Accepting the Inevitable

Americans really don’t love a winner. That’s why Damn Yankees ran for 1,019 performances in its original 1955 Broadway production and the film version was a big hit in 1958, and why a new version is in the works. When the richest team with the biggest payroll wins year after year, and no one else has a chance, people get pissed off – at least in this tale, where the lowly Washington Senators finally win it all. That’s cool, but in real life the winners always win, and then people just stop going to ballgames. What’s the point? The actual Washington Senators gave up. They changed their name and moved. They’re now the Minnesota Twins, and to the relief of the few remaining baseball fans in America, now the New York Yankees only win it all now and then. Folks do, however, still like to see them humbled. For a while there they were really irritating, because they were inevitable. Inevitable winners are the bad guys.

That’s one reason Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 – he did run a brilliant campaign and most everyone seemed to like what he was saying, and to like him too, but everyone kept hearing that Hillary Clinton was inevitable. She and her husband, the loveable rogue who had presided over eight years of prosperity and peace, and who had left George Bush an actual surplus, controlled the Democratic Party. People owed them. The Clintons had pretty much put them in office, and there was the money thing too. Wall Street loved the Clintons. Bill Clinton gleefully deregulated everything he could, signing the bill that eliminated the Glass-Steagall Act, freeing the big banks to make money in any problematic way they could, and he signed the bill that exempted all futures trading from any oversight at all, which led to the Enron mess and then the credit default swap mess that tanked the economy at the end of Bush’s second term, but he did say from the start that the era of big government was over. He was serious, and there was no reason for the big money guys, who wanted to keep their money, to think Hillary would be any different. Everything was lining up for a Clinton victory, and then it all fell apart. Resentment may have been a factor. No one is “entitled” to win. The party didn’t owe her the nomination. The nation didn’t owe her the presidency.

Obama never said those words. He didn’t have to. The post-war New York Yankees dynasty did that for him. Inevitable winners are the bad guys, and now Hillary Clinton knows better, and is making adjustments this time:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s long-anticipated entry into the 2016 presidential race took shape Friday, with Democrats saying she will announce her candidacy on Sunday and begin a series of deliberately small discussions with voters next week.

The low-key rollout – no big rallies or lengthy speeches – will end months of speculation surrounding the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination. Clinton intends to begin her second White House bid via social media, probably Twitter, and include a video that introduces her economic-centered campaign message before jetting to Iowa next week for public appearances, according to three Democrats with knowledge of her plans. …

Clinton’s go-slow, go-small start is the opposite of how many Republicans have entered or plan to enter the race. Instead of a splashy launch event, Clinton’s plan is a calculated understatement. She is scheduling a series of small roundtables and other give-and-take sessions with voters, first in Iowa and later in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — the states holding the first presidential primaries and caucuses early next year.

The idea is to showcase Clinton’s abilities as a problem-solver and crusader for the rights of those struggling to climb into or stay in the middle class. The intimate events with voters are also designed to help the former secretary of state connect with ordinary Americans and listen to their concerns, supporters said.

In short, she doesn’t want to come off as a jerk, claiming she’s entitled to anything, that it’s her turn, so shut up and sit down while she becomes president.

This might work:

David Axelrod, who helped lead the insurgent 2008 Barack Obama campaign that eclipsed Hillary Clinton’s first presidential run, welcomed the new approach.

“Humility is the order of the day,” Axelrod said. “Last time, they launched as a big juggernaut cloaked in the veil of inevitability and at 20,000 feet. There was a tremendous backlash to that. It is imperative for her to go out, to meet people where they live, to make her case, to deliver a message, to listen to what they have to say and to ask for their votes.”

Axelrod added that Clinton must also articulate a message about economic mobility during her launch that’s “compelling and authentic,” rooted in her personal biography. “She needs to project what the cause is that she’s fighting for here and give people a sense of where they fit into that vision,” he said.

That’s the plan:

Like the small-scale rollout in Iowa living rooms, Clinton and her advisers are also modulating their fundraising early on to avoid appearing presumptuous and keep the campaign focused on a grass-roots effort. Clinton allies have been tamping down expectations for a massive influx of campaign cash, but her fundraisers anticipate a rush of major donors trying to get checks in the door on Day One.

“All the horses are in the gate just waiting for those gates to open,” said John Morgan, a Clinton fundraiser in Florida. “There’s really nothing to do until the gate opens. But the gate could open Sunday and it could be the flood gate. The only issue they’ll have is how fast they can raise the money, because the money is pent up.”

