Friday, February 29, 2008

Clinton 2.1

As the campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination approaches its next crescendo, with Monday's crucial Texas and Ohio primaries nearly upon us, it certainly looks like Barack Obama's momentum is going to be very tough to stop.

Nonetheless, I am increasingly wanting to see Hillary Clinton pull it off.

I still like Barack Obama's candidacy. But nothing I have seen in this long nomination fight - and I have been watching closely - has remotely persuaded me that he is the superior of the two candidates or likely to make a better President of the United States than Mrs. Clinton.

I remain convinced that Mrs. Clinton is much beyond Mr. Obama in readiness, expertise and ultimate ability to deliver the substance and leadership America requires.

We have heard much discussion about the Obama magic - perhaps, far too much. Concurrently, there has been a paucity of genuine analysis as to why Hillary has left so much of her support behind.

I am starting to think it is because she has made the same mistake Al Gore made.

She has failed to embrace and harness her greatest potential strength - her central role as part of the extremely prosperous Clinton years. Her tenure as First Lady really is where her superior expertise and experience arose. She has failed to make the most of that.

Bill Clinton was one of America's most successful and popular recent presidents. His administration's record on the economy, race relations, domestic policy and international affairs speaks for itself.

Mrs Clinton should have attempted to capture America's imagination by presenting herself as a culmination and renewal of all that was positive and hopeful in the Democratic, Clinton past. Her candidacy's inherent breakthrough in Washington gender politics is no small part of the admirable Clinton legacy. She needs to own that.

Deepening the campaign' s problem, Mrs. Clinton has lost available potency in failing to make the not-unimportant point that it was the very enemies of the Clinton presidency - the same operatives who pushed the Lewinsky debacle to the brink of impeachment - who have in the last seven years nearly taken America to the brink

It was the same cast of characters, in fact, who subsequently gave the nation years of Republican ineptitude and turpitude. The same gang that was unanimously behind a never-ending litany of policy blunders that have left America winded, the U.S. dollar wounded and the balance of world scratching its head.

Conventional wisdom was that it would be bad for Mrs. Clinton to reopen the old wounds of yesteryear's fights by "going there" and discussing the Clinton years as a central focus of her platform.

That was and is a mistake - particularly given that conventional wisdom these days is all-too-often just a repackaging of talking points, spun by Republican strategists and planted in the collective ear of professional punditry for ultimate public consumption.

I suspect it is Republican strategists who don't relish the reopening of argument on the Clinton era.

Hindsight in America allows for the connecting of dots between Clinton's impeachers and their subsequent ineptitude in government. And recent history allows us to look back at the impeachment process as an all-too prescient indicator of the Republican hackery that was to follow.

Mrs. Clinton could have fought this campaign by forcing Republicans onto a turf that made them answer for their actions, ideologies and endless corruptions - yesterday and today.

In doing so, she may well have left Obama on the sidelines.

Beyond that, and bluntly, a genuine Hillary Clinton fight against Republican hackery would have been far more interesting to watch - and far more important for the nation - than yet another well-rehearsed and crafted Obama oratory.

Frankly, I think it still would be.

Mrs. Clinton now asks America to believe she is a fighter. But she has cowered from that fight.

Mrs. Clinton of all people - the first person to out the "vast right wing conspiracy" against the Clinton administration - is in quite a good position to say, "I told you this is who they are. This is how they act. And this is how they have nearly brought America to its knees."

She now needs to remind America that the Clinton years were good for America - and that the future can be even better - with her own version of Clinton 2.1 - a new administration ready to rebuild, invigorate and responsibly renew the modern American dream.

To date, her campaign has largely buried Bill Clinton - not just Bill Clinton the man, but Bill Clinton, the President, and Bill Clinton, the symbol.

It has seemed expedient at times, perhaps, but it hasn't worked.

She needs to borrow from the past.

As I recall it, Bill Clinton remained the one man America most wanted to hear from on 9-11, when Bush was in hiding and Cheney was still "undisclosed."

(Apologies to Rudy Giuliani)

Bill Clinton continues to have currency in America, even if he arguably has lost a bit of his fastball.

The Republicans wanted nothing more than to have Bill Clinton treated like a liability.

Mrs. Clinton has obliged.

She could have been elevated by her status as former First Lady, with her credibility sealed by her subsequent record in the Senate. Instead, she has almost entirely distanced herself from those largely-positive associations about her family's political legacy and has been left reeling by her vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq - her one, sort of real point of difference from Mr. Obama.

In the process, she has also lost her inherent advantage, and fallen right back into the jaws of a media machine that has been as complicit in stoking Obamamania as it was in hyping the Lewinsky affair and cheerleading for the Bush Administration and its zeal for war in Iraq.

It is now up to Mrs. Clinton and her campaign to change the subject.

And perhaps, Bill Clinton needs to get onto 60 Minutes or Larry King this weekend for a full hour, to speak about the nuts and bolts and details of how Mrs. Clinton participated, advised and led in her own right during his presidency. He needs to vouch - in an intimate, personal voice, as only he can - for her superior experience, talent and knowledge of Washington' rules of the road.

Obamamania may be getting a bit stale.

Mrs. Clinton has very little time to turn this around.

And it really is now or never for Clinton 2.1.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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