I watched Hillary Clinton closely as she gave her acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention on Thursday night. I was hoping for something spectacular. I hoped in vain.
It was spectacular enough for a major party to have a woman nominated for president. It’s about time. As I watched her wave and grin ear-to-ear, I imagined how thoroughly beat down she’s going to look in eight years, and how the networks will play clips of this historic acceptance speech and we’ll all marvel, “Look at how young and vigorous she was!”
I was hoping for The New Hillary, the one who shows more of who she is and overcomes the cold, stand-offish feeling many voters get from her. What I saw was a huge disappointment to me and left me just as alienated from her as ever. Apparently, the crowds and the pundits thought it was a great speech however, and I’m accustomed to being the odd one out. So…
To be clear, she is my candidate, for two reasons. First, I believe the Progressive approach to government is best. Progressives rejected the tooth-and-claw Darwinism of American capitalism in 1912 and asserted that government needs to be a player in everyday life. That approach justifies interventionism, such as food and drug safety laws, financial regulation, and much else. Granted, they do a very bad job of it sometimes, but philosophically, I think it’s the right approach for government (compared to modern Republicans). So I’d vote Democrat as a matter of principle almost regardless of who the candidate was.
Secondly, the alternative to Hillary is difficult to contemplate. The world hasn’t seen a candidate like Trump since the Third Reich. It happened before, and it could happen again, so there’s a very compelling case to vote for Hillary.
But back to the Hillary acceptance speech. What I heard was a great steaming pile of humblebrag, along with well-deserved but unnecessary snarky comments about Trump, along with endless platitudes, clichés, and a long checklist of vague and general talking points and promises. I didn’t learn anything, but I saw and heard some things.
Hillary confessed that when it comes to public service, she is strong on service, not so good at the public part. I think that’s because despite all the shouting, hectoring, and scolding, she’s unsure of herself, as a person. Her mind is as large as her family, as was well-documented in numerous remarks by her husband, her daughter, and herself, and she knows that is not big enough for the job. So she wears a psychological exoskeleton of rehearsed policies and slogans to cover up the fact that she really does not think quickly or creatively. Nobody must know the awful secret that she’s just an ordinary person.
There was a moment where I thought she was going to do something creative. “People watching at home might say,” she posed, “this all sounds very good, but how are you going to do it?” She paused, and I held my breath.
What I was prepared to hear was, “I’m not. You’re going to help me do it. You’re going to vote, and when you do, you need to vote ‘Democrat’ all the way down the ticket. Senator, Representative, Governor, School Superintendent. Democrat, Democrat, Democrat. That’s the strategy. That’s how we accomplish all these goals I have listed. I ask you to do that.”
But she didn’t say anything like that. Instead she offered predictable anodyne nonsense like, “I will work hard to bring people together to do the right thing for America.” Right. That’s usually successful.
I think Hillary’s carefully constructed psychological exoskeleton is what people see and what we instinctively find off-putting and cold in her public persona, and why many feel she is inauthentic. A persona is supposed to be inauthentic, not in the sense of dishonest – there’s no question she believes what she says – but inauthentic in assiduously not revealing the person behind the curtain, because she fears that person is inadequate to the task. She is never, ever going to let us see behind the curtain.
I can’t blame her too much. She is who she is, and she is tireless and sincere. She just does not have the personal courage to reveal herself as a dedicated, but ordinary and not particularly brilliant person. Too bad for the voters. Too bad for her.
I love Obama’s intellectual brilliance. But I also know from experience, that “smart” and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee. Winning elections is not about smart. Hillary has gotten this far by being who she is and the election is hers to lose at this point. So I’m quite sure that her overriding strategy is to not commit (any more) unforced errors. Nothing new, nothing creative, no “New Hillary.” Stay the course.
That’s probably right.