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February 07, 2014 10:22 AM Just the Kind of Advice She Needs

By Ed Kilgore

One of the most difficult things about being Hillary Clinton right now is the abundance of gratuitous advice she is receiving about how to conduct a presidential campaign she may or may not have already decided to make. Some self-appointed advisors may be speaking from a genuinely disinterested point of view while others clearly have axes to grind. Check out Matt Bai’s murmurings into the ear of HRC today, and ask yourself which camp he falls into.

Bai’s basic argument is that Clinton will seem more “authentic” if she defies the logic of moving in the same direction as her party.

The mainstream of the party has now veered back toward its more populist and pacifist instincts, venting its suspicion of the emerging military-digital complex, along with outright contempt for the wealthy and for conservatives generally. That’s not where Clinton is. She maintains close relationships on Wall Street, where executives are not so secretly pining for her return to the arena, and she’s advocated a firmer American hand around the world, most recently in Syria. Her worldview reflects the governing establishment of both parties more faithfully than it does the Democratic base….
Should she ultimately run again, Clinton might actually do herself a greater service by holding her ground….
Clinton could tell the Democratic voters of Iowa and New Hampshire that, yes, inequality is a defining problem for the society, and yes, America risks becoming a surveillance state resented around the world. But the answers don’t lie in demonizing her financiers or the intelligence agencies she knows well, or even in ridding the earth of Republicans. The answers lie in tossing out the outdated orthodoxies of the last century and wrestling more thoughtfully with the technological moment, as Bill Clinton started to do in 1992.

I’m reasonably sure what that line means is to avoid doing or saying anything too popular.

In any event, what interests me about Bai’s advice is less its ideological character than its out-front psychobabble about “authenticity,” which boils down to a willful defiance of both objective reality and public opinion and a surrender to stereotyping. We will hear a lot of this sort of “let Hillary be Hillary” talk, which its “Dare to Be Stupid” undertones of challenging her to fight the liberal zeitgeist whether or not it makes a bit of sense.

Now it’s true Clinton, like Obama before her, and her own husband before that, has every reason to let people project their own differing perspectives onto her; that’s how you build coalitions. But it’s probably not a real good thing for her if word gets around that her “rationale for candidacy” is to protect the Democratic Party from its hostility to Wall Street and the Pentagon.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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