WHILE THE country is urgently engaged in finding a way out of the quagmire in Iraq, Hillary Rodham Clinton is busy holding private dinners for key Democrats from primary states and remaining curiously silent on the subject of Iraq. Indeed, as she has transformed herself over the last few years from first lady to presumptive presidential front-runner, the profile that has emerged is that of a politician more comfortable following than leading.
There are politicians with great instincts as leaders — those who recognize not just the crises directly in front of them but those around the corner as well. (And these leadership instincts come from the gut, not from a multitude of consultants, strategists and pollsters.) And then there are politicians with great instincts as followers — those who are the first to stick their fingers in the air and notice even the slightest shift in the wind of popular opinion.
Clinton is in the latter category: She is the quintessential political weather vane.
On Iraq, she remains a captive of her and her consultants’ belief that the country isn’t ready for a female commander in chief who isn’t a hawk. Unfortunately, she’s misreading the zeitgeist. Democrats are fed up with fence-straddling and triangulation. But that has become Clinton’s brand. Smiling photo ops with Bill Frist, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Backing a bill criminalizing flag burning. Coming out against violent video games. Signing on to President Bush’s missile defense plan. Shifting her language on abortion. Refusing to level with Americans on Iraq.
Such moves may have worked in the 1990s, but these are different times — times of war and terrorist threats, times in which the longing for strong, authentic leadership is paramount.
As a result, Clinton’s strategy for the presidency is threatening to become a cautionary tale about a perfect little girl who had a perfect little plan that went perfectly astray.
After joining the Senate, the world’s most exclusive club, she set out to do everything her head — and her consultants — told her was right. She sharpened the points of her triangulation strategy, decorating her rhetoric in red state-friendly shades. She was careful, oh so careful, and aimed to please, never saying anything that would get her in trouble.
She quietly and methodically began building her campaign team — surrounding herself with a gaggle of advisors and consultants, raising millions of dollars (and lining up a top-flight finance director to help her raise millions more), reaching out to power brokers in her home state. She even hired a netroots pro to harness the energy of the Internet and win over the blogosphere.
With Democrats on the rise, her perfect plan seemed to be working out perfectly.
And then, suddenly, came a rumbling in the distance. A rumbling caused by Barack Obama. Indications are that before the year is out, he will officially be in the race.
All at once, a surge of enthusiasm and support for Obama is threatening to ruin all of Clinton’s perfect plans. She thought she had the momentum, but it’s Obama who has the wind at his back.
If there is a lesson for my daughters and for politically minded girls and women everywhere, it’s that you might as well speak your mind and do what is in your heart because you never know what unforeseen forces are headed your way.
As the poet tells us, the best-laid plans of mice and men — and perfect presidential candidates — often go awry. And, man oh man, are they ever going awry for Clinton. In the larger political scheme of things, winning the hearts — and wallets — of Hollywood doesn’t matter much. But capturing the support of Hollywood insiders should have been a gimme for Hillary, the town’s movers and shakers having solidly backed both of Bill Clinton’s White House runs and her Senate campaign.
But that’s not how it’s working out. David Geffen has already declared for Obama, and many other Hollywood power brokers, who are not ready to go public yet, are making it known in private that they are in the ABH (Anyone But Hillary) camp. And all because they don’t trust her to stand up for what is right — or even to know anymore what is right.