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What went wrong?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about what went wrong with the Clinton campaign.  Jon Stewart was even kind of enough to put together a montage of pre-primary newscasts where everyone — EVERYONE — proclaimed Hillary the nominee.  At one point, polls had her up by as much as 30 points.  So now everyone is asking: what went wrong?

I’m going to preface any further discussion with this: my opinion of Hillary Clinton plummeted during the course of the primaries.  I actually liked her quite a bit when the primaries started, even though I had been on the Obama train for some time before that.  I would have been more than happy had she won the nomination, even though I preferred Obama (and, for the record, I still would have voted for her, because I’m not insane).

But over the five months that made up primary season, my opinion of her dropped.  The sense of entitlement, the aggressive language, the comments that served to attack Obama while simultaneously praising John McCain (and almost unforgivable sin in the world of partisan politics) — it seemed that every day Hillary became less and less…well, likable.  The post-Super Tuesday “kitchen sink” strategy just made things worse.

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance and at some point it seemed like Hillary crossed that line.  But how?  And why?

For that, I turn to a comment Richard Wolffe mentioned on “Race to the White House” on MSNBC a few days ago.  Say what you want about Richard Wolffe, he pointed out something I had never considered before, yet fully agree with, something everyone seems to be pointing to now that Hillary is out of the race.  I mean, how many times in the last week have you heard someone say “now she can be herself” or “now she can be a woman” or “now she can address the issue she really wants to address?”  But what’s the implication behind those statements?

Wolffe’s comment was that Hillary’s people were so concerned about sexism that they had her be overly aggressive in her campaigning, and they had her do that from the very start.  They expected issues of “strength” and “assertiveness” to be the problems Hillary would face in winning people over.  They figured that overcoming the “woman” issue would be the greatest hurdle they would face.

And I think they were wrong.  I think they actually OVER estimated the influence that would have.  I’m not saying it wasn’t there, but I am suggesting that had Hillary simply been herself, had she not exaggerated her strength as a leader to the point of making her seem cold and calculating, then I think she would have done better, particularly against an opponent like Obama, who was constantly self-deprecating and unflappable.  Instead, we saw a Hillary Clinton who was quick to attack and at times downright hawkish.

What’s interesting about this idea, to me, is that the Obama campaign’s strategy seemed to focus on the fact that Americans were more progressive than most thought, the polar opposite view to the Clinton campaign.  The greatest example of this, perhaps, was his speech in Philadelphia.  Instead of simply letting the issue of race gestate, Obama faced it head on and, in doing so, raised the level of discourse in this country.  But at no point did we see Hillary attempt any similar discussion on gender, because her campaign’s game plan was to ignore the issue by hiding its existence.

Which makes the cries of gender bias against Hillary all the more unfortunate.  Because while those cries are unfortunate (and so have some basis), they were also an opportunity for Hillary to show what kind of a leader she truly was by addressing them.  But her campaign seemed to think so little of the American public as to believe that any such conversation would reflect badly on their candidate.

In the end, I can’t help but think that played a large part in how things turned out.  Obama’s campaign was willing to give the American people the benefit of the doubt, was willing to believe that we were ready for some frank, intelligent discussion on some difficult issues.  The Clinton campaign, however, did not have the same faith in us, and as a result that lack of faith was returned to them.

The bigger question, however, is whether or not the rest of the country is ready, or able, to have those same conversations.

1 comment on “What went wrong?

  1. I think you’re right that Obama won because he did appeal to our better natures, while the Clinton campaign always came off as kind of ugly and mean-spirited. Both had to struggle to overcome certain biases, and ultimately I don’t think gender bias was the reason she lost.

    At the same time, you can’t watch things like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-IrhRSwF9U&eurl=http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2008/05/27/sexism_sells/
    and think that the race was gender-blind.

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