Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Hillary Can't Connect With Voters

This presidential race has exposed a lot of truths about the electoral process and both parties, but one of them I have been trying really hard to process, and no, this one doesn’t have a darn thing to do with Donald Trump and his omnipresence in the race, nor the potential that Marco Rubio could still be a threat for the nomination, but instead we’re shifting gears to the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.  I talk to a lot of people about politics, and follow a lot of politically-minded people on social media, and two truths seem to resound when it comes to the former First Lady.  Amongst liberals, she has an intense amount of respect, with people admiring the work she has done, and no one questions whether or not she would be a qualified president.  Democrats are pretty clear that they think she’d be a good president.  They just don’t love her in the way that they loved Bill or Barack or now Bernie.  It’s a conundrum that she couldn’t quite get around in 2008 and one that continues to haunt her in 2016, as both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have consistently found adoration pouring in their direction on the campaign trail.

The question here is why.  Sexism is an easy answer, and probably there’s a bit of something rooted into that.  Female politicians always have a higher bar to climb in regard to “likability” as the things that make a male politician likeable (friendliness, being impassioned, finding moments of authenticity or casualness) are seen as inappropriate or signs of weakness in female politicians.  Looking at women like Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir, they mainly discarded the likability question in favor of simply being as revered and stateswoman-like as possible.  However, that doesn’t fly in America, particularly with the media clamoring for a soft interview and mandating that the candidates dance on Ellen and slow-jam with Fallon.    As a result, in order to be taken seriously as a female candidate you have to bare a cross that is nearly impossible to shoulder, and likely will seem that way until a woman gets her shot at the Oval Office and rewrites the rulebook.

But sexism isn’t the only problem here, and part of it is that Hillary Clinton, for all of her assets, has never been the greatest at inspiration and giving the answer as to why she’s running.  She is the perfect candidate in terms of knowing her opinions and stances on an issue.  While people like Donald Trump and Marco Rubio (and yes, even Bernie Sanders) will occasionally lack specifics on a foreign or domestic policy question, this doesn’t happen with Hillary Clinton.  Give her an issue ranging from gun control to Myanmar to ENDA, she’ll have a flawless 90-second response of why the issue is important to her, what she’s done to fix the issue in the past, and what a Clinton administration would do to further correct the problem in the future.  And I don’t mean this in a bad way, but in a very good way.  One of the reasons that Clinton instills confidence in her supporters and even her detractors is that competence is not really anything any objective person would ever accuse her of lacking.  Hillary Clinton knows the issues, wants to solve the issues, and is just looking for the opportunity to tackle all of the responsibility of the presidency.

And I truly believe that she wants the presidency for better reasons than just a craven attempt at power and sheer ambition.  Yes, she’s ambitious and wants that golden ticket desperately, but you don’t get to the level she did without that sort of drive.  Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Mitt Romney, and George Bush all had that drive too, that will to win and want that level of responsibility too.  Ambition is a good thing, as long as you also want the presidency for the right reasons, and I do think that Hillary Clinton, consummate workhorse and champion for the disenfranchised for her whole life, does want the White House for the right reasons.  However, she’s not great at putting that out to the American populace.  She gets asked questions about why she’s running and she goes into what feels like a canned speech.  You hear Bernie Sanders advocate against the big banks and Donald Trump espouse “making America great again” and you feel like that’s their own personal message, not something they’re just whipping out as canned pablum from a committee meeting in the way that Clinton does (and, quite frankly, Rubio does).  Clinton would be better off if she leveled that there are a lot of problems facing the country, and she’s the one who is strong and smart enough to actually tackle them.  It’d be braggy, sure (I’m not a speechwriter but I’m positive you could find a way to frame it to minimize any assumed condescension), but it’d be honest.  Yes, she wants to be president and some of those reasons are simply that she wants the reins, but she has spent her whole life devoted to learning about the issues, finding ways to better people’s lives, and that she’s the most prepared for the job.  That’s a message that should resonate with voters, especially in the face of a Republican Party only focused on the negative and not on the rebuild, and it would be a legitimate counterweight to Bernie Sanders’ supporters who suggest she lacks a grand enough vision.  The sooner that Clinton and her team find a way to get that message across to voters, the sooner they will have more passion amongst those that are reluctantly looking at her as the only viable option.

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