Monday, September 19, 2016

Clinton: Take Control Of The Election's 'Story'

Every election is, in a way, a protest vote. Listen to this interview with Ron Susskind on “Radio Open Source” (hosted by the incomparable Chris Lydon) and then tell me the Clinton campaign does not need to change the focus of this race. We can’t take our eyes off Trump, Susskind says, because he has given us an unfinished story, which transforms into compelling drama—will he, or will he not, blow up Washington in the name of those left behind by global forces? Can he really pull it out? Clinton needs to give us a better story and a more interesting drama—stay loyal to Obama, but not become a captive of the status quo. She needs to give us something palpable to win or lose, which the press can start imagining to be the “story” of the election. Imagine, then, that she made the following speech: 

My fellow Americans,

I know that you know my opponent’s faults. So I am going to stop harping on them. There are plenty of others—editors, historians, generals, officials in Republican administrations, icons of our culture—who feel embarrassed, and panicked, at the thought of Trump presidency. They provide you, every day, enough reason to reject him. I’ll add only that I’ve lived in New York long enough, and have known Donald long enough, to know that people in the real estate business call him “a closer”—call him this with a certain envy, even though the big New York banks stopped lending him money years ago—call him this because they know he’ll say anything, promise anything, insult anyone, flatter anyone, he thinks will turn a customer toward his deal. Donald is not an idiot. He just thinks you are.

But I also know that I have much to account for myself. The hard question I have to answer, and it’s time I admitted this, is why such obvious doubts about him have not translated into enthusiasm for my candidacy. What are the doubts about me? That’s what I want to speak about.

I’ve admitted that I’m not a natural politician, but that’s not the real problem. I am, as my friend Barack Obama put it in 2008, “likable enough.” Pundits fill air time telling you I have been too secretive, so you can’t really know me, or I have been in your face too long, so you are bored of me; or I am too programmed, or I’ve made gaffes; or I’m a woman, so the test is more demanding, or his boorishness is fascinating, so he’s graded on a curve. There is a measure of truth to all of these perceptions. But they miss the main point—the thing our media seems to miss most consistently.

This election is not a referendum on my arguable political talent or Trump’s arguable decency—nor is it a game of splicing together a majority of “demographics.” It is about your anxieties, your families. Somehow, almost unimaginably, a good number of you think Trump, born to his gilded penthouse, and profiteering by stiffing little guys, identifies with your problems, while Bill and I, who came from nothing, do not. This is partly my fault, I confess: I have been campaigning like an earnest student, learning how what seem big social problems have evolved, doing her homework, formulating papers, and wondering why you are not giving me an A.

What I’ve really failed to consider is the biggest problem of all. My positions don’t matter if, as President, I can’t get anything passed. And year after year, or what may seem year after year, the government has itself often seemed an embarrassment: dysfunctional, paralyzed, full of name-calling. Many of you would like to throw a bomb at Washington, though you know in your hearts that a bomb can only destroy. The bomb, in this election, is Trump.

Read on at Talking Points Memo