Actually, Now Is the Best Time to Discuss How Hillary Clinton Failed Us
“It sounds like you are blaming the victim.”
This is an actual response I got to an angry Facebook post of mine, directed at Clinton and the DNC, immediately after the results of the presidential election. Note that I am a Democrat and supported Clinton against Trump.
I’m not angry at Donald Trump or his supporters for the results; they did exactly what they said they would. I’m angry at them for the rest of existence. The Clinton campaign is the one that mostly failed us.
To some, my anger has seemed misdirected or poorly timed. Other responses I got included
- Letting me know that I was focused on the wrong thing — people, instead of policies that could change things (despite having no power to actually do that anymore).
- Informing me that Bernie Sanders would’ve lost too; so it was hopeless.
- Ensuring me that Clinton actually won, since she won the popular vote, overlooking the strong evidence of her loss.
- And calling me “Wrong. Unfriended.”
Hillary Clinton is a victim like Donald Trump is a victim. And that was a punchline, because Donald is the ultimate whiny wanna-be victim. Losing an election when you have had the support of a major party and bazillions of dollars does not make you a victim; it makes you a loser. If my team lost the Superbowl, I would recommend they huddle up very soon thereafter and assess what went wrong.
Yes, there were forces at work in our system of elections, some of which involve shady GOP tricks, that unfairly influenced and suppressed the outcome. A political campaign should’ve been prepared for that. Obama overcame it twice.
Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway recommends that Clinton and her supporters “look in the mirror” before blaming FBI Director James Comey or anyone else for her loss. I hate to acknowledge Conway — the sweet syrup flavor they use to mask the taste of poison — but the sooner we come up with a better game plan, the sooner we can start practice season correctly.
(Please blame Friday Night Lights for my poor sports metaphors.)
In my opinion, these are some of the key failed Democratic strategies during the 2016 election:
1. “America is Already Great”
This was a big theme during the convention and developed a lot of traction during the last few months. This party line became a media trope.
I felt uneasy every time I heard this repeated. Didn’t the large crowds of people showing up to hear Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders complain about the economy provide any kind of a hint to the DNC that Americans felt otherwise?
Statistics are not flat; they need context. Let’s say more people have jobs than in recent years. How many people got a job that pays 30 percent less than what they used to make while their rent went up 30 percent? How many of these new jobs involve driving Ubers, while getting no support for healthcare, retirement, or the wear and tear of the vehicle needed to keep a “job” that skirts federal employment law by not hiring its employees as employees?
Bill Clinton performed a similar statistical magic trick during his welfare reform movement. Millions of families were “moved off of welfare into jobs,” but not into sustainable jobs or living wages; extreme poverty has nearly doubled since. I wouldn’t argue that dependency on welfare for generations was purely positive, only that the statistics were spun positively while ignoring context.
(Category: Tone Deaf)
2. “Continuing the Obama Legacy”
This is related to number 1, and it represents a huge failure in strategy. How can that be, you ask, when Obama is so popular? Because presidential historians have documented the U.S. compulsion to change things up every eight years, twelve at the most.
Clinton advertised herself as someone who did her homework. I found this version of her — wonky, studied — charming and honest. Then again, she didn’t really do her homework, or she would’ve marketed more change.
I don’t know why the country would turn its back on the progress for which it voted twice. Call it a short attention span, or an under-thought-out response to ongoing problems. I can’t justify it. But Democrats should learn to play this note better. This is also how George W. Bush won the presidency after eight years under Bill Clinton’s strong economic performance. Bush promised reform (i.e., less adultery in the Oval.)
(Categories: Tone Deaf and Too Literal)
3. “Pantsuit Nation”
I really hate to say this, because I am fully aware of patriarchy and not its fan in the least, but I do think Clinton’s team played the “woman card.” And it offended me! Sorry!! The constant references to her womanhood felt too direct and pandering. It was a failed strategy, clearly, since she underperformed among women.
“I’m with her.” What does that even mean? Is the other side with “him”? Do Jill Stein supporters get to be with “her, also”? There is a way in which Hillary Clinton never met a political opportunity she didn’t seize until it was lifeless, and that happened for me around her gender. If you don’t want to be treated unfairly as a woman, perhaps don’t reduce yourself to “her.”
