Sunday, June 8, 2008

Hillary Clinton concedes ... finally

Four days after the speech where she should have conceded the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton has finally does so. Let's hope to see less of Team Clinton - Bill, Lanny Davis, Terry McAuliffe, Paul Begala et al. - on the cable news channels. I think that Hillary has positioned herself to be the 'Health czar' in an Obama administration if he wins. There would be long odds on her beig the nomination for Vice-President.

The Economist has a pretty good summary of the Fall of the House of Clinton. Key points:

From the first most of her biggest advantages proved to be booby-trapped. Mrs Clinton stood head and shoulders above Mr Obama when it came to experience—she had been one of the two most influential first ladies in American history and had proved to be a diligent senator, a “work-horse, not a show horse”. But Mrs Clinton's “experience” included her decision to vote in favour of invading Iraq, a decision that was radioactive to many Democrats. And Mr Obama was the first to grasp that this is an election about change, not experience. Americans have had enough of experience in the form of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Seventy per cent of them say America is headed in the wrong direction.

The Clinton machine only exaggerated this problem. Mrs Clinton surrounded herself with familiar faces from her White House years—people like Mark Penn, her chief strategist, Terry McAuliffe, her chief fund-raiser, Howard Wolfson (one of the least helpful spokesmen this newspaper has ever encountered) and, of course, her husband. But these people were all deeply enmeshed in a Washington establishment that most voters despised.


The Clinton machine was too stuck in the 1990s to grasp how the internet was revolutionising political fund-raising. Mrs Clinton built the best fund-raising machine of the 20th century—persuading Democratic fat cats to make the maximum contributions allowable and accumulating a vast treasure trove of money. But Mr Obama trumped her by building the best fund-raising machine of the 21st century.

Mr Obama simultaneously lowered the barrier to entry to Obamaworld and raised expectations of what it meant to be a supporter. Mr Obama's supporters not only showered him with small donations. They also volunteered their time and enthusiasm. His website was thus a vast social networking site (one of his chief organisers was a founder of Facebook)—a mechanism not just for translating enthusiasm into cash but also for building a community of fired-up supporters. Mr Obama's small donations proved to be a renewable resource, as supporters could give several times, up to a maximum of $2,300. Mrs Clinton ran out of cash.


The Clinton campaign might well reply that this catalogue of failures ignores the fact that it was a very close run result. Mrs Clinton won almost exactly the same number of votes as Mr Obama (and claims to have won slightly more, though on a fair count she won fractionally less). She won most of the big states. She improved hugely as a campaigner after the reverses of February, and pulled off big victories in the final weeks of the campaign.

But given the scale of her advantages a year ago there is no doubt that the Clinton campaign comprehensively blew it. Mr Obama will now go on to fight the general election with his primary strategy vindicated and his campaign staff intact. Mrs Clinton has big debts and a brand that is badly tarnished.


And, during the campaign, Mrs Clinton has damaged not only her future but also her past. The Clintons were modernisers who argued that the Democratic Party needed to reinvent itself—embracing free-trade, investing in human capital and reaching out to upwardly mobile voters. During her inept bid Mrs Clinton fell back on all the worst instincts of Democratic politics—denouncing free trade, stirring up the resentments of blue-collar America, and adding a flirtation with racism to the brew. After such an unedifying performance, it is hard to believe that Mrs Clinton's failed campaign represents a missed opportunity for America.

The table accompanying this story indicates that Barack Obama had cemented himself as the preferred Democratic Party candidate in opinion polls by February, and maintained a 5-10% lead over Hillary Clinton from then on. It was really the vacillation of the so-called 'super-delegates', the question of what to do about the votes and delegates from recalcitrant states Florida and Michigan, and the view that Clinton was entitled to see the race out to the end that kept things going as long as they did.

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