“Is there a single thing Clinton accomplished in all her years as First Lady, then New York Senator and then Secretary of State?” Paul Mulching asked in a recent editorial. “I can’t think of any.”
It’s an honest question, and one that Clinton herself has had difficulty answering. But perhaps a better question is: What does Clinton stand for? Sadly, it too is a question with no great answer. David A. Graham writes for The Atlantic:
“It turns out having a few days to myself was actually a gift. I talked with some old friends. I spent time with our very sweet dogs. I did some thinking,” she said. “The campaign trail doesn’t really encourage reflection. It’s important to sit with your thoughts every now and then, and that did help me reconnect with what this whole campaign is about.”
It’s a good question: Just what is this whole campaign about? In a statement ahead of the speech, the Clinton campaign’s communications director Jennifer Palmieri said, “Our campaign readily admits that running against a candidate as controversial as Donald Trump means it is harder to be heard on what you aspire for the country’s future and it is incumbent on us to work harder to make sure voters hear that vision.” Palmieri’s statement seemed like an acknowledgement not just of Clinton’s recent eroding lead but of a fundamental problem that has plagued her since the start of the campaign. It’s always been a little tough to tell what the underlying motivation for Clinton’s candidacy actually was.
Clinton’s driving motivation seems to simply be that she wants to be president, that it’s a position owed to her after a long career in public life. And although she can’t say that, because she’d rightfully be excoriated as avaricious, voters seem to seen through the ruse.
Part of Clinton’s challenge is her policy history. She’s been on every side of some major issues, and often comes across as a political opportunist rather than someone whose views naturally evolve.
“Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you changed your positions based on political expediency,” Anderson Cooper said in the first Democrat debate. “You were against same-sex marriage, now you’re for it. You defended President Obama’s immigration policies, now you say they’re too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozens of times; you even called it the ‘gold standard.’ Now, suddenly last week, you’re against it. Will you say anything to get elected?”
Another part of her challenge is, as fellow Democrat David Axelrod described it, “an unhealthy penchant for privacy.” That tendency extends well beyond secrecy around things like her use of a private email server, the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with questionable regimes, and her speeches to big banks. It manifests itself in a lack of genuineness. She comes across as scripted, stage-managed and legalistic, an M.O. that simply doesn’t jive with today’s voter which prioritizes authenticity.
But perhaps her biggest problem is that she just doesn’t seem to have any big, motivating ideas. As Todd Purdum, a reporter who has covered her for many years, writes that she was once willing to talk about her big thoughts and aspirations. He recalls a 1993 speech is which she said the country was suffering from “a sleeping sickness of the soul” and urged citizens to “remold society by redefining what it means to be a human being in the 20th century.”
Now, I have no idea what that means, but it’s at least a sweeping vision that reflects her aspirations for society. That’s a far cry from the incrementalist politician we are left with today. Erin McPike writes for the New York Daily News:
What Clinton needs is a domestic-policy target to pursue. Because, less than two months from Election Day, the American people don’t have the foggiest idea of what she really wants to accomplish. …
Despite all his offenses and contradictions, Trump comes across as a man who’s powerfully motivated to do big things. …
Where is Hillary Clinton’s reach for a big-ticket item? Hard to find, even if you squint. And this is a woman who is sharp enough to do more than simply crack a glass ceiling.
Sharp enough to crack the glass ceiling, but dull enough not to recognize that she absolutely must open up to the American people. Inauthenticity in the name of political expediency just isn’t going to cut it.