Hillary Clinton cried on the campaign trail Monday, leading immediately to ridicule and cynical interpretations of why she had chosen this moment to get emotional. We’ll leave that to others, and simply extend her some sympathy. Heaven knows, she has a lot to try to cry about.
Clinton could be watching her presidential campaign — despite all the money and organization and years of ambitious strategizing and maneuvering — be destroyed by the inspirational insurgency of Barack Obama. It looks as though he could win big in New Hampshire tonight, and after that, he could be very hard to stop.
Why has Hillary fallen so hard? This time around the Clintons have been admonishing audiences to stop thinking about tomorrow — instead harkening back to Hillary’s stint as First Lady when she hung with Benazir Bhutto, took on the big bad insurance industry, and delivered health care to New Hampshire national guardsmen. Such experience was expected to trump change. But experience is a two-way street. Voters have had lots of experience with the Clintons — and not all of it has been happy. Moreover, she made her experience case with an off-putting air of entitlement.
Within the Democratic party, the Clintons always benefited from their enemies: stick with Bill and Hillary or the nasty Newt Gingrich will prevail; Hillary was going to vanquish the hated Rudy Giuliani; Hillary will deliver us from the criminal Bush Republicans. Their enemies helped make them possible, but this time the alternative to the Clintons is Obama, a gifted politician loved by most of the left. Why would liberals compromise again with the Clintons when they can have the sweet uplift of Barack Obama and his non-triangulating leftism?
On Monday, Bill Clinton said of Hillary’s troubles: “We can’t be a new story, I’m sorry. I can’t make her younger, taller, male.” Or black? It was a statement in keeping with Bill’s often strange and unhelpful performance on the campaign trail in this, Hillary’s winter of discontent. He made her? And now there’s only so much he can do to change her?
Of course, she would be better off if she has his talents. A gifted politician like Bill could make the party put up with him, and his relatively centrist politics — they liked him. She has always been the enforcer, he the lovable and undisciplined softie. He, like Obama, is a natural, while she has to work at it. If Obama is poetry, she is an extra-credit essay — dutiful, competent, dull. It is looking like it will take more than that for people to want to embark on a full 28 years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton.
All year long Democrats probably saw Hillary as inevitable, though not necessarily electable. Once her inevitability collapsed in Iowa, she was left only with the electability problem, which will loom even larger if she continues to lose early states. It’s a volatile election season, and the current dynamic could change, either because Obama stumbles or Hillary finds some effective new tack against him. But the political terrain is looking forboding for her.
There is unquestionably an anti-establishment mood in the electorate. After spending their youths attacking the establishment and then climbing within it, the Clintons now are the establishment — just when the kids, and many other Democratic voters, want nothing more than to reject it. It’s enough to make you want to reach for the Kleenex.