Obama Should Push Hillary Out of Her Comfort Zone

December 6, 2007

Paradox: Hillary seems both inevitable and inconceivable to me. Part of me says, “There’s no stopping her,” and the other part says, “Hold on, do you realize what you’re saying? This is Hillary Clinton we’re talking about! No way.” On the bright side, the inevitability applies mostly to her nomination, and the inconceivability to the general election.

I think most people, including commentators, have considered her nomination a foregone conclusion.

This consensus was briefly threatened during Barack Obama’s initial deification by the media, but then it was pretty much restored. After the mainstream media’s early infatuation with Obama wore off, they were back to worshiping at Hillary’s altar, both promoting and protecting her.

They called her “presidential,” “inevitable” and “experienced” and said she was running an error-free campaign. Actually, the media were just ignoring her mistakes, inconsistencies and embarrassingly unpresidential episodes, as when she patronizingly spoke in black dialect to an African-American audience.

The media didn’t just shield her errors. They also insulated her from the ordinary scrutiny all other presidential candidates receive. They allowed her to choose what she wanted to talk about and what questions she would answer. With few exceptions, they gave her a pass.

When her rivals and Tim Russert dared to challenge her on a couple of important issues in a recent debate, she reacted with the indignation of a royal sovereign whose prerogative was beyond questioning. But the Hillary invulnerability bubble finally burst when just a few opponents and one MSM reporter questioned her highness.

Without her full court “press,” Hillary’s invincibility erodes. She has been slipping in the Iowa polls, and on Sunday, Obama pulled ahead of her, 29 percent to 25 percent, with John Edwards nipping at their heels at 23 percent. Other polls, like the ABC/Washington Post poll and American Research Group, corroborated Hillary’s decline.

The same trend could be emerging in New Hampshire, the other important early-state contest. There, her lead over Obama has shrunk to barely above the margin of error, 35 percent to 29 percent.

Even more interesting are the “internals” from the ABC/Post poll and what they might be whispering to Obama, if he’ll listen. Hillary beats Obama on measures of “strength, experience and electability” (57 percent to 10 percent), while Obama dwarfs Clinton on “new direction and new ideas” (44 percent to 19 percent). But fortunately for Obama, both Iowa and New Hampshire voters consider “new direction and new ideas” more important than “strength and experience.”

While Hillary’s not likely to gain much ground on Obama on the new-ideas category — most of hers so far have been transparently grade-schoolish — she could lose ownership of the strength and experience category. Obama just needs to understand and capitalize on the fact that Hillary’s perceived attributes of strength and experience are a mirage.

Apart from misappropriating credit for her husband’s presidency, she has very little qualifying experience. Obama doesn’t, either — but that isn’t the strength he’s basing his campaign on. Hillary claims she was co-president, but Bill gave her just enough of an illusion of power to pacify her, if you get my drift. She held no official position and had no accountability, even to the grand jury.

Similarly, the idea that she is strong is largely a media creation. If she were strong, she wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on her husband to vouch and stump for her. She’s trapped in a Catch 22. She needs Bill to energize her campaign, but in enlisting his aid, she exposes herself as his dependent, unpresidential surrogate.

More significantly, Hillary has unusually high negatives. Instead of countering this by running a positive, idea-driven campaign, she prefers, by her own giddy admission (“Now the fun part starts”), to attack her rivals.

But when she’s having this “fun,” she’s more likely to be off script and to reveal the real Hillary — the one that so many don’t like.

So, if Obama is smart, he’ll take her out of her comfort zone and encourage her to get off-script more often by fearlessly attacking her highly vulnerable record and positions and inviting her to abandon her pseudo-poised, rehearsed presidential mode.

The more she shows that infamously petty and vindictive side, where she curses Secret Service agents in her charge, the more she unveils the traits that caused her to remark that she wanted “to start seeing (the woman who cleans the restroom in the building she worked in) as a human being,” the more negative and less presidential “Saint Hillary” will appear.

Her increased negativity could also resurrect the profound negatives associated with the Clinton years, which many people have relegated to the recesses of their memories through the natural human tendency to remember mostly the good things.

So, go for it, Barack. You’re still a long shot, but what do you have to lose?