Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Why Hillary didn't lose

Amazing to think that Hillary Clinton still hasn't admitted that Barack Obama has won the Democratic nomination. Even though he has. Even though he has been uncatchable for weeks, probably months, and Hillary has spent the last few primary campaigns busily shovelling her own money down a black hole.

Almost as puzzling is the way this result is being almost universally interpreted, and explained, as a loss by Hillary. As though Obama just somehow stumbled into this position by accident. Where did it all go wrong for Hillary? asked the BBC this morning, missing an opportunity to explain how, and why, it all went right for Obama. But Hillarycentric explanations don't really work. They play up her mistakes: claiming to have been bombed in Sarajevo, or allowing Bill to make borderline-racist comments in South Carolina, or underperfoming in some of the later debates. But these mistakes came late in the day, and were born of desperation. By that stage she had already lost. She lost, decisively, in the weeks immediately following Super Tuesday, for the simple reason that she hadn't already won.

Nor does it make much sense to explain her failure to win the nomination, as a succession of feminist commentators have sought to do, as evidence of deep-seated misogyny. She wasn't even a bad candidate: don't forget the ease with which she squeezed out the eminently presidential, smooth, standard-issue white male John Edwards. In any other year - 2004, for example, when she should have gone for it - she would have romped home.

The truth is that Hillary Clinton was a powerful, persuasive candidate who ran a campaign that, for all its occasional lapses, was well-organised, well-funded (most of the time) and often ruthless. But at the end of the day she was just another politician. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a political genius of a sort that comes along once in a generation, at the most. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton. The rest are just hacks. Obama won the nomination because at a vital point in the winter and early spring his oratory took flight and caught a national mood; because he inspired millions of Americans who might otherwise not have bothered to go out and vote for him. That's no mean achievement.

Along with his undoubted genius, however, Obama has serious potential problems. Not the impossibility of meeting the sky-high expectations: leaders like him invariably fail to meet expectations, and are always forgiven for it, because they inspire confidence and belief. But the Reverend Wright debacle, which at first he appeared to have batted away, hints at the character assassination that will surely come. He has become a hate figure for many of Dubya's remaining supporters who, while small in numbers, are disproportionately influential on the net. In recent weeks, his campaign has come close to collapse, a crumbling that went virtually unnoticed for the simple reason that he had already won.

So the result in November is in the balance, despite the less-than-inspiring choice of John McCain - by far their best candidate - by the Republicans. Obama repels almost as many people as he inspires. But inspirational he undoubtedly is. It may be all he is, or most of what it he is, but it could just be enough. Especially if he decides to play dirty. Perhaps he could get Hillary to help.


Edwin said...

'. . .he inspired millions of Americans who might otherwise not have bothered to go out and vote for him. '

You have it nailed there I think. A book has just been published about how the South won the Civil War after they lost the military battle, by forcing the blacks out of office and their voters out of the booths. If voting had ben fair in America - if the Union had not eventually lost the War - we would likely have had an Obama before now.

Edwin said...

hm. Just watched McCain on Newsnight speaking against Obama, and slagging his wish to talk with 'tyrants', and his reluctance to see 'progress' in Iraq.

All Obama has to do is stay cool and McCain will win the presidency for him!

valdemar to said...

I agree, H, with your assessment so wholeheartedly that you may wish to consult your personal brain-care specialist. That said, I do feel that Hillary lost it a few times and seemed less and less admirable the more I saw of her. The Bosnia gaffe was a priceless insight into her mind. She has a Blairite indifference to mere facts. I half expected her to say: 'Look - the way I told it is, y'know, the way it was, in a very real and meaningful way. And I think a lot of people will respect that.' Instead she simply claimed to have a dodgy memory when it comes to foreign wars, which made her seem ideal presidential material.

The Heresiarch said...

Such a strange incident, that. I think it's possible that she had a genuine "memory" of dodging bullets. But if it was so dangerous, why would she have had Chelsea with her? It would rather have left her open to charges of being a bad mother.

McCain is a puzzle, because 8 years ago he seemed very impressive. He nearly won the battle against George W Bush. If only...

valdemar said...

I was impressed when McCain described the fundies as 'agents of intolerance', if memory serves. Also, his volcanic temper might lead to some interesting moments in any debates with Obama, who seems to have cornered the market in not exploding. Both candidates' wives seem liable to go off at interesting tangents, too.