Ah, but even that is a problem:

Clinton will raise only primary-season money at first, with a cap of $2,700 a donor. That is partly to avoid the appearance that Clinton is taking the nomination for granted. The focus on Internet appeals will free up Clinton to spend time on the trail talking to voters, rather than wooing wealthy donors at glitzy, high-priced fundraisers.

“I don’t think the first thing out of the gate she should be doing is a bunch of big fundraising events,” said one senior party strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly. …

“I think she’ll be in Iowa eating corn on the cob instead of clinking champagne flutes with donors,” Morgan said. “She can do this much quicker, much more efficiently because she’s not fighting for donors. Rubio, Bush, that whole crowd is in mortal combat for dollars. She’s not. That’s her advantage.”

Just keep that quiet, and do what Obama did:

One priority is creating an extensive small-donor network similar to the Obama campaign’s much-admired list from his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and Clinton advisers see her announcement period as a ripe opportunity. “We’re not going to take it slow,” said one Clinton fundraiser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the campaign’s internal plans.

The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Barabak adds this:

Clinton is beloved and widely admired. She is also loathed and widely criticized.

She boasts an unprecedented resume – former first lady, New York senator, secretary of State – and enjoys universal name recognition after more than two decades of near-constant presence on the national stage. That familiarity, however, will make it exceedingly difficult for Clinton to present herself as someone fresh and different – qualities voters often crave, especially at the tail end of a two-term presidency.

And this:

She can be warm and engaging in small settings but dull and distant before large crowds. Her speeches are more workmanlike than uplifting. Her relations with the political press corps have been brittle even on the best days and that, in turn, has helped perpetuate a reputation for coldness and calculation.

She’s working on that:

“She seems ready to run for this not like a front-runner but like someone interested in earning every vote because of what she stands for and where she wants to take the country, as opposed to who she is,” said Steve McMahon, a Democrat strategist who is supporting Clinton but not working for her campaign.

It is impossible, of course, to introduce Clinton to voters as though for the first time. But in the days after her announcement, campaign strategists will place her in surroundings they hope will start to refashion some less-than-flattering perceptions.

There will be no splashy rallies, arena-size appearances or major policy speeches, at least to start.

That might work, but there’s that dynasty thing:

Only one time in the last 65-plus years has a political party managed to string together three consecutive White House victories; the candidate who achieved that, Republican Vice President George H. W. Bush, did so in 1988 under a president, Ronald Reagan, who was more popular than Obama is today.

The bias toward stability that often helps incumbents win reelection seems to yield to a hunger for change by the time a party has spent eight years in the White House.

In Clinton’s case, it helps that she is bidding to make history as the country’s first woman president. For all her familiarity, that alone argues against the business-as-usual, more-of-the-same case that Republicans are prepared to make against her for the next many months.

But there again Clinton must be careful, lest her candidacy becomes too much about her and history rather than voters’ more pressing and personal concerns.

This isn’t going to be easy, and Jonathan Bernstein thinks much of it doesn’t really matter:

Everything done by campaigns serves to build a superhumanly wonderful portrait of the candidate. There are those who are inclined to vote for that candidate anyway – partisans who always vote for their party, or swing voters reacting to the economy or other fundamentals. Those not inclined to do so probably won’t believe the hype, no matter how gushing. It may feel as if we’re drawn to vote for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney because we like them. In fact, we’re just very receptive to liking candidates who we are (more or less rationally) likely to support in the first place.

Consider Obama. In 2008, it certainly seemed that he was a once-in-a-generation political force, a candidate who could truly bring new voters to the polls and shake up the status quo. And yet his final results looked a lot like what would happen if the 2004 electoral map were just shifted to the Democrats to account for Iraq and a deep recession – just as predicted by political science models that know nothing about the candidates.

If so, a dud candidate would do just as well as a superstar:

By the time a candidate advances to the general election, he or she has been thoroughly vetted by the press and by the party, so there’s a limit to how bad he or she can really be. Granted, there’s always the possibility something unprecedented will occur; we only have a very limited number of presidential elections to test for effects. It’s not impossible, for example, that the chance to elect the first woman president will matter. But it’s not especially likely, either.

The harsh truth is that especially in a partisan age, the candidates themselves aren’t that big a factor in presidential general elections. Democrats may be wasting a lot of time and energy worrying what they would do if something happened to Clinton, but the truth is that they would do about as well with most replacements. And the odds are that the same will be true on the Republican side, too.

