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Here's What Was Missing From Hillary Clinton's Campaign Launch

The Democratic presidential hopeful kicked off her campaign with an engaging video on Sunday. But there were a few things -- and people -- notably absent from Clinton’s idealized America. (Hillary For America/AP)
The Democratic presidential hopeful kicked off her campaign with an engaging video on Sunday. But there were a few things -- and people -- notably absent from Clinton’s idealized America. (Hillary For America/AP)
This article is more than 6 years old.

Well, that was the easy part.

A presidential hopeful who is expected to spend $2.5 billion to win the White House had better be able to produce an engaging video launch of her campaign. Hillary Clinton cleared that minor hurdle with a warm, even witty, paean to the daily concerns of ordinary Americans. White ones. Black ones. Latinos. Gays. Retirees. Factory workers. Single moms. Even bemused owners of naughty dogs get a shout out in the upbeat two-minute video in which Clinton makes only a brief appearance.

In place of the candidate we know so well, the video introduces us to attractive middle class folks eager to embrace the future after an especially hard winter. One has a home renovation project to begin, another a same-sex wedding to plan. Two have a new baby on the way; one has an eye on a better school district for her kindergartener. One is thinking about retirement, another is settling into a new job on the factory floor. One is preparing to graduate from college, another is opening a small business with his brother.

It might not be Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” but in Hillary Clinton’s hard-working homeland there is, at least, the promise of spring.

Why does she want to be president? To do what, exactly, and for whom?

"Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top," Clinton tells us, employing the populist rhetoric that in four years has migrated to mainstream politics from the street protests of Occupy Wall Street. "Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion, so you can do more than just get by, you can get ahead and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong. So, I'm hitting the road to earn your vote because it's your time, and I hope you'll join me on this journey."

Absent from Clinton’s idealized America? The poor, with no homes to renovate. The undocumented, with no path to college. The soldier, still deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq more than a decade after then-Senator Clinton of New York voted to authorize a war without end.

There will be time enough in an election still 19 months away to hear the views of the presumptive Democratic nominee on all those matters, as well as on the prospect of a nuclear Iran, a belligerent Russia and the stalemate between Palestinians and Israelis that is even more intractable than it was when Clinton mounted her first bid for the presidency in 2007.

What she will need to articulate much sooner, and without the protective shield of scripted, prerecorded video clips, is the rationale for her candidacy. Why does she want to be president? To do what, exactly, and for whom? Democratic boilerplate about wanting to fight for the middle class will not satisfy voters who need to hear how that squares with her financial ties to Wall Street, her $300,000 speaking fees and her cozy relationships with foreign donors to her family’s nonprofit foundation.

Her challenge is not about image. Hillary Clinton has always been a Rorschach test, confirming what we choose to see in her, not what she means to project.

Confronting those contradictions candidly will do more to resolve questions about her genuineness than any number of softening photo ops with granddaughter Charlotte. Her challenge is not about image. Hillary Clinton has always been a Rorschach test, confirming what we choose to see in her, not what she means to project. But convincing the electorate of her authenticity will require a level candor that has eluded her in a past that found her too often in a defensive crouch about everything from the state of her marriage to her investment in cattle futures.

The “Stop Hillary” forces are already at work, mobilizing to undermine her as she heads out this week for a springtime visit to Iowa where she will meet actual voters who may or may not share the optimism of those in her carefully crafted campaign video.

So begins the hard part.

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Eileen McNamara Cognoscenti contributor
Eileen McNamara teaches journalism at Brandeis University. The author of a biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, she won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for The Boston Globe.

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