I have a friend who is one of the top political consultants in the country. He was a major player in the Clinton campaigns in the 1990s and had a significant role in Barack Obama’s two runs for president. He is such a seasoned veteran that he doesn’t bother to jockey for a slot on the Sunday political talk shows on the major networks or even bid for an appearance with Rachel Maddow. He doesn’t need to strive. He’s above all that.
Right after the 2012 presidential election, I was invited to a dinner at my friend’s house and, with about a dozen of us gathered around the dining room table, he asked who we thought would be the Democratic and Republican nominees in 2016. Predictions on the Democratic side did not stray far from Hillary Clinton until the guessing game came round to my friend. Given that he knows Hillary pretty well, I was interested to hear his insights.
She will not run, he said. She is too tired physically and too spent emotionally after years of fighting with Republicans. Hillary Clinton will choose to finally have a private life and forego her chance to return to the White House as the first female president of the United States — that was his expert, insider’s opinion.
And that should be a lesson for anyone who thinks all the quasi-journalistic pundits and self-nominated political gurus who populate the commentators’ chairs on CNN, Fox and MSNBC are reliable sources of information about the future of American politics. All their educated guesses consist of the same hot air that we all expend when we talk about the state of the nation. Sometimes, it may even be a handicap to be too close to the subject. The fascinating details that an insider knows can sometimes loom too large and block out more subtle shifts in the erratic electorate or mask the quiet spark of motivation in a tired candidate’s heart.
Hillary Clinton is running for president. If she was tired and spent three years ago, she must have found new energy. If she was dreading renewal of the war with the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that she identified as the enemy during her husband’s presidency, she apparently has steeled herself for battle. The gentle joys of being a grandmother are, apparently, not enough to satisfy a woman who knows she can make history, even if the cost is high.
Clinton officially kicked off her campaign on Sunday with a curious video that, during its opening scenes, could have been confused with an ad for an insurance company or a bank. Underlaid with perky and mildly annoying music, the video began with quick cuts between a diverse group of Americans, all happily engaged with changes in their lives — a new baby, a new business, a new school, preparing for retirement, planting a garden, moving to a new house, starting a new job. “I’m getting ready to do something, too,” Clinton says when she finally appears on screen a minute-and-a-half into the two-minute video, “I’m running for president.”
This approach was a far cry from the way Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the first Republican to declare his candidacy a couple of weeks ago. Cruz stood before the student body at Liberty University, a Christian conservative bastion, and delivered a speech in which he told the story of his Cuban immigrant father and talked about “the transformative love of Jesus Christ” and Barack Obama’s disregard of Israel, among a litany of other topics.
Clinton kept it much simpler. Unlike Cruz, she recited no story of her life — that’s not really necessary for the most famous woman in the world — and did not talk policy. Her message was terse: “Everyday Americans need a champion and I want to be that champion.”
The common analysis — all those smart pundits and experts again — is that Clinton’s campaign will initially be built around small gatherings with voters where Hillary is comfortable and a bit of a charmer rather than big speeches at large rallies in vast arenas where she is far less at ease. The added benefit of the smaller, face-to-face events is that they place her among the “everyday Americans” instead of up on a pedestal where she is an unobstructed target for Republican attacks.
No matter what, though, those attacks will be unrelenting and furious. The right wing hates the Clintons as much as they hate Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton could have avoided it all by not running. My friend was convinced she would choose that path. But she didn’t, and now her task is to tell the country why — why she wants to be elected to the most unforgiving job in the world.