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How Hillary Clinton blew it

What the Hill happened to her?

Hillary Clinton had everything on her side, it seemed. Name recognition. A nationwide network of political contacts from a generation of party work. Dozens of endorsements, albeit from aging singers, pols and athletes. A vaunted political operation from her husband's numerous successes. Her popular husband himself. A detailed grasp of policy. A steely determination. A sharp, calculating mind. More than $100 million. And, until Thursday night, a sense of inevitability about her Democratic nomination and even coronation as the next president, the first first lady to do that, and a triumphant return to the White House.

Now, BOOM! That's gone. She blew it.

But how?

Turns out, a lot of those alleged advantages were actually negative baggage. Every presidential election is about change. She tried to persuade a record 239,000 Iowan caucusgoers that she was the change agent, the anti-Bush, who would end the Iraq war but probably, maybe, likely not bring all the troops home right away. Then she tried to talk about our future by talking about her past.

Her "experience" was being first lady at the end of the last century, though the documentary proof of her active policy involvement remains locked in an Arkansas library. Then, the New York Times discloses...

... that she never got intelligence briefings during her White House years and had no security clearance. So how involved would that make her?

As proof of her experience, she talks about her fights. The past ones, which we all probably remember, maybe too well. Her struggles, which she saw as against entrenched health care, insurance and vast right-wing interests, but many others saw as surviving the wandering eyes and hands of an errant husband whom many of her gender would have walked away from.

Then, because he is so charming, popular and politically astute, as unlikely proof of her independent accomplishments the alleged feminist inexplicably and repeatedly trots out that very husband, who ends up outshining and out-talking the person who's supposed to be the candidate. A Clinton dynasty after a Bush dynasty? Is that change?

Her prevarications over driver's licenses for illegals and the revelation of her planting questions in allegedly open public forums added to her image of calculation. Like Bush, she stopped talking to the press, a controlling strategy that can avoid some mistakes but looks defensive, even suspicious.

More importantly, it's a preventive strategy that forfeits any opportunity to shape her own image as a likable human. What's her favorite color, movie, recent book, snack food, TV show, whatever. When, at the urging of a CNN debate producer, Clinton was asked something as stupid and sexist yet simple as preferring diamonds or pearls, she liked them both. Is there some pearl lobby PAC that donated to her campaign through Norman Hsu?

Contrast that losing approach to the winning communications strategy of, say, Mike Huckabee, another Arkansan from Hope who hasn't found a radio or TV show he won't go on to talk about losing his first election, playing the guitar badly but fondly, or once being so fat and fond of couches that he had to lose 110 pounds and start exercising or die prematurely. He'll be on eight morning shows today. 

When we see the Clintons standing there, together, even holding hands -- another calculation which was, to be very honest, pretty hard to view as genuine -- so many of us could see them more as tired reminders of the fatigue and the lingering distaste with all those scandals, storms and that messiness of the pre-9/11 era the Clintons are so proud of enduring. Travelgate and Monica and the pardons and all the rest. His loss of congressional control for six of his eight years. To return to that is progress? Or change? Who wants either?

Turns out, not as many Iowans as were attracted to the bright, energetic, young Illinois senator, an articulate activist who can just stand there in his black skin and be a symbol of change. True, he has what two, three years of experience in Washington. Which, in Washington, is not good. But, you know what? Given the way most of the country now views Washington, its choreographed partisanship, stubborn gridlock and daily rhetorical grenade-lobbing, two or three years there is far better than four or five there.

But Obama was also right about the Iraq involvement, and he talks intelligently and optimistically about hope and bringing people together. He seems genuine. She plays the gender card, talks about breaking the ultimate glass ceiling and living the dreams of 90-year-old women who couldn't vote when young, despite the bullying of the "boys" in the presidential club. But, you understand, she's not running as a woman candidate. She did get the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, which for Democrats is a dubious distinction since none who got that endorsement over the last 20 years have gone on to win the nomination.

Barack Obama doesn't even mention his race, not even to deny he's running because of it. And if many Iowa Democrats were worried about his preparation for the Oval Office, he knocked them over with his rousing Jefferson-Jackson dinner speech in November. His continued rolling out of credible programs. His poise and grace under attack. And as the debates progressed, his growth in confidence and willingness to, politely but firmly, confront Clinton directly.

