Why Clinton Lost

By Nathaniel Gurien

From its kickoff TH meeting in Berlin, NH in February, 2007 to the present day, HRC's campaign has been, apparently by design, informed by its sizzle, not its steak, process over policy, script and pandering over leadership. I made this specific point to Gen. Wes Clark during a small gathering of local activists in North Conway, NH in December, 2007 in which he was pitching Senator Clinton's candidacy. He agreed with my observation but defended her "cautious" approach as necessary to avoid providing the "right-wing propaganda machine" with material.

This fundamental defect of her campaign struck me from Day One when during the aforementioned 02.07 TH meeting, she opened with remarks and then took questions. In front of a impressive contingient of regional, national and international media, she answered a few softball questions about health care and tuition assistance with numbing generalities. Disgusted, I raised my hand and asked her: "We all know that the Bush Administration are congenital liars. In the interest of demonstrating that your administration would be more honest and transparent than the Bush administration: What is the true reason(s) the US invaded Iraq? We know it wasn't because of WMD or Al Qaeda, so take this opportunity right now to set the tone of your campaign and future administration by telling us the truth." Her reply, as reported by Patrick Healy of the NYT was:

She responded by asserting that President Bush and his advisers came into power in 2001 with an "obsession" to oust Saddam Hussein and resolve the "unfinished business" of the first Gulf War of Mr. Bush’s father. "From almost the first day they got into office, they were trying to figure out how to get rid of Saddam Hussein," Mrs. Clinton said. "I’m not a psychiatrist – I don’t know all of the reasons behind their concern, some might say their obsession." "I guess they must have seen it as unfinished business, for want of a better term," she added. Mrs. Clinton then turned to criticizing the administration’s handling of the war, saying: "If you had been obsessed with doing this, as they apparently were, why were you so incompetent?"

 

Now, of course, with her security clearances, and those of her husband, she certainly knows at least as much of the truth as we moderately-informed little people. She chose instead an answer that translates as either: 1) No, my administration is not going to be any more transparent or honest than the Bush Administration, or 2) Condescending circuitous bullshit.

My question was followed by one from Roger Tilton, subsequently reported ubiquitously, who asked her if she was ready to apologize for her Iraq war vote. She answered no, based on a false claim of ignorance.

I and many other activists and citizens attended innumerable campaign events throughout the early months of the NH Primary, and one of the most common refrains was that most glaringly she, but also most of the other "top-tier" candidates WERE NOT ANSWERING OUR QUESTIONS.

This ultimately led to my founding in October 2007 (along with Roger Tilton and other activists who felt that citizens deserved a responsive and substantive dialogue with candidates for public office) a non-profit, non-partisan organization called NH Asks to ask all the presidential candidates in NH provocative and tough questions in newspaper ads throughout the state. Their answers would then be rated for truthfulness, straightforwardness and responsiveness (STR) and published in subsequent newspapaper ads. As Executive Director of NH Asks, Inc., I can state with some authority that Senator Clinton rarely, if ever, supplied genuinely responsive answers to substantive questions, certainly at least when she campaigned in NH. Neither she nor her campaign ever answered NH Asks's questions.

The meeting with General Clark in North Conway, NH in December, 2007 was, for me, one of the most enjoyable and truly informative of the primary season. His candor and honesty was refreshing, and his respect for the intelligence of his audience was genuine. He stated that Hillary shared his progressive policy views, and that we could be confident of her similarly competent and progressive leadership.

I pointed out that whereas that might be true, she had given us no basis to know that. Her public interaction seemed all scripted and/or manipulative, as well as devoid of demonstrative leadership, citing examples including her support of the Kyle-Leiberman Amendment, and her failure to stand with Senator Dodd to defend the Constitution.

I suspect that the other side of the same coin that also doomed her candidacy was an excessive reliance on professional political advisors, rather than trusting her own instincts. However, my suspicion in this regard is largely circumstantial.

Notwithstanding, her campaign's most monumental blunder was a failure to demonstrate her ability to lead the nation with both her words and deeds. And she squandered numerous golden opportunities to do so.

The real shame is that she could have run an inspiring and historic campaign, and if she had shed all this baggage, she might have been a great president.