Monday, January 07, 2008

Hillary's long and winding road

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Much of the talk over here, in the U.K., as over there, in the U.S., has been about Obama. Iowa put him in the lead. Is he now unstoppable?

The presidential campaign, both primary and general, is about expectations and momentum. Obama rose up to exceed expectations and now has the momentum. Clinton, Obama's main rival, lost her lead, or so we are told, the results in Iowa and recent poll numbers signs of her decline, or so we are told -- she still has momentum, but the direction that momentum is taking her is the exit, not the nomination. Or so we are told. What matters is not what is actually going on but what the media in their monolithic myopia say is going on. The media, who love a good, compelling story, are about narrative-by-soundbite. For all the criticism of politicians and their one-liners, the media are no better, and generally worse. You expect politicians to spin, but you expect the media, or rather the more responsible elements of the media, to present a broader view. Not so. For the media, it is all about the easily-reported, easily-digested snapshot. In this case, Obama is up, Clinton is down.

I don't much care for either one, truth be told, although, as I have said before, and repeatedly, I would support either one in the general election. Please, fellow Democrats, let us remember this. Whatever our present views, our present animosities, is there a Democrat in the field we would not favour over any of the Republicans? My co-bloggers here have expressed their views -- some pro-Clinton, some not, we are a diverse bunch -- and I, pro-Edwards, have done the same. But I suspect that we would all support Clinton or Obama over Huckabee or Romney or Giuliani or McCain. I am pleased to see Clinton fall out of the lead -- I would take Obama over Clinton, I think -- but what bothers me now is the piling on, the new media narrative that brands her an instant loser. However the race plays out, we should not be pleased with this turn of events.

And what is it now? Check out Memeorandum for the latest. "Clinton gets emotional at New Hampshire stop," reports CNN. What is wrong with emotion? A lot, it would seem, if it is shown on the campaign trail, and, yes, by a woman. A man's emotion could be expressed as anger, and he would be applauded for it. It's a different story with Clinton. She's a bitch for expressing anger, a weakling for expressing.. what? Her voice broke. She responded "emotionally" to a question. She has my sympathy. It cannot be easy out there on the campaign trail, subjecting oneself, and one's family, even a family as notable as hers, to endless, and often unfair, scrutiny. It is, no doubt, a brutal undertaking, to run for president, and she has been through a great deal. And Edwards was out-of-line, I think, to pounce so ruthlessly, to assault a moment of seeming vulnerability. Yes, America needs a president with "strength and resolve," yes, the presidency is "a very tough business," yes, the president faces "very, very difficult challenges every single day, difficult judgments every single day," but Clinton's admission, however "emotional," should not become a defining moment. Criticize her politics and policies all you want. It doesn't do us any good to rip each other to shreds in the heat of the battle.

Again, I am not a Clinton supporter. On this, however, I'm with Matt Stoller: "I thought her appearance was one of the sweetest, toughest, and most forthright expressions of Hillary Clinton's belief system I have ever seen. She genuinely believes this country is lost without someone who knows how to deal with the massive problems we're facing, and she genuinely doesn't think Obama can do it. Moreover, she looks kind of lost in the politics, unable to comprehend how her decades of hard work and compromises could be rejected by voters. Don't they see that Obama isn't ready? Can't they go beyond the rhetoric and look at substance? She has gotten plenty of liberal policies done, why are the liberals voting for someone else? Whatever you may think of Clinton, she has put her whole life into public service." And while Edwards is going after her in the heat of the battle, so, too, is what Matt rightly calls "the cynical, nasty, and misogynistic press corps" -- the media smell blood, and that's all that counts.

Meanwhile, Drudge is predictably playing up rumours of an imminent, post-New Hampshire end to the Clinton campaign. To be fair, so is Greg Sargent at TPM's Election Central -- there are apparently opposing views, or "internal discussions," in the Clinton camp -- but at least with him the reporting is nuanced and sound. Although some Clinton insiders are "worried about the long term damage that could be done to Hillary if she decides to fight on after a New Hampshire loss," there is "no indication they are yet urging an exit." If she does lose New Hampshire, though, you know where the media narrative will go: Obama is indeed unstoppable and Clinton is, alas, a hopeless also-ran who might as well get out of the way of the swelling Obama juggernaut. In that case, it may not matter what Clinton herself wants to do, much less her advisors. The media will have its story, and that will be that.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. New Hampshire hasn't happened yet, and a new Gallup poll puts Clinton and Obama each at about one-third support among Democrats. That's a tie is what that is, and there's a long, long way to go. It is now Obama who faces the challenge of heightened expectations and the risk of losing his hard-won momentum. The pendulum could yet swing back.

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