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July 05, 2007

Change vs. Competence

I actually think the New Dems are onto something when they suggest "Restart the 21st Century" as a 2008 election theme. We want a redo! And Obama is fairly clearly the guy to push that appeal forward. Hillary just ain't the change candidate. In the post, Ed Kilgore is considering Hillary's tricky identification with the past even as she runs to lead the future. I guess I don't really see the problem for her: She's running on a theme of competence. With her, voters know what they're going to get, which I think may be a more powerful appeal than many realize after the turmoil of the past few years. Change has its uses, but so does stability, and it wouldn't shock me to learn that a healthy portion of the electorate wants nothing more than to hand the country over to someone they basically trust and stop having to worry about what that cipher in the Oval Office will do tomorrow.

July 5, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

If she actually manages to persuade people she represents competence, then it's a a potentially powerful meme to run against the GWB legacy with.

But I don't know if she's got that image sewn up really. The whole association with the healthcare plan doesn't seem like it helps in that regard. I guess time will tell.

Posted by: Meh | Jul 5, 2007 4:18:46 PM

I guess I don't really see the problem for her: She's running on a theme of competence. With her, voters know what they're going to get, which I think may be a more powerful appeal than many realize after the turmoil of the past few years.

Wait, what? What actual managerial experience does Clinton have outside of the health care task force debacle? Clinton's appeal isn't to competence, it's to name recognition. "You liked Bill Clinton? Well, here's another person named Clinton! Vote away, America!"

Posted by: Christmas | Jul 5, 2007 4:54:20 PM

I aver that Coke and Pepsi are essentially the same beverage.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 5, 2007 5:12:07 PM

Examples of Hillary Clinton's competence:

1. That great health care bill that she expertly maneuvered through the Congress and persuaded the American public to support;

2. Her brilliant advice that the Clinton White House should stonewall and resist the Whitewater investigation so that it would go on for years and metastasize into an investigation of Clinton's lying under oath in the Paula Jones case; and

3. Her amazingly intelligent decision to support the Iraq War, not only in 2002-03, but on into 2004 and 2005, and her refusal even now to admit that it was a bad idea.

If that is "competence", give me incompetence.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Jul 5, 2007 5:29:13 PM

Ezra, do you even read, uh ... your own blog?

Here, you write "it wouldn't shock me to learn that a healthy portion of the electorate wants nothing more than to hand the country over to someone they basically trust," while below, you worry about the triviality of the MSM's "manliness" obsession with the GOP candidates.

In '00 and '04, W convinced just enough voters to "basically trust" him on the strength of his illusory "aw shucks" manliness.

We may be (less and less under Bush/Rove/Cheney, but still) a nation of laws, not men -- but voters cast ballots for men, not laws.

Furthermore, given HRC's massive negatives and spittle-flecked GOP-wingnut opposition, wouldn't we be charging into battle behind a candidate whom a sizable minority of voters had already decided they definitively did not "basically trust"?

Posted by: The Confidence Man | Jul 5, 2007 5:36:29 PM

None of the candidates have shown they can be exceptionally competent on the national level. The question is which seems more competent at a gut level to most voters.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jul 5, 2007 5:37:12 PM

And really: why is Obama suddenly the "change" candidate? Domestic policywise, he's more or less where Clinton is. His campaign's rhetoric has been all about change, sure, but he's done very little to walk the walk. Edwards, on the other hand, has actually been pushing a lot of bold, progressive policy specifics that would go a long way towards making actual change. But to talk about more than two Democratic presidential contenders would be to buck the straight-from-God media narrative.

Posted by: Christmas | Jul 5, 2007 5:46:59 PM

No one has walked the walk all that impressively on the national level, including Edwards, who is "pushing" in the form of promising.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jul 5, 2007 5:53:00 PM

The Clinton "Restoration" meme operates dangerously close to the "Dynasty" meme, especially when played post-Bush. It's an odd disconnect, because we first heard "Restoration" employed by GWB as a way of contrasting his candidacy against the excesses of the Clinton administration. It's all far too incestuous, and it's a good enough reason as any to disqualify HRC.