Allow me to stipulate a few points to Pantsuit Nation: Sure, Clinton faced a harder time and miles of unfair criticism because she is a woman. Undisputed. Someone like Jeb Bush was criticized for this and that, but he managed to avoid hearing the B word, the C word, and dealing with our global subconscious hatred of women every time he spoke.
I also fully acquiesce that there were moments in the campaign when my feminist soul was stirred. It was not so much at the prospect of the first woman president; Sarah Palin never excited me about woman leadership either. It was mostly while watching Clinton during the debates, steadily and brilliantly demolish a sexist male pig in a manner that will guide me through countless future interactions until I die. Such moments involved her words and actions, not a broad discussion of glass ceilings.
Michelle Obama had one of the most powerful feminist moments of the campaign, delivering an emotional speech in response to Trump’s “pussy” video. Would Michelle Obama have defeated Donald Trump? Her slogan, about going “high” when “they go low” was probably the most quotable and memorable of the season (that didn’t include the word “pussy”). Clinton’s own approach to gender was too intellectual; she repeated Michelle’s slogan instead of coming up with her own.
I’m also not convinced that Hillary Clinton would’ve won if she were a man, all else being equal. Evidence: Al Gore.
(Category: Too Literal)
4. Clinton’s Disappearing Act
I have no problem criticizing the media for pointing a camera at a door for an hour in the hopes that Trump might emerge and say something crazy. But if Clinton wanted the media to talk about something besides her emails, she might’ve given them some topics.
I’m not saying this always works. Bernie Sanders had a rally so big the entire state of Washington stopped driving, and media didn’t cover it much. Still, Clinton could’ve at least tried to rival the excitement of her opponents. In an election that was obviously in-your-face, she chose to:
- Not talk to the press a lot.
- Not hold a lot of public events.
- Rely on surrogates.
- Only schedule tepid, safe interviews.
- Put everything into the convention and the debates and then disappear afterwards, not building on her leads.
- Not make herself vulnerable to unscripted moments, overall.
I don’t understand this, because she is most likable when she is unscripted! I would trade all of her campaign speeches for one Hillary Shimmy. Clinton made these choices when one of the biggest criticisms of her is that she is secretive. You can’t be a victim if you only play a defensive game.
(Sorry. I’m out of my depth when it comes to sports metaphors. No more.)
And where is Clinton’s now, when we need leadership the most? Her response to the trauma of the “alt-Right” seizing power has been a lukewarm concession speech and not much else. It’s like how people really reveal themselves in relationships by how they break it off.
(Category: Inexplicable and/or Chickenshit)
5. “Most Qualified”
Like “America is great already,” this was a definite strategy. It was even based in fact. But “qualified” has never been a major American value when it comes to presidents. It might work for the Supreme Court, but our presidents are our heroes, and the American hero is built around the mythos of the brave outsider. Even George W. Bush — wealthy son of the last president, who was only president because he was previously vice president — figured out how to portray himself as an outsider.
(Category: Tone Deaf)
6. “Stronger Together”
Can we all agree that this campaign slogan soared like a thud? Sure, it offered a positive response to everything dark and upsetting around Trump. However, I’m not sure what it’s talking about specifically, besides Trump.
“Make America Great Again” contains a whole story in it: “Once we were great; recently, not so much; let’s get back there.” Barack Obama’s “Hope” was a beacon of light after 9/11, Iraq, dark lord Cheney, and the collapsed economy. We didn’t need more words; we knew exactly what he meant.
“Stronger together” is missing a leader, and it also negates itself, rhetorically. It starts out with a bang and ends with a whimper. What specifically about Clinton’s campaign involved calling for people to join together and be strong? It’s all too thought out.
Also, like “Most Qualified,” “Stronger Together” has never really been a popular American theme. “Be an individual” is more in our DNA. Roosevelt and Kennedy were able, at times, to pull us towards a more socially minded framework… by being rhetorically brilliant and appealing to our desire to be heroes. In some ways, “Stronger Together” is everything wrong with Clinton’s campaign: unpoetic.
