This time last year it was inevitable that Hillary Clinton would become the Democrat nominee for President of the United States. The Republicans calibrated their sights at her weaknesses and strengths. While there was some conjecture about whether or not she would be elected President, nobody questioned the power of Big Money and Big Endorsements in making Clinton the inevitable candidate.
We have seen Clinton fritter away the biggest advantage anyone ever had in running for the presidency. She had raised more money than anyone in history – hundreds of millions of dollars – and now her campaign is in deficit. She had a conga-line of endorsements from Democrat bigwigs. She had some experience in the hard practicalities of legislating on healthcare as well as the soft side of presidential power. She had the incalculable asset of Bill Clinton, a natural, canny and proven politician, not only advising her but committed full-time to give her the best and fullest advice on all aspects of a successful campaign.
The Democrats’ compacted primary campaign favoured Clinton. In previous campaigns, each State held their primary at a time that suited themselves, spreading out the primary schedule to draw attention to their State and their local issues. This created space for bolters to emerge from the pack and cost a lot of money. Compacting the primary season of 2007-08 favoured a candidate that already had plenty of money, could draw on endorsements from around the country, and who ran a tight, professional campaign. The Democrats couldn’t have structured a campaign to better suit Clinton if she wrote the rules herself.
Obama’s campaign worked to develop a solid understanding of the complex rules on primary delegate entitlements, with the aim of getting the most delegates to Denver without having to spend the sort of money only available to Clinton. Strangely, Clinton’s team paid no heed to maximising their delegate vote, relying on the heavy artillery of Big Money and Big Endorsements to blow away opponents. The folly of this was demonstrated in the Nevada primary in February.
Clinton had major endorsements from leading Nevada Democrats, spent more money and won more votes in aggregate, yet under the State’s rules it was Obama, not Clinton, who secured a majority of Democrat delegates from that State. This happened again and again: Clinton learned nothing from her failures, mainly because she and her campaign ignored them.
When Democrats in Michigan and Florida breached undertakings they had given on scheduling their primaries, they were punished by having their delegates disenfranchised at the Party’s convention in Denver. When these breaches came to light earlier this year, the candidates honoured the party’s rules by refusing to campaign in those States. Obama withdrew his name from their discredited ballots; Clinton did not. It would have been honourable for Clinton to abide by those rules even when things were going against her. Imagine how powerful she could have been if she had forced Party officials in those States to abide by their original agreements, then rallied voters in legitimate contests. By standing up for those who broke the rules, Clinton was undermining her own Party for personal advantage.
No man could have survived falling from inevitable winner to the ungracious loser who failed to concede last week. Any man who had squandered the money, endorsements, credibility and goodwill that Clinton has would be an international punchline by now.
It’s true that Hillary Clinton bore criticism of her personal appearance, mainly by people who were never going to vote for her. It is also true, but less acknowledged, that male candidates in a mass-media age face the kind of scrutiny about their appearance that Hillary Clinton faced. Gone are the comfortable bellies and facial hair of yesterday’s politicians, replaced by bleached teeth and tailored suits. Gore and Kerry were accused of being aloof and lacking the common touch – claims also made of Clinton.
It is true that there are a number of prominent female Democrat politicians – such as Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow – who are neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by the rise and fall of Hillary Clinton. It is also true that American women who aspire to be president are neither advantaged nor disadvantaged; but she has shown more clearly what a successful candidate for President will have to go through.
The 2008 US Presidential election was Hillary Clinton’s to lose, and lose she did – spectacularly and unequivocally. Even such a strong woman must feel wounded. Those who believed in her must also grieve the loss of possibility. This does not mean, however, that those who would never accept a woman president have been reinforced, or that female candidates for the US presidency will face a harder task. Those seeking to tick the box of a first female president have learned little from the first female prime ministers of Britain or Pakistan.
Instead of being a figure of ridicule, Hillary Clinton is said to have sufficient leverage to be a contender for vice president – or deny it to others. Nobody laughs at her face-saving wish to have some role in the Denver convention. When Bill Clinton became Democrat candidate for President in 1992, he had a free hand from those he beat in the primaries that year, and from previous Democrat presidential candidates Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale. Barack Obama should consider himself similarly free from Hillary Clinton. Her refusal to concede until long after her cause was lost is reminiscent of the lack of reality that has led the incumbent President to disaster.
Hillary Clinton deserves no sympathy for squandering such a strong lead. To regard her as just another loser is to transcend the sexist assumptions which cannot entirely be blamed for her failure.
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