Sunday, February 17, 2008
Who was it that defined neurosis as repeating the same mistake again and again, and expecting a better outcome each time? That’s really what the Clinton campaign is doing in its post-Chesapeake primary strategy. Now Hillary defines Obama as the candidate who makes speeches, while she is the one who provides “answers” and “solutions.”
Why is Hillary embracing this new line? It’s not that she has any great record of solutions or answers of which to boast, but rather that she wants to highlight Obama’s lack of a legislative record. Once again, she and her campaign geniuses are making the same mistake they made when they decided to use the experience as their defining difference with Obama. It’s not that she had much, but they sensed an opportunity to highlight that he had even less.
Of course experience not only didn’t work. It backfired massively. By co-opting the experience tag, Hillary bought into the status quo and left Obama to be the agent of change. A candidacy that could have excited tens of millions of women, the first serious prospect of a female president, became merely a boring part of the status quo, shorn of its novelty.
Hillary’s claim to be the solution-person won’t work either for the same simple reason: She hasn’t passed any. If she were McCain, she could tout a long history of legislative success on key issues and herald her ability to pass bills and engineer progress. But she hasn’t done that. She hasn’t walked the walk so now she cannot talk the talk.
As a first lady, Hillary’s sole important legislative involvement came during the first two years of her husband’s presidency when she sought to pass her ill-conceived health care reform, an effort that failed so miserably that it cost her party control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. Between 1995 to 1997, she was largely absent from the White House, traveling the world, promoting her best selling book and helping to raise funds. She never attended strategy meetings and her only intervention in the singular legislative achievements of Bill’s administration — welfare reform and the balanced budget deal — was privately to urge a veto of the former and to oppose the latter because it provided for a cut in the capital gains tax. Hillary returned to the White House in 1998 to oversee the defense to the Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment attempt, but the Clinton administration essentially folded its legislative efforts during those years and hung on for dear life. No portfolio of accomplishments there.
In the Senate, she has largely spent her time raising funds for herself and other Democrats (in hopes of attracting the votes of super delegates) and promoting her best selling memoir Living History. In part because of a lack of attention and also because of the Democrats’ minority status during much of her Senate tenure, she has passed very, very little of note.
Her legislative accomplishments in her first term in the Senate were almost entirely symbolic. She renamed a courthouse after Justice Thurgood Marshall. She passed a resolution honoring Alexander Hamilton and another celebrating the win of a Syracuse University lacrosse team. She renamed post offices, founded a national park in Puerto Rico and expressed the sense of the Senate that Harriet Tubman should have gotten a federal pension 150 years ago.
Her only actual legislation included one bill to increase nurse recruitment, another to aid respite time for Alzheimer’s care givers and another to expand veterans’ health benefits, a paltry output for six years’ service.
In her second term, she has spent full-time campaigning for president and has the worst attendance record of the three senators now still in the presidential race.
So who is she kidding? If she wants to hit Obama with a negative based on his inexperience and limited legislative record, she should go right ahead. But to pretend that she is the “solutions” and “answers” person while he gives speeches is absurd.
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