talk about issues that make him appear more mainstream, instead of him having to outflank his Dem opponents on the left, he can outflank the rightwing extremists by taking a centrist tack. This way he can attract more centrist voters' attention away from Clinton - without having to attack Clinton directly.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 7, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

It's strange to hear myself saying this, but I'm a little depressed to see her campaign in the downward spiral it's in.

I agree. Going forward, HRC has a big decision to make: how to deal with the failure of her campaign. All of these nonsensical criticisms about Obama -- e.g., "a roll of the dice," "false hopes," "talk vs. action" -- need to be dropped -- NOW.

She has a great career ahead of her in the Senate, or maybe a seat on the Supreme Court. Arguably, over the long haul, she can impact policy every bit as much as Obama, were he to be elected.

It looks like she will lose New Hampshire decisively. If so, a strong MSM narrative will set in quickly that she should drop out. Going forward in a negative fashion will put her future impact and legacy at great risk.

Tough call.

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 7, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

I can't support Obama until he gives up this nonsense of talking about working with the GOOPers who have run us in the ditch. I'm an Edwards supporter, but Sen. Clinton is exactly right -- I don't need hope -- I need someone who will kick McConnell and Boehner in the butts.

Posted by: Chup on January 7, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Obama never stands so tall as when he is standing next to Hillary. Best keep her and others around as long as possible, like Apple to Microsoft. We deserve a long debate on the issues. It will help him to "hone his sword".

Same for the repubs.

Posted by: SJRSM on January 7, 2008 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Once again, kevin, you are spot on. I am similar to you in that I have some sympathies with Clinton, and totally agree with your post below about aside from the merits of Obama, I'm angry about the way Clinton is losing. But this phrase of "false hopes" is jarring -- I get the "hope w/o action" meme but why expect us to fail in enacting progressive policies?

Posted by: DC Giants on January 7, 2008 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Let's be honest, Obama is raising people's hopes too high. I believe in pragmatism as I know you do too Kevin.
A classic example of the false hope is the democratic congress. They came to power in Jan '07 promising to end the war etc. Has the war ended? No. And you can see the effect on their ratings - it is at historic lows.
I believe that will be the problem with Obama if he gets elected as president. He will have overpromised and will grossly underdeliver because of the workings of Washington. At the end of the day, he will end up being hated.
That is what we should keep in mind.

Posted by: Leye on January 7, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary has several challenges:

1) There is a sizable faction of Hillary haters out there (including many in the media) who will not be swayed in their opinion of her by anything positive she does -- ever.

2) People are genuinely tired of the political polarization that contaminates our airwaves and punditosphere, even as they continue to contribute to it by mindlessly spouting partisan talking points.

3) Her claim to be a "change" agent doesn't resonate for obvious reasons. People don't listen to plans or policy statements. All they know is that Hillary represents the status quo because of who she is, not what she believes or what she might get done. It's not fair, but it's true.

4) Her claim to be experienced is also pretty weak -- she has only served as a junior senator after all. Richardson, Biden and Dodd had her beat hands down. Being first lady shouldn't really qualify one to lead. I've observed that the "experience" that most people refer to is her experience in repelling negative attacks. Gee, that's real inspirational given points 1 through 3.

Unfortunately, we select our presidents like we select soft drinks. It's all about branding. Hillary's brand isn't that great. Lucky for Democrats that the GOP candidates' brands are even worse or are merely niche products to Hillary's presumably broader based appeal.

I think a legitimate question of a Hillary supporter would be -- Why do you expect Hillary, who inspires so much hatred among the rank and file GOP, would be able to get ANYTHING done regardless of her "experience?" Don't you think obstructing any changes she proposed to the status quo would be a requirement to retain one's Republican bona fides? Obviously any Democrat would have a tough time of it, but Hillary will get no quarter whatsoever. Why would a rational Democrat vote for her? What will she do to mitigate that incredibly unfair but very real handicap?

Change requires four things: A) dissatisfaction with the status quo, B) a compelling vision for the future, C) a clear plan for getting there and D)the resources necessary to execute the plan.

Since Hillary is inevitably associated with the status quo, she needs to work doubly hard on B and C if she wants to win the nomination.

Obama needs to work on C, but he his vision, however vague it may be, is clearly compelling to a lot of people.

If Hillary remains on the defensive and goes negative on Obama, she will lose.

After all, going negative is the status quo when it comes to politics in this country.

