In an email released by WikiLeaks, one Hillary Clinton advisor claimed the campaign was so uninspired that he was “petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump.” Of course, they did nominate Trump. And it may well be that the man known to claim that he could get away with murder has finally brought himself down by being caught boasting that a guy like him can grab women whenever and wherever he wants. Still, at this point in the game, we probably wouldn’t want to take that for granted.
Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation and Clinton backer throughout the primary process, certainly wasn’t doing so in a recent article decrying the apparent lack of enthusiasm surrounding the campaign. Granting that “Clinton’s not the second coming of Bernie Sanders,” Pollitt argued that his supporters should give her greater support nonetheless, since his “campaign has moved the whole party to the left,” to the point where “the platform is the most progressive in our lifetime” and “Clinton is now tied to that shift.” Now if only someone could get Clinton to say that, Pollitt probably wouldn’t have to be fretting about the lack of team spirit. A party platform is widely understood to not be binding on a candidate – unless the candidate says it is. Clinton is only tied to it insofar as she says she is and she really doesn’t seem to be saying a lot about it.
Whatever one thinks of all the leaking going on, we have certainly seen a lot of new material about what the candidates think. An unauthorized recording of a Hillary Clinton fund raiser held last February, for instance, sheds a fair amount of light on how the Democratic nominee sees herself – and how she understood the whole Bernie Sanders phenomenon. She told her audience that day that she saw her campaign “occupying from the center-left to the center-right,” as distinct from “the populist, nationalist, xenophobic, discriminatory kind of approach” on the Republican right and the Sanders supporters on the left who feel that “we just need to ... go as far as, you know, Scandinavia.”
Her thoughts about Sanders backers stirred up something of a ruckus when first heard – she described them as “children of the Great Recession” who were “living in their parents’ basement,” while feeling that “they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves.” Was this a slight toward the Berners or simply an attempt at accurate representation? Hard to say – Sanders and his campaign manager opted not to take umbrage at it. And maybe not so important a point anyhow. What did seem clear, though, was Clinton’s sense of bewilderment at the whole thing. Here she was, holding down the broad middle for years, advocating progressive social reforms, while at the same time firmly supportive of the established economic order – that had itself been so supportive of her and her ex-president husband – and suddenly there were all these people thinking we should have “free college, free healthcare.” She realized now that, “if you’re feeling like you’re consigned to, you know, being a barista, or you know, some other job that doesn’t pay a lot, and doesn’t have some other ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing.”
Her campaign didn’t actually play out that way so much, however. The advisor cited above, (The Hill columnist Brent Budowsky) suggested that “Hillary should stop attacking Bernie, especially when she says things that are untrue, which candidly she often does.” He told them she has “no idea of the damage she does to herself with these attacks.” Instead, he recommended adopting Sanders’s “proposal for a free public college education paid for by a transaction tax on Wall Street speculation.” So here we are at the end, with a Democratic Party platform supporting free tuition at community colleges and the candidate herself supporting no tuition at any public institution of higher learning for students from families with an annual income below $85,000. But if she’s been out there campaigning on this, well let’s just say the word isn’t getting out there effectively. To be fair, Clinton’s got a couple of things going against her. Like Al Gore was, she’s somewhat hemmed in running to succeed an administration she served in, rather than a Republican administration she might more freely criticize. The other thing is that the Sanders campaign raised the bar for a lot of people.
Clinton and Obama ran against each other with similar agendas, the race mostly coming down to which individual you preferred to carry it out. This time, however, she unexpectedly ran into a campaign that said that we ought to be doing more, much more – like, you know, Scandinavia.
Ironically, there’s actually some leaked material that might well improve her image among this target audience. At that same February fundraiser, former assistant secretary of defense Andy Weber brought up the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile program, an Obama Administration plan to spend upwards of $17 billion for 1,000 LRSO missiles to replace the Air Force’s Air-Launched Cruise Missiles by 2030. He asked, “Will you cancel this program if President Obama doesn’t in the next 11 months and lead the world in a ban on this particularly destabilizing, dangerous type of nuclear weapon?” Clinton replied that she would be “inclined” to do so, going on to say, “The last thing we need are sophisticated cruise missiles that are nuclear armed.” Given her reputation as a hawk, she might want to let people know.
One emailer told Clinton campaign manager John D. Podesta the “Message needs to be more positive, upbeat, hopeful ... Bernie is saying we can change the world. Her msg is ‘No, we can’t’ because …” Remember when we heard that Clinton now backed the “public option,” meaning that individuals below Medicare age would be able to buy into some form of the program as an alternative to private insurance? Heard about it lately? It just one of the things she’s got to let people know she cares about. Even at this late hour, there’s only person who can change the Clinton campaign’s message.