In the Arena

Where’s Hillary?

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There are multiple answers, all pointing in one direction:

1. At home in Chappaqua

2. Out of the headlines, while her husband is, once again, saying stupid things.

3. Out of the headlines, while her husband’s former advisors are saying stupid things.

4. Out of money.

Various media sorts have either called on her to pull out or pronounced her campaign over. I disagree. It’s not our place to tell her when to pull the plug on her candidacy–and there still are scenarios by which she can win the nomination. But those scenarios depend on schadenfreude, on the hope that Obama will prove to be massively unworthy…that the Wright revelations will prove the first of many, that white people will abandon him and young people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere will stay home, that Obama himself will lose his cool, say something stupid (A likely story, given his cool so far!).

That is no way to win a nomination, or a general election. And it is striking to me that the Clinton campaign doesn’t seem to be thinking about new, positive ways to make her case–doesn’t seem to be thinking about a larger theme, a vision for the future (which, in truth, is something her campaign has never had). Moreover, the attractive, fighting, emotionally accessible Clinton has gone into hibernation again–since Texas and Ohio.

In other words, if her campaign is to have any chance of success now–and, admittedly, such a chance seems increasingly slim–it will depend on a combination of Obama collapse and a positive Clinton offer to the public, something that will make her acceptable, even attractive, to the young people and African-Americans devoted to Obama. She needs both, but especially the latter. Not likely, of course. But here are a few places to start:

1. Stop attacking Obama…and, especially, stop comparing Obama unfavorably, in terms of experience, to John McCain. If Obama is going to fall, she can no longer be seen pushing him.

2. Start attacking Republicans, especially when they attack Obama unfairly, and most especially when John McCain attacks Obama on an issue (Iraq, for example) where she’s in essential agreement with Obama. It would be beneath her to take on dismal fools like the pugnacious Sean Hannity, but her campaign surrogates certainly could–if she wants to win back the Democratic Party, she needs to do this.

3. Speaking of campaign surrogates, stop the daily conference calls. They are so four cycles ago…and I can’t think of the last time that Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson or Phil Singer said anything that had a positive impact–or even a positive negative impact–on this campaign.

4. Fire Mark Penn. He is a pollster, not a strategist. And his polling limits vision. Here’s a relevant question: Who was the last pollster to be chief strategist for a presidential campaign? Answer: Bob Teeter, for Bush the Elder in…1992. If she stops reading the polls, she might be be able to…

5. Give a major, make-or-break speech laying out her vision for the future. It should wrap the economic crisis, the need for energy independence and national security into one big theme. It should signal her willingness to step out from the bite-sized politics of the past, to frame a new era.

None of these things are guarantors of success. In fact, failure remains the most likely scenario. But Hillary Clinton can fail sleazy or she can fail honorably. I know her to be an honorable person. The intermittent sleaziness of her campaign has been unworthy of her…and it is now time, finally, for her to choose how she wants her candidacy to be remembered.

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