How’d Hillary Clinton lose to this guy?
Short answer: Hillary and her team didn’t think being Hillary was enough. They didn’t trust what this woman brought to the table all by herself. They thought attaching her candidacy to her husband’s presidency would get the job done. It didn’t work.
But first there was Iraq. Somewhere along the line, back in the Senate in 2002 or earlier, I believe, Hillary and her team decided you couldn’t win the general election being against a war. That went double if you were a woman. It evidently never occurred to them that they’d have to get the nomination first. No doubt she believed Saddam Hussein was a threat. But the core belief was that a woman voting against a war to oust Saddam, especially so soon after 9/11, would not be considered tough enough for commander-in-chief. It crippled her campaign from the start.
What if Hillary had voted against funding the war?
What if “Fighting Hillary” of the last few months had shown up on day one, replacing “inevitable Hillary”?
What if Robin Givhan’s cleavage column had never been written? That’s where it began for me. It was obvious that Hillary was about to get dissected on terms that her male counterparts were not. Happening simultaneously was the back and forth between Clinton and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman with the added gift of him being a former Cheney aide. When she dared to ask if they’d prepared a plan for redeployment, she got back a letter from Edelman stating “premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda.” Secretary Gates stepped in to do damage control, because a senator on the Armed Services Committee asking questions about redeployment plans, even if a woman, isn’t exactly asking for a recipe.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in an interview with Bill Moyers, called the anti-Clinton media out. There was “the cackle” coverage: “Hens cackle. So do witches.” Pimpgate. The Clinton “nutcracker” sold in CNBC stores in airports. With the only left-leaning prime time news show host Keith Olbermann reduced to becoming the quintessential anti-Edward R. Murrow and a parody of himself as he degenerated into an unhinged special comment screamer. The big blogs got caught up in it and piled on too. Even David Gregory, one of the finest reporters around, reduced himself to doing a piece on his MSNBC show after Obama clinched the nomination that focused on Clinton’s “political obituary.” The first viable female candidate for president, who got more votes than anyone in Democratic Party primary history, was dissected, eviscerated, and humiliated for political sport, then pronounced dead.
All it did was make her supporters madder, more loyal, and less likely to support anyone but her.
But her tour de force moments came through the noise as women came out in droves. Hillary in policy action. Blowing her counterparts off the stage in forum after forum and debate after debate, starting with the first health care forum, when nobody else came close. Then it just kept happening. “Scary smart” it was called. It was clear to me she was the strongest candidate by far. I’d heard the speech on Iraq I needed to hear from Hillary, so now I was all in.
Meanwhile, nobody was paying attention that her primary message “ready on day one,” coupled by her charge that Senator Obama was inexperienced, didn’t seem to be dimming the enthusiasm he was receiving, the crowds he was garnering, or the lack of scrutiny by the traditional media on the flaws she was raising. I watched this unfold with alarm. I’d been miffed at the flyover he did to skip the very first forum in Carson City, followed up by his halting performance at the health care forum, but nobody cared. He was already charming them. Then just a month later I saw him in action again, this time on the stage with his fans. Off the cuff. Lighting up the gym we were in. A candidate finally finding his stride. He was a runaway phenomenon, “the natural.” The type of political talent that once it gets going and catches on is hard to stop, inconvenient truths be damned.
Hillary didn’t flinch. Up from the turmoil, amidst the challenge and her shifting staff, Hillary changed or maybe simply took charge. Finally she realized she would have to do it herself. She almost did. Up rose the populist message, the impassioned liberal, the woman determined on taking it back: the stage, the message, the moment. And she did. Texas. Ohio. Pennsylvania. … West Virginia. For the first time in decades Reagan Democrats were even voting their own best interests. And they were voting for the woman who was raising hell, with the president husband to whom she’d once tied her campaign hopes nowhere in sight.
What if that Hillary had shown up on day one or even the second, unencumbered, un-inevitable, and uninhibited? What if Fighting Hillary had walked out that very first day, not sitting on a big chair in some cozy room, but into an empty room as if to say I’m starting from scratch and I need you to help me do it? Simply saying: I learned a lot from my president husband and I respect him a lot, but this is my time, our time, because it’s long past time that a woman took charge. It’s time for a change and nothing says change like the first female commander-in-chief in U.S. history. But to do that she would have had to trust that she was enough. That a fighting Hillary didn’t need the trappings of power, of incumbency, or her husband’s presidency and clout, all she had to do was believe it and build it and the people would come.
Hillary Clinton didn’t get the nomination and is ready to embrace and work hard for Barack Obama, as am I, but many of her supporters are not. Some never will be. Some will have to be courted. Some are still in the fight. Others are content to wait for word another day, another hour, another year, when Hillary will rise again. Because make no mistake about it, they’re convinced she will. Because Hillary Clinton might have begun this journey to win the presidency, which didn’t pan out, but in the process she sparked a new revolution and a movement over which she now holds sway. She is the leader of an 18-million-strong army of women and men, of dreamers and believers that the time is coming. She came so close. And her supporters all keep one thing tucked tight in the corner of their minds. Next time. Because next time they intend to win.