And then there were those Christmas ads. What a contrast! Two adults, both independently accomplished, sitting, smiling, in a home by a tree, with their cute little girls wishing all the other families "Merry Christmas" and, to touch the other religious bases, "Happy Holidays."

And Clinton's Christmas ad, which just oozed sadness. A lone woman on a couch with no family; where was her husband this night? She's surrounded by gifts of government programs, which she intends to award to the American people as a queen would. "Now where did I put that universal pre-K?" the family-less wonk asks no one in particular because there's no one else there. Merry Christmas indeed.

It's early yet. Every presidential campaign endures setbacks. That's part of the American chief executive testing process. Mitt Romney's enduring that tonight himself. George W. Bush came roaring out of an Iowa success in 2000 and ran into a 19-point New Hampshire whacking by John McCain. There are many primary elections to come and Obama and Huckabee will surely get their turns at losing some.

The Clintons have survived worse defeats and humiliations, though not third place in Iowa. But in a tumultuous political system where, in 1992, Bill Clinton could become known as the Comeback Kid for not finishing first in New Hampshire, many unlikely twists are still possible this year. Even likely.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Comments () | Archives (19)

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Excellent summary.

I've never been a "take from the poor to give to the rich" kind of guy.

I've never believed her marriage was based on love; just political ambitions.

I've never believed expanding social programs would help the middle- and poor-class (we still have massive amounts of homeless people).

I've never believed because of how she would change from one group to another.

I never believed she was involved in foreign affairs. But I KNOW she's been involved in more than her share's worth of White House scandals already.

Her husband said they would release White House documents ONLY AFTER SHE WAS ELECTED. By then it's too late to hold her accountable for her previous actions, isn't it? I never believed they would bring better light to her candidacy. I've always thought there were massive cover-ups, since that is what has been "proven" is a better word.

I hope every other state sees her past for what it is. Her past is our future if she's elected. Our future will be scandalous.

If anyone's past will earn my vote, it will be Ron Paul's.

Here's the real how:

1) Hillary is more educated; her following is more educated.
2) People who are following Obama cannot see that he repeats her words.
3) Hillary has not been out name calling and yet she has not pointed out her real experience which will set her apart from the other candidates.
4) She could not be open about her real experience because her real experience is a National Security Secret. (No, it is not about Lewisnsky or Bill)
5) The Assassination of Bhutto is bringing Hillary out of the National Security closet because she has to make public statements which affect policy and she has to be a leader now!

Here's the real how:

1) Hillary is more educated; her following is more educated.
2) People who are following Obama cannot see that he repeats her words.
3) Hillary has not been out name calling and yet she has not pointed out her real experience which will set her apart from the other candidates.
4) She could not be open about her real experience because her real experience is a National Security Secret. (No, it is not about Lewisnsky or Bill)
5) The Assassination of Bhutto is bringing Hillary out of the National Security closet because she has to make public statements which affect policy and she has to be a leader now!

It looks like Huck has a good bead on the are the top 10 reasons he'll pick Chuck Norris as his VP

"Obama repeats himself" is not any sort of criticism. It's called a stump speech. I hear it's about hope and changing America for the better. That seems like a message worth repeating, no?

(Are you talking about this item? Because that phrase isn't in here.)

Anonymous2008 falsely claimed that Hillary's following is more educated than Obama. Come on! Was she president of the Harvard Law students? Qualified to teach university-level courses?

And it's just crazy to say that her followers are more educated than Obama's. In fact having finished college is one of the strongest indicators that you will prefer Obama over Hillary. That's not a conjecture, people test this stuff. For example, look here:

Ugh, I can't believe a troll like yours made me waste 30 seconds googling! Anyway, you're probably too invested in keeping your head in the sand to actually click the link so I'll quote what is says, which you will notice is the exact opposite of what you say:

"Obama leads by wide margins among college-educated Iowans; Clinton, among those without college degrees."