Posted by: lobbygow on January 7, 2008 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary is having a difficult time coming to grips with the idea of losing this thing. When Katie Couric asked her a few months back what she would do if she lost the nomination, the answer from Hillary was denial that such a thing was possible. Now that it looks more and more likely, Hillary is coming apart at the seams, and so is her campaign. So much for being "battle-tested"

Posted by: meade on January 7, 2008 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Leye -- Isn't it possible the problem is that the congress over-promised, but that they under-delivered? Sorry, but I'm tired of all the whining. Better to try and fail than to roll-over without having tried at all. There are times when there's absolutely nothing wrong with a symbolic gesture, if that's all you can manage. They failed ever there. Pathetic.

And Osama-bin-Forgotten...Love the passion, baby, but I gotta quarrel with the tactic. Unfortunately, I think you're vastly underestimating Huckabee. If a hardcore Christian conservative with ethical issues can make this deeply humanistic secular liberal Jew sort of like him despite myself with his quasi-populist rhetoric and gentle sense of humor, what are actual Christians, the vast majority in this country, going to make of him? He will by far be the hardest to beat and it's best to let the Republican establishment -- which hates him -- beat him for as long as they're willing and hopefully provide us with lots of great quotes to use against him later. "Even ____ said '_____________." With a little luck, they'll nominate someone else. (I'm hoping they'll give us Mitt Romney. The man will be toast. He's the Republican Kerry on anti-steroids. McCain is doable, but not to be underestimated either.)

Of course, if Huckabee is the nominee, Obama will have to take him on directly. But to do so successfully will require real skill. If he looks like an intellectual bully, it could all be over for Obama. Actually, if it is Huckabee v. Obama, I predict the "nicest" and most spiritual and thoughtful Presidential campaign in history, with all the streetfighting being handled by proxies. In that case, I think it'll be an extremely close election.

Posted by: Bob on January 7, 2008 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

My trouble with the "false hope" attack is that she assumes that she has to defend the American people against some snake oil salesman. She doesn't because people can think for themselves. That is her essential problem. She does not believe that people have the intelligence to understand what Obama is talking about. It is not that she doesn't have hope it's that she doesn't trust the American people.

Posted by: Paul Rice on January 7, 2008 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK
But what's surprising isn't just that the way she put it was horribly off-putting.

I'm confused Kevin, and I ordinarily track with your thinking. I thought this was the same exchange you addressed a little earlier in your post labeled The Pack. In that post you seemed a bit miffed by the people describing it as a meltdown.

All I saw was a candidate making an emphatic point in response to negative remarks by two of her rivals. They want to team up and paint her as the anti-change-establishment candidate. Fair enough.

She had to respond strongly. That horrible last line you are talking about comes across as a simple repetition of her desire to paint herself as a person more ready to implement change.

A mountain out of a mole hill.

For those of you who haven't seen this horrible shrillness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07u6uffKvpA

But careful with the kids. It's rough stuff.

Posted by: little ole jim on January 7, 2008 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

It is kind of amazing that Senator Obama uses the women's suffrage movement as an example in his disquisitions on the meaning of hope while Senator Clinton, the first significant female candidate ever, seems to pooh pooh the whole idea (not to mention the historical narrative).

I love hearing Obama speak! His JKF riffs (we must not fear to negotiate); his MLK riffs (the fierce urgency of now) and his RFK stuff (we will not accept the world as it is but remake it as it should be) are music and poetry and history talking. I hope NH agrees!

Posted by: philip on January 7, 2008 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

It strikes me as honest, true, important, and significant of deeper understanding of history and consequences beyond the immediate episode.

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on January 7, 2008 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

I have to give Hilary brownie points for tenacity. But quite frankly she is part of the Washington establishment wedded to pork and vested interests that we need to defang. Although I am a conservative I could vote for Obama and may still do. Assuming of course that John McCain does not become the Republican's presidential nominee.

Posted by: Buster Bunns on January 7, 2008 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

It strikes me as honest, true, important, and significant of deeper understanding of history and consequences beyond the immediate episode.

Perhaps, but it's still conventional wisdom, and that doesn't seem to be selling particularly well right now.

Hillary views herself as the rational choice for many reasons. Some of those reasons are probably accurate and others may simply be ego reinforcement. But... the voters don't make purely rational choices.

She may be inspired and have vision, but it has not translated so far for the voters. Whenever I hear her speak, the message I get is "I can defeat the vast right wing conspiracy." If she is to be everyone's president, she needs to watch what she is projecting. No one other than reliably partisan Democrats would view her as a heroic, battle scarred survivor of numerous political fights. Most non political junkies don't give a flip about how remarkable someone's political survival skills are.

