In a speech delivered on Wednesday at New York’s Hunter College, Senator Hillary Clinton went on the attack. This was not an unexpected development, given that her main rival for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination has won ten consecutive contests since Super Tuesday on February 5.
If the attack came as no surprise, however, the target certainly raised some eyebrows. For rather than going after Barack Obama, Clinton turned her fire in a different direction: towards the voters themselves.
“It is time to get real — to get real about how we actually win this election, and get real about the challenges facing America,” Clinton lectured. “Let’s get real. Let’s get real about this election, let’s get real about our future, let’s get real about what it is we can do together.”
Given that Clinton’s remarks were delivered during a fundraising event for her campaign, it is no surprise that the crowd cheered these lines. But for Democrats outside the Clinton bubble — an increasingly large group these days — attacking voters for being detached from reality is sure to rankle.
Those interested in “getting real” may wonder why it is that the Clinton campaign, lurching from one crushing defeat to the next, can do no better than to double its bet on a losing strategy of dismissing one primary and caucus after another as meaningless based on a state’s size and demographics, and insisting that only a few large states should really matter in determining the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. Or they may point out that the Clinton campaign’s agreeing to party rules stripping Michigan and Florida of their delegates to the national convention in 2007, only to turn around in 2008 and argue that those rules should be overturned after uncontested wins in those states, is a cynical and dishonest political move to break a deadlocked delegate race in their favor. They also may ask how it is that unwillingness or inability to constructively adapt to the unforeseen is somehow evidence that, as Clinton told the Hunter College crowd, “one of us is ready to be commander in chief.” They may even point out that this same inability to adapt is one of the main traits that has persistently bedeviled the current president.
Rhetoric aside, this incident raises a serious question about the quality of leadership Hillary Clinton offers. The entire premise of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy at this stage of the campaign is that she is the one with the capacity to truly lead the country and deliver solutions to the myriad problems we face at home and abroad. Hillary often speaks of being battle tested from years of tough fights with Republicans, and of being able to take a punch and come back swinging. This has often been true. But also true is that there is a flip side to this — a regrettable tendency by Clinton to interpret setbacks as ambushes, adversity as conspiracy, and criticism, even from those who ultimately mean her well, as attack. The response, all too often, has been for Clinton and her team to circle the wagons and open fire in all directions at once, as often as not mistaking the cavalry coming over the ridge as just another wave of attackers. In situations like this, the Clinton response to adversity and criticism is not so much counterpunch as knee-jerk.
There is no question that, as Hillary said Wednesday, “this campaign goes on.” The question, rather, is where the Clinton campaign is going, and what means it will employ in getting there. In her Hunter College speech, Hillary Clinton crossed a line that those who seek to lead this country should simply never cross. A politician blaming the American people for their personal political misfortune is a sign of desperation, not of leadership.
It has long been, as the Los Angeles Times put it on Thursday, “a stubborn and uncomfortable reality” that many voters simply don’t like Hillary Clinton. At Hunter College on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton made it clear that the feeling is mutual.
Dave Musgrove is a Democratic voter and blogger in Des Moines, Iowa. Dave’s own political blog can be found at http://ipol-2008.blogspot.com.