(Category: Tone Deaf)
7. Co-Opting Bernie’s Rhetoric
Going back in time: Clinton had just barely won a primary election against a major new political force, and she needed to win over the progressives and independents that supported him. So she stole his words, going on about an economy that “works for everyone,” like she thought of it herself.
When Clinton talks about foreign policy, she seems believable. I don’t get excited, because war is scary, but I hear someone in possession of her knowledge. In terms of the economy, co-opting the Sanders’ campaign rhetoric, when her relationships with Wall Street made her vulnerable to criticism, was a strangely transparent move. I don’t know if it hurt her, but if there were independent-minded voters that needed a hard and specific sell, this probably wasn’t the best way to go.
(Category: Too Literal)
8. Hillary Clinton for President
Did the DNC and Clintons conspire early on to make sure that Hillary Clinton won the primary election for president? It has appeared so. The Wikipedia list of Hillary Clinton endorsements before even the first debate was long enough to suggest that there had been a campaign happening behind closed doors, probably for the four years since she left the position of Secretary of State. This effort to anoint Hillary seemed to continue throughout the campaign season, such as by limiting opportunities for Sanders to prove himself in opportune debates.
This was a strategic choice made by a major party to advance a candidate with an historically large unfavorable rating, a record of already losing the presidency, and no definable leadership aura. Even if the thinking actually was, “She would be the best at the job,” there’s no job if you can’t win it.
9. Tim Kaine
Sometimes, candidates for president add a Vice Presidential candidate to the ticket to balance them out. So Hillary Clinton picked Tim Kaine, because he is a white man and well liked in Virginia and he speaks Spanish and…? Campaign leaks revealed an explicit strategy to move center after the primaries, when she needed to hold onto progressives. Here was one chance for Clinton to shake things up and take a risk, and she chose someone so safe that he became a meme for the ultimate safe character, the sitcom dad.
(Category: Too Literal)
10. Electoral College
Most people probably remember the 2000 election as follows: Gore won the popular vote, but Bush got more electoral votes once the conservative Supreme Court gave him Florida.
The Electoral College is a time-honored piece of our national shit pile that isn’t going away until the Left has enough power to amend it out of existence. We won’t get there until we win it again.
The Electoral College benefits the GOP by favoring states over people, as is the GOP’s tendency. There are “swing states” that determine the election, and most of them are in the midwest, so if you actually live where the most people live, you don’t count.
One of the big beautiful surprises for me of this election season was that the American heartland came out strongly for the socialist Jew. Sanders won many of the swing states by bringing the DNC back to its pro-union roots. Clinton’s only midwest strategy was to copy Bernie’s rhetoric on job loss, but not as consistently as Trump, and to send Michelle Obama to give speeches.
Long story short, why are you running for President without a unique strategy to win the Electoral College?
11. Down Ballet Elections
Not that Hillary Clinton spent a lot of time during this election talking to the public about important things, but she was especially lacking in leadership around the importance of the down ballot races. This became a major topic for Bernie Sanders, once he lost the primary. By not talking about what else was at stake besides the presidency, it never became a media story. And so, we lost all of it.
(Category: Sigh. She might just not care that much.)
But what do I really think about Hillary Clinton? Believe it or not, I have grown to like her. And I wish she never ran for President this year.
I once wrote a show, and I really like performing, but there are about one thousand better actors out there. I took a small part, for the good of the show. For reasons that both fascinate and frustrate me, Clinton doesn’t ever do that. Either she is more interested in herself over the show, or she actually believes that the show needs her in the spotlight.
In one honest moment during the primary debates, Clinton said that she knew she was not as much of a natural politician as Obama and her husband. She was owning up to lacking their intuitive ability to communicate to the masses. But she insisted that she’s a hard worker and could do the “job.”
Unfortunately, the “job” mostly involves communicating to the masses. There could’ve been another campaign that played up to these strengths, like a proud “revenge of the awkward nerds” moment. Instead, she avoided the spotlight. She didn’t lead.
That’s the actual reason we lost the election. Comey was a hurdle. We just didn’t have the best runner.
You can follow me at https://twitter.com/jewstein3000.