What happened? The presumptive coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the first woman President of the United States now lies in the ashes of ruin and defeat. The feared Clinton political machine — complete with its attack squads and character assassins — proved to be largely ineffective. The former “co-president”, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the person with “thirty-five years of public service, experience and accomplishments,” the “most qualified woman” in America, the “certifiably smartest person” in the presidential race, has been rejected by her own party. The very party that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, re-made for their own purposes. The very party that supposedly has been preparing for eight years for the triumphant return of the “golden years” of the Clintons’ presidency.And who beat this super-candidate? Well, basically, a nobody. A first term senator from Illinois. A member of Congress so junior that the “lion of the Senate”, Ted Kennedy, couldn’t even pronounce his name for months after taking office. A person so new to the national political scene that nobody can find an accomplishment or a mistake by which to take his measure. A blank slate upon which everyone seems to want to write his or her own desires and expectations. I doubt that Barak Obama is as virtuous as the left would have us believe, or as dangerous as the right asserts. But this isn’t about Obama; it’s about the stunning collapse of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
There is probably no way to know exactly because the whole of the electoral process remains, appropriately, subject to the whim and caprice of voters in the privacy of the voting booth. We have seen time after time in this election season that pre-election polls and exit polls were off the mark — not by a little but by a lot. Since these pollsters use basically the same techniques that proved reliable in previous elections, we can safely assume that the American public is finally quite willing to lie to pollsters and reporters in response to what is perceived to be an intrusion on a private right — a right to a secret ballot.
So, any analysis of the Clintons’ collapse is primarily subjective — subjective but sprinkled with anecdotal evidence. So let’s take a stab at deciphering what happened.
People simply did not like Hillary Clinton. Her negatives in national polls started in the low forties and grew to nearly fifty percent. These were polls of all voters, Democrats, Republicans and independents. A large majority of those with negative views of Sen. Clinton would not vote for her under any circumstances. In three way races between her, Edwards and Obama, she rarely won over thirty-five percent of the vote. In head to head competition with Obama after Edwards dropped out she lost the vast majority of those elections. Even where she won, either at the polls or in caucuses, the measure of victory was so minimal that under party rules her opponents wound up with virtually the same number of delegates as her. There are those who wonder whether Obama’s popularity is based on his being Obama or his not being a Clinton.
The dislike of Sen. Clinton arises out of both the coldness of her personality and her transparent and ruthless ambition. Media accounts and the internet are filled with stories of Sen. Clinton’s treatment of staff, security personnel, and others — she apparently has a mean spirited temper and a mouth like a longshoreman. There is a palpable lack of sincerity in virtually every response she makes, everything from her allegiance to a baseball team to her lapses into a Southern, Western, or African-American patois when pandering to those identifiable groups. Public displays of emotion appear to be calculated rather than spontaneous. And finally, her absence of outrage at the serial philandering of her husband suggests that she has suppressed normal emotions in furtherance of ambition. It would seem that her care for Chelsea is the only honest response she can make.
Payback. There is a degree of payback in the defeat of the Clintons. The ruthlessness of the Clinton political machine was not confined to Republicans. It was used both pointedly and surreptitiously on a variety of Democrats. Al Gore may have lost his presidential bid because he refused to run as “Clinton lite”, preferring to talk about his own ideas and plans rather than spending his time praising the reign of Bill Clinton. Similarly there was a lack of support by the Clintons for John Kerry with the assumption being that a first term for Kerry would inevitably lead to a second term and thus delay Hillary’s planned ascendancy to the presidency. Kerry’s endorsement of Obama is seen by many as payback to the Clintons for their lack of effort in his campaign. Politicians have long memories — particularly of real and perceived slights — and they routinely believe in the old saw that revenge is a dish best served cold.
The Clinton attack machine has made runs at Obama but have failed. Hillary has run the gamut from assured campaigner, to outraged woman, to tearful victim, to condescending shrew but cannot find a “character” that resonates with voters. But under pressure, always, she resorts to combative, fist pounding, demanding grand dame and people simply don’t like it.
There is even speculation that Bill did her in. Bill Clinton is probably the best politician that America has ever seen — not the best president, the best politician. Someone of that stature does not make mistakes like denigrating an African American’s ambitions as a “fairy tale” or comparing Obama to a race hustler like Jesse Jackson. He doesn’t spend his time on the campaign trail talking about himself rather than his wife, the candidate. He doesn’t act in a manner the reminds voters of the dysfunctionality of the Clintons during their previous eight-year term. Bill Clinton remains committed to the grooming of his own legacy. He recognizes that the mere fact that Hillary would become the first female president — regardless of her accomplishments — would eclipse his presidency. The defeat of Hillary protects his legacy.
And finally there is simply dynasty fatigue. Eight years of the Bush presidency has not endeared voters to the worthiness of political dynasties. The idea of trading a Bush dynasty for a Clinton dynasty simply rubs people the wrong way. While, at times, it appeared that being a Clinton was Hillary’s major asset, it also turns out to be her major liability.
In the end, we are left to speculate as to the cause or causes of her defeat. One can only hope that the Clintons now fade gracefully into the sunset and that we are not forced to confront that period of politics again. The one part of this that bothers me, however, is that there is a remarkable similarity to another defeated candidate and his eventual resurrection and election as president years later — Richard Nixon. There are similarities in the personalities and ruthlessness of Richard Nixon and Hillary Clinton. Let’s hope that the American public doesn’t make that mistake a second time.