Hillary lacks that vision thing

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, August 28, 2008

Hillary Clinton reacts after...

Hillary Clinton reacts after her call for the nomination of Sen. Barack Obama by acclamation was seconded at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Photo: AP

Remembering the two great convention concessions of modern times – Ronald Reagan’s speech in 1976 after losing to Gerald Ford and Ted Kennedy’s speech in 1980, after losing to Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton’s Denver speech fell flat.

What was missing was what George H.W. Bush infamously dismissed as “that vision thing.” Reagan’s address, speculating about how future Americans would judge the Americans of 1976, inspired his supporters with a powerful vision of a smaller government but a more confident nation reviving economically, facing down the Soviets and managing the nuclear threat.

Kennedy’s oration eloquently argued the opposite, dreaming of a future liberalism as confident, humane and popular as his brothers’ ideology had been.

Both speeches helped shape the discourse of the times, allowing each candidate’s ideas to transcend the campaigning failures – and in Reagan’s case it launched his successful 1980 run. Both speeches can be taught decades from now as coherent and compelling ideological road maps that millions of Americans happily followed.

Instead, Hillary Clinton mostly provided a laundry list. She ticked off various programs she advocated, particular policies she liked, and specific individuals she met on the campaign trail. She did what she needed to do, getting in a few good shots against George W. Bush and John McCain, urging her disappointed supporters to vote for Barack Obama.

In fairness, she was also commanding, charismatic, and quite moving when she linked her campaign to women’s historic aspirations for equality. But even when she spoke about women’s rights – and quoted Harriet Tubman so effectively – she offered no vision of what women could do for America as women, she triggered no thoughts deeper than “it’s our turn,” and “our time has come.”

The speech once again illustrated one of the reasons why Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the nomination failed in the first place. There was no overriding idea propelling her candidacy forward, nothing deeper than “it’s MY turn,” and “MY time has come.”

Observers can argue about whether Barack Obama is an old-fashioned liberal or a post-baby-boomer synthesizer transcending the black-white, red-blue divisions of yesteryear. But at least there is something substantive behind his various stands, some broader, deeper, thought-provoking and soul-expanding message.

Hillary’s speech was that of the diligent grade grubber not the romantic poet, of the hardworking ant not the soaring eagle. It was in keeping with her history as Bill Clinton’s dutiful behind-the-scenes supporter rather than a Clintonesque riffer who can at once charm and inspire, making Americans feel good about themselves while being challenged to think about how to better their nation.

And speaking of duty, Hillary Clinton fulfilled her obligation to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. In fact, she was far more gracious – and far less destructive – than Reagan was in 1976 or Kennedy was in 1980. Still, it was quite obvious that she was following the party script not speaking from her heart. She had specific compliments for Michelle Obama and Joe Biden, Obama’s life-mate and running mate, but was quite vague when it came to Obama himself. Hillary Clinton endorsed Barack Obama generically as a fellow Democrat not specifically as a candidate.

Of course, the whole scene must have been excruciating for her, and she deserves credit for handling it so well. In fact, watching her, it was striking how far she had evolved from the brittle, insecure, angry woman she was when she debuted on the national stage in 1992.

Hillary Clinton seems to be having a great time as her own woman, as her own politician – her opening riff about the pride she took in her various roles mentioned “mother” but skipped over “wife.” If she could only find a little more poetry in her prose-laden politics, if she could only learn to bring the various pieces of her policy jigsaw puzzle together into a compelling package, she could be an even more formidable politician – and a greater threat to both of the current candidates.

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Another Obama speech, another hologram

 JPost, July 6, 2008 

Barack Obama gave another eloquent, thoughtful, thought-provoking speech this week, this time Obama and his wife Michelle,...about patriotism in Independence, Missouri. Obama knew that the July 4th holiday gave him an opportunity to undo some of the damage that Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign had done to him.

But rather than being defensive, trying to prove his loyalty to America or refuting the claim that he was not-unpatriotic, Obama did what he did best. He spoke powerfully about patriotism – love of country – in a broad expansive way.

He insisted that “no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism” – a sharp elbow aimed at critics – and then explained that patriots sometimes have a duty to dissent.

But while using the words “patriotism” and “nation” repeatedly, Obama avoided using the word “nationalism.” Nationalism is a word that sophisticates hate, as they idealize the European Union’s “post-nationalism” – forgetting how potent nationalism remains in Europe. Nationalism in popular culture is too frequently connected to fanatics who love their country so much they hate fellow citizens who disagree with them.

But both Zionists and American patriots know that nationalism, like religion, can be a force for good – or for ill. Nationalism distorted and perverted ended up degenerating into Nazism. Nationalism constructively channeled created the United States of America 232 years ago, and the State of Israel more recently.

By avoiding the term, was Obama revealing his identity as part of the University of Chicago-Harvard elite who look down their noses at the little people who love their country? Or was he simply being a smart politician and using the popular term “patriotism” rather than the more complicated term “nationalism”?

To those who see Obama as an Ivy League elitist who will be too Jimmy Carteresque, this speech can become one more link in their chain of evidence. But the speech also confirmed the impressions of those who see Obama as a smart, savvy, and eloquent visionary. This is the Obama enigma – and we hope that the campaign, with its many tests, will prove clarifying.

Photo: Obama and his wife Michelle, left, cheer as they watch an Independence Day parade in Butte, Mont., Friday. AP