Why Hillary Clinton Won’t Be President

Wow, Hillary Clinton really stepped in it with her comment about being “dead broke” after leaving the White House, didn’t she?

Factually, she’s probably right. Bill’s career was almost exclusively in public life — from his first term as Arkansas attorney general starting in 1977 to leaving the White House in January 2001, he spent 22 of 24 years holding a public office.  And it’s not like he was the scion of a political dynasty like the guy he replaced or the guy who replaced him. Factor in the legal fees from lawsuits that are the inevitable result of decades of chasing tail, and you can see that the Clintons wouldn’t have been flush with resources, even if the cattle futures market performed particularly well.  The questions came up because the Clinton’s hit the speaking circuit to help drum up the extra scratch – which has been incredibly lucrative in the post-White House years.

But what she said isn’t as important as how she said it:

“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” Clinton told ABC News. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.”

There are a couple of triggers in there that won’t resonate well with people who don’t pay much attention to politics (i.e. voters who have better things to do).

Obviously, the use of the plural “houses” and “mortgages” comes off wrong. You’ll remember that after Bill was laid off of his job, Hillary found work as a Senator, which required lots of travel. Having two houses makes sense and isn’t uncommon for Senators, but Senators are only 100 of the several millions of votes needed to become President. (And many of them are in non-target states, to boot.)

What wasn’t plural in her comments was the education expenses. Many parents with multiple kids struggle to figure out how to pay a double dose of inflated college expenses. Those same parents probably assume that the political connections of eight years in the White House probably help move money better than a FAFSA.

The new book and marathon interviews are clearly a way for Clinton to soften her image in advance of the coming deluge from the vast right wing conspiracy. The problem is the tin ear turned to how people currently view her. She has been in the public spotlight since 1992, which means a long and public track record on which voters have based mature opinions. There’s also a celebrity factor: the public assumes that famous people (whether actors, athletes, politicians) are out-of-touch.  If they go broke, the assumption is that they must have spent their money foolishly.

The question was about making millions in speaking fees. Instead of talking about the need for the speeches, Clinton would have been better off talking about the chance to connect with people. “Yes, we did a lot of speaking, all over the country,” she might have said. “Living in the White House, you don’t get to talk to many people outside of government. After years of partisan bickering, that gave us a chance to get back out and see what people were thinking, what mattered to people.”  And then, if she really wanted to pour it on: “That was a really important time for us. If really refreshed our desire to keep fighting for the things we believe in.”

Schmaltzy? Maybe a little, but it stops the conversation about speaking fees. Clinton’s out-of-touch answer keeps the issue going. If she misfires this way repeatedly, she’ll cement the public view of a career politician who believes it’s her turn to be President.

As Mitt Romney can attest, when voters feel like they can’t identify with you, they won’t vote for you.

Sarah Palin needs James Carville

Here’s the headline from Sarah Palin’s Facebook post yesterday: “Another ‘WTF’ Obama Foreign Policy Moment.”  The content of Palin’s post, by and large, is actually quite interesting stuff about how many secrets we are simply giving away to the Russians.  That’s a pretty intelligent topic, and Palin does grasp it.  But even in discussing an issue over which she has mastery, Palin leans on blunt-force and simplistic messaging.  “WTF” is, of course, shorthand for “what the f—.”

It’s vulgar and coarse and unfitting a President.  And as long as Palin continues to look unpresidential, she will only be considered a Presidential contender by a cadre of Ron Paul-esque followers and the “lamestream” media she claims to abhor but who gives her more attention than she currently deserves.  She will win nothing.

A Presidential adviser might be able to get away with such language, and perhaps Palin needs a James Carville.  Bill Clinton could never have dismissed allegations of his extramarital affairs as the product of dragging a $100 bill through a trailer park.  Carville did, and in doing so he said what many people were thinking but afraid to say.   He acted as the lightning rod for criticism, but he got his boss’s message out there.

Instead, Palin tries to be both the candidate and the firebrand.  She too often talks down to an electorate that is really looking for someone who can talk up to them.

This is part of the challenge Palin and other outsiders face in political campaigns; the inability to surround themselves with media-savvy professionals leads to clumsy, overly populist messaging.  Sure, a few will take it seriously, but most will either dismiss it out of hand or respond with a quizzical “WTF?”


Meet your new cabinet

The Obama team was wise to send two nominees to Capitol Hill today. Clearly, the focus will be on Hillary Clinton’s quest to become Secretary of State – which should be smooth, despite questions about her involvement in issues concerning foreign donors to Bill Clinton’s Presidential library. (That’s a pretty big deal for a Secretary of State, but at this point a Clinton scandal barely moves the needle. Plus most conservatives seem to think this is a spot where the erstwhile Senator from New York can do the least damage.)

But Secretary of Energy nominee Steven Chu has already pledged to shake down energy companies with a cap-and-trade scheme that would force them to pay extra for carbon emissions – and thus raise energy rates. Common sense dictates that these extra charges will only make utility bills more expensive – thus hurting the people who pay them. I’ll add this as an winnable issues conservatives should press in the Obama administration.

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