Can we please stop sharing the Presidency of the United States between immediate family members? I'd be in favor of a constitutional amendment to that effect. We could keep the FDR's while jettisoning the John Quincy Adamses and George W. Bushes of American politics. Fair trade, no?

Posted by: sangfroid826 | Jul 5, 2007 6:28:13 PM

We want a redo! And Obama is fairly clearly the guy to push that appeal forward.

Nah. Al Gore is clearly the 'let's try that one again' candidate. But he ain't running, at least not yet.

No one has walked the walk all that impressively on the national level,

Name the candidates that fit your lofty standards from the past 60 years. Eisenhower?

Two points: the US rarely has 'impressive national candidates' who aren't already president; and even when those candidates exist, being 'nationally impressive' is probably the worst thing to bring to an election, since that means you have a reputation and enemies. That's why so many governors get elected.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Jul 5, 2007 7:08:05 PM

American voters want the ' image of competence'. Actual, proven competence is considered too boring or elite.
We got 2 terms of the 'MBA president' who was only competent in getting his daddy's cronies to bail him out of his messes.

Posted by: CP&ris | Jul 5, 2007 7:21:11 PM

Christmas: I'm sure that Edwards has lots of bold policy proposals. I like them. And I share your frustration in that he's the odd man out in what's largely become a two-person race. That being said:

How do you expect him to change that dynamic, when it looks like he won't change it on his own? You can say that it's the media's fault that they've focused on the Hedge Fund, the House, and the Haircut, but all those stories are at least a month or two old--when is he going to lift a finger to push back?

All those stories undergird a larger narrative, which is that he's a Hypocrite. Now, before you flame away, I agree with you--he's not. But at some level, I'm waiting for him to do what Bill Clinton did to Chris Wallace, and he hasn't. He should have taken the hammer to his questioners, and he hasn't yet.

The bigger worry, though, isn't the narrative, although it's there. It's his money, or lack thereof. Obama and Hillary have raised titanic sums, Edwards hasn't. And while I'm amenable to the whole "just how much money can you raise and spend on a caucus", I don't think that Hillary, Barack and John have the same strategy.

All along, Edwards (feel free to correct me, Neil or Nicholas) has predicated his path to victory on winning the first 3 or 4 elections, and then using that inevitability in order to sweep the majority of the elections on February 5th. Barack and Hillary have done something else; they're competing in the First Four, to be sure, but they've also raised enough money to also compete in the February 5th primaries and caucuses.

It seems to me that even if Edwards were to win the first 3 or 4 elections, he'll be up against a cash wall; he's utterly dependent on a massive amount of money flowing into his coffers immediately after wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. That's not a place to be in. If Hillary loses Iowa or New Hampshire or even Nevada, she can count on a delegate-rich firewall win in Florida on 1/29. As for Barack--he needs only to pace Hillary in order to make it to 2/5, where he will win in IL, and likely do well in other states.

In order for Hillary or Obama to exit the race prior to 2/5, they would have to finish behind the second tier of Biden/Dodd/Richardson, or in that pack, which is rather unlikely. Edwards has to win Iowa, and has to finish ahead of Obama in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

At this point in time--without any sentimental attachment to the idea that people won't be swayed by money and ads and the like--do you see that happening?

Posted by: Raf | Jul 5, 2007 7:55:40 PM

Name the candidates that fit your lofty standards from the past 60 years. Eisenhower?

pseudonymous, there have been plenty of candidates that have been nationally impressive. They just don't win. The last one to win was, perhaps, Ike. Bush, Sr., also, I suppose, as VP and CIA Director. Kerry and Dole as senior Senators with long records were both fairly "nationally impressive," but lost. Gore, obviously, though he, too, did not become president.

