Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why is Hillary Clinton in such trouble?

Yesterday's Boston Globe carried this odd piece concerning the frustrations feminists feel over Hillary Clinton's struggling campaign. Many feminists believe that, despite an impressive resume, a "...female candidate with a hyper-substantive career is now threatened with losing the nomination to a man who charismatic style and rhetoric are trumping her decades of experience." They argue that Clinton faces a diabolical Catch-22 "because she never would have been able to reach the final stages of the nomination process unless she had spent her life emphasizing her professional record over stylistic abilities."

The flaw here is that the perception Clinton's supporters have of her diverges from that of other Democrats:
  • Voters don't necessarily see Clinton's career as "hyper-substantive." She would likely not be either senator or formidable candidate were her name Hillary Rodham: She acquired her current status by virtue of being First Lady. Moreover, her chief initiative as First Lady -- the attempt at universal health care -- was a failure in large part because of her errors;
  • Clinton left the White House a controversial figure. Her unfavorable rating has hovered at 40% or above since 2000, at least in part because she never shook the perception of being a key behind-the-scenes figure in the Travelgate affair;
  • As recent as January, her rational for running was unclear.  I watched a complete debate in mid-January. She impressed with her command of the facts, but never really said why she wanted to be president or where she wanted to take the country.
  • The decision to go negative against Barack Obama in South Carolina and in effect play the race card boomeranged on her, and left many undecided Democrats and previous supporters with a bad taste in their mouths;
  • She voted in favor of the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, which authorized the use of military force against Iraq. Moreover, she opposed the Levin Amendment, which among other things would have required a separate Congressional vote to approve a unilateral invasion of Iraq. As she has never repudiated these votes, they have caused her no end of grief with the Democratic party base, which  vehemently opposed the war from the onset. It didn't help that her votes appeared to be ones of political expedience and not conscience and conviction.
Many of these obstacles -- arguably self-constructed -- were in place before Barack Obama came along, and created a vulnerability independent of gender. The last especially left her susceptible to a candidate presenting a creditable and desirable alternative. Moreover, the negative attacks in South Carolina reflected poor decision-making that, compounded with the bad judgment shown by her vote on the war resolution, called her competence into question. Again, this was a self-inflicted wound. 

Clinton has many strengths and would make a fine president, but she's not the sterling picture of expertise that she presents herself as. How can anyone complain if Democratic party voters have figured that out?

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