All that means Obama goes into this state's compressed contest with a target on his back a situation he has managed to avoid due to media bias against Clinton. "Obama, through an unprecedented convergence of luck has never before faced serious attack yet, now he's earned the right to be mercilessly scrubbed and scrutinized. Will show he is something of a phony, someone whose lofty rhetoric isn't born out in his own public record. His lack of foreign policy experience and showing he isn’t ready to lead in a dangerous world. His votes in the Senate to fund the Iraq war even as he tried to position himself as the strongest anti-war candidate will finally come into play nationally; facts show he always supports the war, voted twice in 2006 against bringing America's troops back home. Votes for war appropriations giving our money to Halliburton and Blackwater. Voted with Bush on posturing S 433 which allows the Bush Admin to suspend any troop withdrawal! keeps our troops in Iraq for a long time to come? Record also shows Obama faced with tough choices always gave in to pressure from Bush admin and corporate lobbyists. Obama voted for Bush's energy bill, sending more than $13 billion in subsidies and tax breaks to oil, coal, and nuclear companies. Obama voted with Republicans to allow credit card companies to raise interest rates over 30 percent, increasing hardship for families. "He talks about change but has no real record of making change. Lastly his use of the race card will not play well nationally…

No wonder Anonymous2008 has chosen the name. That's what the Clinton supporters want to be when they fail to spin this one. They are upset that 100 million will be wasted on someone who can't win. She wasn't close. 3rd place? Come on people, if that's not a sign we'll just have to wait for her concession speech after Feb. 5. Bush-Clinton-Bush...the dynasty has fallen.

Jay, what are you talking about with this, "use of the race card" nonsense??? I bet you can't come up with one single example of Obama using the race card, for the simple reason that, he hasn't. Now, perhaps to a liberal closet racist who is unaware of their own racism, just being black and running for president is using the race card, but understand that that is your own projection, not anything Obama has said. As far as everything you brought up about Obama's voting history, that would all be very useful if he were running against Kucinich (which would be great!), but Hillary can't touch him with anything having to do with Iraq because she voted the same way *in addition to* the fatal mistake of actually voting to allow the invasion in the first place and then continuing to *vocally* support it for years, until it became a political liability. Hillary has totally disarmed herself of any Iraq voting record advantage, and even has to avoid any comparison to Obama on Iraq, like the plague. I'm sorry that you have to desperately grope around in the darkness for some shred of hope that this is all a bad dream, and Hillary is still "inevitable" just like her and Bill promised, but I recommend not setting yourself up for yet another devastating disappointment. Personally, I can't help relishing in the victory, against all expectation, of a passionate underdog over the cavalier narcissism of political royalty. These moments are so rare, I really do treasure them.

I have just one question. What has Hillary done in her 8 years in the Senate.

that's like changing tuesdays underwear with mondays.
leave those seven-day briefs to Al Bundy.

Their contrasting Christmas ads reminded me of A Christmas Carol. Hillary's was the Spectacle of Christmas Past, while Barack's was the Hope of Christmas Ahead. Iowa Democrats seem to have taken a lesson from old Ebenezer and decided to influence the future by acting positively today.

Regarding the dynasty issue, I believe there's a big difference between dynasty by blood - the Bush family - and dynasty by choice. The Clintons found each other because they respected each other's minds; there's something to be said for intellect and values becoming the conscious and voluntary basis for forming a family as opposed to the hereditary privilege that is visited upon the sons of a father.

Hillary is not more educated

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama passed the bar the first time.
He worked as a Civil Right Attorney and constitutional law professor.
He also chose the right person to marry.

Hillary Clinton blew it by being too much of a typical politician, calculating and nasty behind the scenes. I once respected her, but not anymore. I think she has run a terrible campaign, starting with that "inevitable" approach which escalated her appearance as cold and arrogant. That made me shudder and nothing she has done has changed that reaction in me. Frankly, she has been acting like a person that has been wounded by her 30 year fight with Republicans, not someone who has been strengthened by it. And when something doesn't work she tries on something else. That is not being authentic. Now all the candidates are scurrying to use Barack Obama's strategy of being the agent of change and unity. He is the only one who is authentic about it though because he has been saying that from the start and as David Brooks said, has been consistent with this as a core value his whole career.

First fredrick and malcolm attack Hillary for holding Bill's hand, then they attack her for not inclung Bill and Chelsey in her Christmas commercial. You can't have it both ways. If one looks at someting through a perpetually negative lens, all one will see is negativity reflected back. I think the majority of the American people will be more objective and honest in assessing the strenghts and liabilities of the leading Presidential candidates - at least I hope so.

I think you guys are voting with your heart and not with your head. If Obama gets elected to represent my party, I'm crossing party lines and voting for John McCain. I cant take any chances voting for someone who has such little experience. I'm worried.

the clinton woman lacks any real experience so...


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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