This probably just proves your actual point, though.

Posted by: Elm | Jul 5, 2007 8:10:08 PM

The continued confusion of Hillary Clinton with her husband annoys me to no end. Why do people think she's so competent? Competence means having good management skills and having good judgment. Hillary has both proven bad judgment (see: Iraq War) and proven bad management skills (see: Health Care Task Force). The problem is that her campaign has managed to conflate her terrible record with Bill Clinton's successful and popular presidency, when the two are absolutely not the same.

If Bill Clinton could run for president again, I would vote for him. But he can't. And Hillary is no Bill Clinton. That basic fact has be drilled into the heads of every voter between now and the Iowa caucuses if we want to stop Hillary from taking the nomination.

Posted by: Korha | Jul 5, 2007 8:45:22 PM

Name the candidates that fit your lofty standards from the past 60 years.

I think you overlooked the point, pseudo, which was in response to Christmas. If Obama hasn't walked the walk, according to Christmas, then neither have the other two, including Edwards.

And Hillary is no Bill Clinton.

Who is, then? Don't forget that Bill was there too when the health care task force failed. They were both green and got off to a rough start. I assume Hillary has learned since then.

Good points from Raf. Not sure they're all correct, but they make sense. I still wonder why Edwards is doing better in general polls than among Democrats.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jul 5, 2007 9:04:54 PM

As is the usual pattern of the Clintons, they want it both ways.
She uses her husband's resume as her own to tout her supposed experience and hide her lack of substance.
she wants people to romanticize thru a gauzy mist the 90s. and yet she wants to be the candidate of change because she is part of the era of bad feelings.
The media, of course, will cover this contradiction and tout her as brilliant. They will go along with whatever story line the Clintons want and then gush over it to death.
Since Clinton wants to be the candidate of change when she is really the establishment candidate always recalling the 90s, the media will blur it for her and spin it so it sounds like the much younger Obama is not change but the same old politics of yesterday.

Posted by: vwcat | Jul 5, 2007 9:11:14 PM

This is what I honestly don't get.

"Change" to what? Away from the "old politics of yesterday?"

The Republicans have made clear that they don't and won't play fairly-- and they are going to be playing the same style of partisan politics no matter who is president. Did Clinton really do things to make this worse? Lewinsky, really? Aren't the Republicans just going to find another fake issue to take down the next Dem president?

Posted by: Rufus | Jul 5, 2007 10:06:00 PM

"Who is, then? Don't forget that Bill was there too when the health care task force failed. They were both green and got off to a rough start. I assume Hillary has learned since then."

Nobody is like Bill Clinton. That's a pretty straightforward answer, right Sanpete? There simply is no charismatic, intelligent, highly accomplished Southern governor in the 2008 presidential race. The closest analogue to Bill Clinton circa 1992 is Mitt Romney on the Republican side, and that's already a big stretch. In terms of carrying on the best of the Clinton Presidential legacy, the most direct torchbearer is in fact Al Gore, his powerful Vice President and close adviser. But Gore is not running, either.

Hillary Clinton has obviously learned lessons from the health care debacle. But has she learned the right ones? Today, her inner circle is even tighter, more secret, and more loyal than ever. She is permanently in a defensive, reactive posture, unable to open herself open, unwilling to share her thought processes honestly and genuinely with the American public. She sees shadows in every corner. Part of this is is an understandable reaction to the disgusting attack machine that was loosed on her and her family in the 1990's. But as understandable a reaction as it is, it means something very real for how Hillary Clinton might act as the POTUS.

As I said before, she is not her husband. She is her own person, for better and for worse. And if Hillary is going to try to run on her husband's record instead of her own--and she is, shamelessly, transparently--then we need to call her on it. The media needs to call her on it.