Posted by: lobbygow on January 7, 2008 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

This primary contest is clearly not going to come down to any candidate's health care plan, or tax proposal, or plan on the withdrawal from Iraq. It is more noetic than that and more simple than that, and alas for Sen. Clinton, more stubborn than a given policy proposal. Sen Clinton's team failed to grasp that she is a deeply flawed candidate whose alienation from, and alienation of, average democrats, is not easily fixable, if at all. The average voter does not want to be lectured by her for the next 4 years. Her formal credentials, talent and intellect are unimpeachable. But that's not the issue.

Posted by: Chewey on January 7, 2008 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

I don't much care for Hillary, but I actually have a lot of sympathy for her on this one -- maybe I'm just irredeemably cynical, but Obama strikes me as awfully pie-in-the-sky, and if Hillary's being "a bucket of cold water," as one commentor put it, well, there are worse things to be. I agree it was incredibly stupid, however, politically speaking; it's astonishing how quickly her campaign is falling apart.

Posted by: Shoshana on January 7, 2008 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama was female and standing up with the current message, would "she" be leading HRC in the polls? Absolutely.

HRC's "false hopes' clearly reflects her own personal beliefs as to her limited capability to change anything were she be elected President - America is demanding more, not more of the same.

Posted by: just guessing on January 7, 2008 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

I don't agree with those who say that her point is the Republicans can't be trusted to work cooperatively. I think we're projecting that onto her. But really, she and Bill have spent the whole last year telling us just how well she has worked with Republicans.

Yesterday, in NH, Bill made a special point of discussing how -- when the Republicans were in charge of the Senate and they were only going to give one seat on some special military reorganization commission to a Democrat -- they gave it to Hillary because she was so good at working across party lines.

I think her point was more along the lines of -- I work harder than you. And if you don't work really, really hard, you won't get it done.

From her standpoint, it's about hard work -- that's why she thinks she's earned the job and he hasn't. True or not, however, it comes across as entitlement. It looks and feels small in the face of Obama's inspiration at this moment in time.

By July a whole lot of things could look at lot different. We honestly don't know how well Obama will wear. Seven months to the convention, ten months to the November election: that's a heck of a long time to ride the euphoric high that Obama is currently on. Of course, at the moment, it feels unlikely that Hillary will still be in the race by springtime.

I would also second bigTom: nothing happens without a big win that pulls more Democrats into office. Obama is more likely to achieve a huge win. Or a huge loss. Clinton, if she wins, wins by a point or two, with weak coattails.

Posted by: bcamarda on January 7, 2008 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

Adding to my previous post, Bill Clinton's other anecdote was Hillary's ability to work with Tom DeLay on adoption legislation, even after all DeLay had done to the Clintons.

It was a frankly amusing moment: he said something about Hillary's being willing to "work with the devil himself," and when the crowd laughed, smiled and denied that he'd been referring to DeLay.

Separately, I should add that Bill (quietly and with an awful cough, and notwithstanding his arguable overemphasis on bipartisanship) actually made the strongest and best case for his wife that I have ever heard.

Posted by: bcamarda on January 7, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

She chose her words poorly, but Obama (whom I support in this election) is being disingenuous in pretending that by speaking of "false hopes," Hillary is merely being cynical, or is adopting a position akin to those who dismissed the possibility of going to the moon or ending segregation. She is trying instead to argue that inspiring oratory is not going to achieve the practical results that are being promised, that it takes Washington experience and influence. That's a good argument for her, but this way of phrasing it is disastrous. Nobody ever won an election by suggesting that voters shouldn't be so hopeful.

At bottom, it seems to me that the difference between them is about how they see citizen participation in government. Hillary is basically arguing that she is the veteran expert, the experienced professional, and that all voters need to do is to choose her to be the decision-maker and then go away and let her and her team do the job they are so well qualified to do. No further citizen input is necessary.

By contrast, Obama is calling for a kind of ongoing participatory groundswell that will provide overwhelming political support for the policies he wants to enact. Obama's vision is rooted on Alinsky-style community organizing, in which pressure is brought to bear on the legislative process from the grassroots. Implicitly, he doesn't need experience in working the Washington levers of power because he plans to inspire a movement that will change the basis of that power anyway, shifting it away from the usual Washington players.

Hillary's technocratic argument from competence is a pretty persuasive one in some ways, given the level of incompetence of the Bush administration. But after years in which ordinary people have been consistently shut out of government and ignored by those in power, with such dire results, Obama's reworking of the Howard Dean message -- "YOU have the power!" -- is what many of us prefer to hear and believe this time around.