Democrats may be foolishly wasting a lot of time and energy worrying what they would do if something happened to the inevitable Hillary Clinton, but Brian Beutler thinks that worry is justified:

If nobody serious challenges Hillary Clinton, nobody can be her understudy. In the near term that isn’t a problem, but if doubts about her inevitability develop late in the year or early next, the placid silence in the Democratic field will grow eerie.

The GOP’s dominance in last year’s midterms (and the dividends their victory in 2010 keeps paying) exacerbates this risk. The House of Representatives probably isn’t in play next year. The Senate barely is. Hillary Clinton must by now have reconciled herself to the possibility that her first two years, and possibly more, will be gridlocked, or defined by unsatisfying compromises with congressional Republicans. Her imprint on the Supreme Court might be dramatic, or she might end up replacing one liberal justice of particularly advanced age.

The opportunity facing Republicans is precisely the reverse. The current distribution of power on Capitol Hill is such that if a Republican wins the presidency, he will come into the White House with his party in complete control of Congress, confident he’ll be able to alter the balance of power on the Court for a generation. He will have eight-years-worth of Democratic progress on issues like health care, immigration, and climate change to roll back. The nature of our system makes it easier for opposition candidates to ride the political pendulum back toward their ideological comfort zones than for incumbent candidates to keep it aloft.

There’s a lot on the line:

For better or worse, if Clinton becomes president, her greatest accomplishment might be to rescue Obama’s legacy from a bottled up campaign of retribution. That’s an awkward agenda to run on (though if the Supreme Court wipes out billions of dollars in Obamacare subsidies this summer, it will be an easy agenda to dramatize). But it’s an incredibly important objective either way. And there’s no backup plan.

That is a problem, but Ryan Cooper sees a bigger problem:

The question I have for Clinton is whether she is going to play her campaign exclusively for the money seats. Barring some crazy upheaval, she will win the Democratic nomination and certainly have little trouble raising an emperor’s ransom-sized campaign chest. But the general election will not be nearly so easy. And if she’s going to give big donors effective veto over her campaign messaging to keep those dollars rolling in, she could end up losing – especially given the relatively low value of political spending in presidential elections.

The money doesn’t matter. She needs to stop being a Clinton of the past:

I continue to believe that a straightforward reboot of the New Deal with a fresh coat of paint would be a big political winner, if anybody with a national profile cared to make the case consistently and strongly. That’s no surprise, given my substantive preference for such policy.

However, there is precedent for such an idea. Both our economy and our politics are eerily reminiscent of the 1920s, when most economic growth flowed immediately to the hyper-wealthy, who owned both parties wholesale. After that era collapsed, FDR won four consecutive elections with sharply anti-rich rhetoric.

I submit that for any liberal candidate, trying to run a middle-of-the-road campaign in an age of stupendous inequality is highly politically risky. The reason is that not only does this feed the (largely correct, at this point) perception that both parties are owned by the 1 percent, thus depressing left-wing turnout, but it also leaves their most powerful political weapon by the wayside. When the Democrats ran some conservative Wall Street hack in 1924, they got crushed.

That would be the forgettable John W. Davis – no one remembers him now – and this isn’t rocket science:

Wages are stagnant or declining because a tiny minority is stinking rich. The hyper-wealthy and their political allies have jiggered our economic institutions to direct the entirety of income growth towards the 1 percent. Re-jiggering them to cut the rest of the population in on the fruits of productivity growth ought to be a political winner in a democracy.

Instead, so far Clinton is being utterly mealy-mouthed about the issue, talking about the need for “consensus” and equality of opportunity and other such weak tea, probably in part to keep the donor class happy. On the contrary, this is zero-sum class war, and the 1 percent has been winning for 40 years. If the rest of the country is to win, then the rich have to lose. Failing to acknowledge that obvious fact is the kind of timid conservatism that may cost Clinton the election.

This should be obvious:

President Obama and the Democrats made a similar mistake in 2009 when it came to macroeconomic policy. Presented with a gigantic economic collapse, they chose as a party to pass a stimulus that was conservative and small (though it contained much great policy) even by their own internal numbers, which ensured a slow and inadequate recovery.

One can litigate over precisely whose fault that was, but the point is that such a choice was extremely risky for the Democrats as a whole. If initial estimates misjudged the size of the collapse, as it later turned out they had, by a lot, then voters were going to hold them responsible for not fixing the problem. A much better tactical choice would have been a large overshoot – or perhaps a stimulus with built-in triggers dispensing more stimulus if unemployment didn’t come down fast enough (which would have meant abolishing the Senate filibuster right out of the gate, to be clear). …

The point here is that sometimes the timid choice is also a risky one.