You know, I'm on record as opposing Hillary Clinton primarily because I thought that the cycle of political dynasties needed to end, that we needed to move beyond the Bushes and Clintons and the reign of nepotism. That was a few months ago. But the more I think about it, the more I find the dynasty thing doesn't matter so much to me anymore. I wasn't wrong, necessarily, but it strikes me now that Hillary is as different from Bill as George Jr. was from his father. And just as Bush 43 did not represent a return to the era of Bush 41, so Clinton 44 will not be a restoration of Clinton 42. Indeed, I fear that a President Hillary will bring back the worst of the Clinton Years--and little of the best.

Hillary needs to run on her own record: as lawyer, Arkansas First Lady, White House First Lady, and Senator. No more empty rhetoric about how great things were in the 90's, when her husband was president. And if you stack that record against Obama's record, in my opinion, Obama is pretty clearly the victor. Community Organizer vs. High-powered Law Firm. State Senator vs. First Lady. Senator vs. Senator. Against the Iraq War vs. For the Iraq War. Passing landmark legislation on ethics, health care, and death penalty reform vs. Bungling universal health care and introducing a bill to ban flag burning.

Sanpete, you've been quite keen to disparage all the democratic frontrunners as unproven and unknown commodities. And perhaps you're not wrong. But don't say that all the candidates have even roughly equal resumes, or personalities, or judgment, or competencies. They don't. So you tell me, all concerns about electability and "change" aside. Who do you think, of all the candidates, would be the best, most competent President?

I'll take Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Korha | Jul 5, 2007 11:31:12 PM

But don't say that all the candidates have even roughly equal resumes, or personalities, or judgment, or competencies.

I don't believe that. Neither do I believe it's plain who would make the best President. I think you exaggerate Clinton's deficiencies and the extent to which she's running on Bill's record. There's something to all of what you say, but less than you make of it, I think. I like Obama. I like Edwards. I even like Clinton. I don't have any intention or realistic hope of being very confident about who would be best anytime soon. I'll let them run some more, let them announce more policies, deal with the little crises that will arise, and so on. And then I may still be guessing when it's time to vote.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jul 6, 2007 12:07:46 AM

I'll take Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in a heartbeat.

Me too, Khora. I do believe I have chosen a favorite.

Leadership can't be taught, bought, or forced. One either has that X-factor, or one doesn't. Which is not to say that many, many people thusly blessed don't go on to use their power in destructive ways--history has shown that they can, and do. But when leadership is in its pure form--not yet thoroughly dulled by the mud of scandal and malfeasance, nor, on the other hand, completely polished to its potential--and it's right there in front of you, stark and glittering and bursting with possibility, you can't help but wonder what potent explosions might result if it were to ignite all the slipstreams of good thought and noble intent flowing around with seeming aimlessness.

This is how I feel about Barack Obama. He is that rare cluster of matter and forces that appears, seemingly coming out of nowhere (if only because we haven't been paying attention), shattering patterns while realigning the random.

It is my fervent hope that Obama becomes president. I don't think I've ever felt so strongly and positively about the character and the profound intellectual talents of a politician. You might say I'm a dreamer, but, well, you surely know the rest of the lyrics.

Posted by: litbrit | Jul 6, 2007 12:29:06 AM

Leadership can't be taught, bought, or forced.

This isn't a question to knock Obama, it's a real question.

When has Obama really led anything of any significance? Is this feeling just from the speeches?

Posted by: Rufus | Jul 6, 2007 7:02:12 AM

What's the thresshold for signficance?

Posted by: Andrew | Jul 6, 2007 1:56:18 PM

Bill Clinton is overrated. I give the man credit for the 1993 budget bill and creating a surplus. The Dems lost the House on his watch, triangulation and diddling the intern didn't help the party and he has no lasting accomplishments. It only took W about two years to reverse the entire Clinton presidency. Considering the hope and energy surrounding Clinton in 1992, I feel cheated that the only lasting gains were in my 401K.

Maybe HRC is Bobby to Bill's Jack but that just isn't good enough.

Posted by: Gideon | Aug 19, 2007 7:25:40 AM

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