Au Contraire

May 22, 2008 3:14 p.m.

A semi-contrary view from one of our shrewdest readers …

You argue that “the evidence is simply overwhelming that Sen. Clinton didn’t think [that Florida and Michigan were] a problem at all.” That’s one way to read the factual record.

But I’d suggest that there are compelling reasons to reach the opposite conclusion. After the 2000 election, she called for the abolition of the electoral college. “I believe strongly,” she said, “that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people.” She argued then that “the total votes cast for a person running for president in our country should
determine the outcome.” Sound familiar?

Of course, as you point out, that’s not what she or her supporters were arguing when the convoluted rules of the nominating system seemed likely to deliver her the nomination. And that, I think, is where she lost her bearings. She and her aides decided not to rock the boat. Instead of using their clout to fix the problems with the system, thereby alienating voters in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, she and her surrogates mouthed the same platitudes we hear every four years about the unique role played by
early states and the lovable quirks of the caucuses. But when the rules she had always disliked started to work against her, she lashed out with righteous indignation.

I think Hillary is genuinely convinced that this election has been a travesty. That elections ought to be about who wins the most votes, full stop. Never mind the innumerable problems with applying that argument to the contests this cycle; it’s what she believes. And it’s of a piece with a set of grievances that she and her surrogates have voiced: that the media has treated her too harshly, that her candidacy has been hobbled by sexism, and that her opponent has enjoyed unfair advantages. Each of these complaints
springs from a common premise – Hillary could not have lost a fair fight for the nomination. And working from that premise, she sees herself not only as a victim, but also as a champion of those who, like her, have been wronged by the system. This really has become a moral crusade for her, and that’s impelling her forward long after she’s lost any realistic chance of winning.

Perhaps she can be persuaded to back away from the edge. But now that the dictates of her conscience and of political expedience have at last converged, Hillary is finally giving voice to the grievances that she’s long held back. As she’s done so, she’s tapped into a deep and powerful strain of resentment and – dare I say it – bitterness in the electorate. It’s not easy to put that genie back in the bottle, and it’s not at all clear to me that she wants to.

Masthead Masthead
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