Posted by: Patrick on January 7, 2008 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

I think Obama's conception of bi-partisanship involves building a broad base of support for his agenda rather than making overtures to the die-hard opposition.


Whenever I hear people say they won't support Obama because he won't "kick Boehner and McConnell in the butt" or whatever, I want to slap my forehead because they're totally missing Obama's point.

Obama is not trying to reach out to Republicans, he's trying to reach out to Republican voters. But this is not Broder-style centrism. Rather, it's the only way meaningful change can truly be accomplished - by building a broad base of support and a mandate for change.

I like and admire Hillary, but if we elect her we're stuck in gridlock - no matter how many Republican butts she kicks, it won't make a filibuster-proof majority.

Posted by: Tractarian on January 7, 2008 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

Clinton, herself, cannot work with Republicans, not because they are a mean spirited bunch, but because she and her husband are the ones responsible for beginning the polarizing process between the two parties. It is the reason that Republicans were able to take over both the House and Senate 2 years after Clinton took office, for the first time in over 80 years. It is the reason why George Bush was able to run as a unifier, because the Clintons had divided the parties further than they had ever been before. Of course, he went on to take the division to even worse levels of deadlock.

I seriously doubt that Obama will do that. Why? Because he does have experience of bringing people together, people on opposite sides of an issue. Clinton doesnt have that much more time in the Senate than Obama does, so her supposed 35 years of experience includes work other than an elected official. Fine, look at the work Obama did before he came to Washington. It is every bit as impressive as what Clinton has done. And it is experience much better suited to the job that needs to be done now.

Also, in order to achieve fundamental change, we need the American public to work together, as well. Obama is the only person who has proven he can bring young people, formerly politically inactive people and people from other parties together. This is crucial.

Our last two presidents, Clinton and Bush, have been the source of scandals and incompetence that have allowed them to be held up to ridicule by the rest of the world. This is a major part of the change we are after. Hilary Clinton cannot be part of this solution because she is an enormous part of the problem.

If Hilary Clinton were a man, if she had not been married to a President, no one would have given her the slightest chance of becoming President. She is no better qualified, probably much less qualified, to be elected than either Obama or Edwards.

Ready to lead on the first day of office? Yeah, President Bush walked into the Oval Office on the first day of his second term ready to lead with all the confidence of 4 years experience as president. Then he proceeded to drag this country down even further than he had done in the first 4 years. Experience, in and of itself, is not something to be worshiped.

Posted by: Rebecca on January 7, 2008 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

I would never vote for the woman - she is, as I believe Safire wrote, a congential liar. However, the "false hopes" swipe at Obama remains true - but true, too of any politican,including herself.

Posted by: Lee Travers on January 7, 2008 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

Rebecca, please walk through with me how it was that the Clintons "began the polarizing process between the two parties." Cite chapter and verse, please. Because I lived through it and I sure as hell don't remember it that way.

Not when Bill Kristol wrote a memo telling his Republican colleagues to reject ANY health care reform because it would be so successful that Americans would vote Democratic for a generation. Not with the shenanigans of Tom DeLay and his ilk. Not with right-wing judges hiring Kenneth Starr to entrap Bill Clinton, and right-wing fatcats spending millions on the Arkansas Project to find alleged Clinton corruption -- or invent it if it could not be found.

Now if you want to blame the Clintons for the miscalculations that let a bunch of sociopathic Republicans run roughshod over them, that's another story.

As I said before, Senator Clinton was about my eighth choice in candidates. But your post strikes me as revisionist history. Chapter and verse please: how exactly did the Clintons bring on today's era of disunity?

Posted by: bcamarda on January 7, 2008 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Is that what she meant? I doubt it.

Posted by: Luther on January 7, 2008 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

I thought she made a great comeback in the debate by showing some emotion and defending her record, along with speaking to the value of experience, but that "false hopes" thing kinda stuck out for me too, as just unattractive.

Posted by: Jimm on January 8, 2008 at 6:12 AM | PERMALINK

Congress will be butts regardless of which party wins. Obstruction is their business. Self-interest dressed up as state interest is their m.o. A Hillary presidency seems sure to further inflame the bipartisanship. Don't think it would be as intense with any other dem. I just want Hillary to know that she is an OK person, but I don't like her in that "presidential" way. Even if she was my grandma, I wouldn't vote for her. As Geffen explained, I need a better reason to support Hillary than because she's ambitious.

Posted by: Jeff on January 8, 2008 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe she was using the title of his book "The Audacity of Hope" against him and saying hope is one thing, but the kinds of hoping Obama's doing is not realistic.

Posted by: Don B on January 8, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK



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