How Clinton Can Still Win
by wolff109, Wed Feb 13, 2008 at 08:58:15 AM EST
MEMO TO: Hillary Clinton & campaign staff
SUBJECT: How Clinton Can Still Win
The nominating process is far from over. While Clinton will be challenged to score primary victories and catch up in pledged delegates, she need not have the most of either to secure the nomination. So long as she wins without destroying credibility or good will in the process, she can win the nomination while enjoying the support of a strong and unified party.
So how does she do it? How does she rack up some convincing primary wins, roll up a few pledged delegates, while convincing the super delegates to back her?
And here's the real question: how does she convince the party as a whole -- including those who have already voted and even current Obama supporters -- that she really is the best candidate for us in November?
Can Barack Obama's momentum be stopped?
Increasingly, many people -- especially independent voters -- have bought in to Obama's message of hope, reconciliation, and his inclusive approach to policymaking. Obama's rise is it not attributable to media bias, nor is it because his followers are feeble-minded lemmings. He has placed himself at the center of a legitimate phenomenon that engages each of us in ways that restore our self-confidence and faith in government.
His message succeeds so well precisely because he has so effectively tied it to our emotions of national unity and identity. Obama's rhetoric, far from being a laundry list of policy specifics, links key chapters of revered history into a coherent movement which progresses only through hope, idealism and considerable effort. Conveniently, and ingeniously, Obama places us at its forefront, calling each of us to action to join history by tackling today's chapter.
That's pretty powerful stuff. Also tough to beat if your antidote consists of trying to convince people that the hope they feel is somehow inauthentic.
In short, Obama has successfully positioned himself as a more effective leader. He has done it by demonstrating it. He has built a movement with himself at its head, while endowing each supporter with a sense of stake in its vision and mission of change. That is what leaders do.
In this paradigm, Democratic voters and delegates are asked to choose a nominee on the basis of, Who is the best leader? On that basis, Obama wins over Clinton, hands down. He changed the game, trumping her initial strategy of being a powerful and inevitable nominee.
So how can Clinton still beat him?
The trick is to change the game again, to change the paradigm away from one that asks Democrats to select the best leader to one that asks Democrats to select the best politician. Now that is a contest Senator Clinton wins. If we Democrats believe the best nominee is the one with superior street-fighting skills, we will pick her. If we are asked to truly consider the qualifications for office, or which policy proposals are superior, we will pick her. So the trick is to deflate Obamania, and to do so without undermining Democratic enthusiasm or causing bitter divisions. So, how does she do it?
Curiously, this has been her exact goal. Clinton came fairly close to deflating Obamania following Iowa and New Hampshire. Her furious attacks pulled Obama off his pedestal and dragged him back down to the dirtier air of politics as usual. She has also scored points when she draws contrasts in their health care proposals.
Her tactics did something she must now do again: she forced Obama to respond politically, thus revealing himself to be a mere politician, just like her. Aside from his visible frustration, her attacks forced him off message. And once off track, he surrendered his most potent weapon; his ability to weave an enticing vision. He was unable to retain the good feeling engendered from his Iowa speech, and he was unable to build new momentum for his movement. A virulent response to her attacks, instead of a high-road dismissal that reinforced his positive vision, was meant to demonstrate his will to fight. But it also reduced him to being a politician. Moody, surly, and not so far above petty fights. This is how she will succeed. Pull him down from his rarified air back into reality.
But Clinton should not go negative.
Simple attacks against him have not and will not succeed. As the outcome of the South Carolina primary suggests, negative attacks back-fire. The key for her is to create circumstances by which Obama himself reduces his quest for the presidency to a set of street fights, thus revealing his quest to be rooted in ambition, competitive instincts, and other very human frailties. Such a revelation converts the judgment voters are asked to render from one of leadership to instead one of judging political skills. But this requires an aggressive attack against Obama that is neither negative, nor undermines voter enthusiasm.
Instead, go aggressively positive. She should show herself to be a better leader by being a better leader.
Clinton should aggressively promote a substantive and far-reaching vision on key policy topics that, by virtue of heft and solidity, highlight the stark contrast with Obama's lack of substance and/or experience. For example, Clinton should unveil a comprehensive green plan with attainable goals, and one that challenges American society to achieve a green vision for the planet. Aside from its environmental benefits, such a plan would provide a basis for restoring America's leadership, etc.
Further, she should do the same with an economic plan. One that outlines a vision of what America should be while offering a shrewd analysis of where we are and how we got here. Such an address would capture the immediate attention of voters now digesting increasingly bad economic news, while providing the opportunity to inspire people around notions of fairness, equality, and opportunity.
Finally, she should give a major address on foreign policy. Such an address would not be another set of Iraq talking points or muddled troop withdrawal discussions, but would comprise a comprehensive and frank conversation of what America should be in the world. This is an opportunity to re-articulate what true democratic leadership means to the world, why we are still vital, and how we can restore our standing. It would show her to have far-reaching vision and command of subjects around foreign affairs and military security, where surely she is stronger.
The trick for any of these is not to weigh down voters with a list of specifics, but to outline a vision that excites people, and increases their confidence in her. In short, she should be presidential. Demonstrate to the rest of us that you know how to lead, you have a vision for the country that inspires us, and show us you have the skills to accomplish your agenda.
Doing so would have four effects that would turn her campaign around.
First, it would demonstrate leadership. As my high school English teacher used to say, "Show, don't tell." She needs to do the same. Her central message that she's "ready from day one" is a valid contrast with Obama. But it has fails to persuade voters in the current paradigm precisely because it rings as a hollow attack. She needs to instead demonstrate her superior leadership. A set of major policy addresses, followed by its aggressive promotion on the campaign trail would restore a sense of command we've found missing from her campaign lately.
Second, it would generate enthusiasm among voters. While Obama offers a movement, a sense of history we can change, Clinton needs to counter-act that with a similar band-wagon we can support. The major addresses provides the substance voters would be asked to consider, a mandate that they would be asked to provide via their support. Such substance would also provide the bridge by which Obama supporters could allow themselves to defect to Clinton, in essence choosing their heads over their hearts.
Third, a robust discussion of policy would force Obama to respond. Clinton supporters claim Obama lacks substance. If this is so, than major addresses combined with aggressive follow-up on the campaign trail should reveal Obama's shortcomings. He would be forced to respond in kind, with discussion of his own policy proposals. He would appear as a copy-cat, and the superiority of Clinton's policy proposals would weigh heavily on voters' eventual choices.
Finally, forcing Obama to respond changes the conversation, away from his message, and takes the campaign narrative to a different location. Obama would be forced to react to her, on stronger ground more suited to her experience (policy) and in a form of engagement (i.e., candidate versus candidate debate) more desirable to her. Voters would perceive both her political and policy strengths as she hammers the differences in each and every campaign occasion. Forced to react and react again, his message would starve. Her earlier attacks on him brought out a petty, tit-for-tat irritability in Obama that many of his supporters - myself included - found unattractive. We despised her tactics, but they were effective.
So what do you think?