And Paul Waldman argues that the money doesn’t matter:

There will be more money spent on the 2016 presidential election than any before in human history. Okay, we don’t know that with absolute certainty, but let’s just say it would shocking if it didn’t turn out to be true. The Koch brothers alone have promised to raise and spend the awfully specific amount of $889 million on the election, and that’s before we even get to the candidates, the parties, and all the other millionaires and billionaires eager to demonstrate their public-spiritedness by pouring buckets of cash on their preferred candidates. Is it horrifying? Absolutely – but this could well be a campaign in which there’s so much money sloshing around that money makes almost no difference in the end.

Just to be clear, in no way am I defending the American campaign finance system, which ought to be an enduring source of national shame. And I’m not talking about all the down-ballot races, where an injection of outside money can determine the results. I’m sure not talking about the fact that we even elect judges in what are now well-funded campaigns, a practice so appalling that it is duplicated almost nowhere else in the world. But if there’s any campaign in which money won’t determine the outcome, it’s the presidential race – precisely the one where money will pour down like a monsoon.

Here are his reasons for saying that:

The first is that money makes its biggest impact when there’s an imbalance, where one candidate can dramatically outspend the other. This is often the case in congressional races and even sometimes in Senate races, where one competitor (usually the incumbent) swamps the other and ends up being the only voice voters hear.

But that won’t be the case in a presidential campaign. What matters is the relative advantage one side might have, not the absolute difference in dollars, and in any presidential race the relative advantage is going to be small. For instance, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, even though Barack Obama raised a quarter of a billion dollars more than Mitt Romney in 2012, Romney’s deficit was overcome by donors to the GOP and outside groups; when you added it all up, the Red Team spent $1.2 billion and the Blue Team spent $1.1 billion. That extra $100 million Republicans spent didn’t make much of a difference.

That’s largely because of the second reason money won’t determine the winner of the presidential race: the more people know about, hear about, and talk about the campaign, the less important campaign spending is. Chances are you’ll know very little about the contenders in your state representative contest next year, so a volunteer chatting you up on your doorstep or a well-timed flyer in the mail could actually sway your vote by telling you something you hadn’t heard or just giving you a warm feeling about one of the candidates. But with the presidential race the focus of so much attention, the things the campaigns and outside groups spend money on end up being a much smaller proportion of everything voters hear about the race.

Look what has happened:

Even in the primaries, the billionaires don’t seem to be able to get what they want, no matter how much they spend. Sheldon Adelson came to wide public attention four years ago when he gave $20 million to Winning the Future, a super PAC attempting to secure the GOP nomination for Newt Gingrich. Adelson’s plan failed when voters realized that Newt Gingrich was, in fact, Newt Gingrich.

Money still matters in primaries, particularly competitive ones with lots of candidates, like we’re seeing on the Republican side. But the realization that lots of money is necessary but not sufficient for victory seems to have sunk in. Jeb Bush planned to blow away the rest of the field with a “shock and awe” fundraising campaign that would prove so formidable that other candidates would skitter away in terror, but in the end it didn’t really scare anybody. That’s not because Jeb won’t raise plenty of money, or even because he won’t outraise the rest of the Republican field (he probably will), but because few people are all that intimidated by a well-funded primary opponent.


So it would be foolish of Clinton to hamstring her political messaging for the sake of a few hundred million bucks she doesn’t even need. But if I had to guess, I’d say that’s exactly what she’s going to do.

She is who she is, and that led inevitably to this:

First came the gnashing of teeth over Hillary Clinton’s private email account, and her soon-to-be announced presidential campaign. Then, with a TED talk, Monica Lewinsky signaled her return to the spotlight. Now a show called “Clinton the Musical” has opened Off Broadway.

A person could be forgiven for wanting to hide under the bed until the 1990s stopped making a comeback.

But cowering would be a mistake. Far better to crawl out from behind that dust ruffle, head over to New World Stages and let “Clinton the Musical” quell your fears.

Smartly silly, hilariously impudent and sneakily compassionate, it is nearly guaranteed to leave you humming a bouncy, exuberant tune called “Monica’s Song” – the lyrics are unprintable – and thinking far more fondly of the eight scandal-plagued years this country spent with a president from a place called Hope.

This will not help Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Everyone knows who she has been and who she is, and they know what she will be – our next president. But we don’t have to like it. No one really likes the New York Yankees after all.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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