It's the Preparation, Stupid!
by hwc, Sun Aug 12, 2007 at 09:48:35 PM EDT
The first in a series of candidate blogs. I'll be focusing on specific strategies in future weeks, but thought I'd use this first one to talk about the big picture:
In my adult lifetime, I've lived through eight years of Nixon/Ford, eight years of Reagan, four years of Bush I, and eight years Bush II. I've seen my core values take a back seat to tax cuts for the wealthy, frightening Supreme Court nominees, and a relentless undermining of civil rights and progressive social policy. I've seen a parade of weak Democratic nominees from McGovern to Dukakis to Kerry -- all smart men who didn't have the first clue how to position themselves for the Presidency and counterpunch the Republican message. I've seen just two Democrats elected President, two men who campaigned by speaking to middle class issues and promoting a healthy business climate, while sticking to Democratic values on social issues. I will never forget the jubilation of election nights in 1976 and 1992. I want that feeling again.
I first considered supporting Senator Clinton on October 11, 2002 when I realized that she was serious about positioning herself to pull off the rarest of political feats: winning the Presidency as a Democrat. I knew that day that Senator Clinton understood what it would take to win the White House. She was using two terms in the US Senate to build the foundation of a winning message, brick by brick. A winning message to counter the Republican mantra in 2008: "Democrats are for bigger government, higher taxes, and waving the white flag in the Global War on Terror." She was already positioning herself to blow that cartoon caricature of Democrats out of the water. In short, she was a potential Democratic candidate who was taking preparation for the White House run seriously.
I have followed Presidential campaigns closely over the years and I don't recall ever seeing a non-incumbent campaign so disciplined in its preparation and positioning. Instead of jumping into the 2004 race before she was ready, she stayed in the Senate, honing her policy chops, positioning herself politically, building a network across the country, and assembling the best campaign organization Democrats have seen in recent memory.
We know that the number one threshold any candidate must cross is "Presidential gravitas". Can voters imagine the candidate as commander in chief? This is especially crucial for Democratic candidates who have been consistently smeared as weak on national security. It is vitally important in the post 9/11 world with the country at war. Any candidate who cannot cross this threshold is doomed. Simple as that.
So, what has Clinton done? Gotten herself a seat on the Armed Services Committee and used it to build a strong resume on national defense. Built a network inside the Pentagon. Gained the respect of the military commanders. Even been hailed by Republican pundits for her diligence on national security issues.
She cast a very public vote in October 2002, the vote that caught my attention. In the grand scheme of things, her vote didn't really matter in a 77-23 result. But, it told the country, in no uncertain terms, that this was a female Democratic candidate who would be willing to make the tough decisions on national security. Strategically, she has reinforced that toughness by refusing to offer a politically expedient, and essentially meaningless, apology for that vote. She takes responsibility.
She has spent much of her time in the Senate voting for Veterans' services and for assistance to the firemen and police who responded to 9/11. She's championed issues of Homeland Security, fighting the Bush administration to implement and fund the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. She's toured Iraq and Afghanistan three times, meeting with commanders and the leaders of both countries.
To counter the perception of Clinton as a polarizing figure, she's worked successfully across the aisle, co-sponsoring legislation with a number of Republican Senators, including bills to increase the manufacturing base and Veterans Health benefits with Senator Graham in the key early primary state of South Carolina. The end result: 58% of those surveyed in a recent poll see her as having the experience to be commander in chief, more than any other candidate in the race from either party. A Democrat. A woman. Amazing.
The preparation has continued to rear its head in the campaign. In fact, Clinton's preparation is at the heart of her strategy and the reason she is leading the polls. We see it in the debates, where she uses her comfort with the issues to present a strong, commanding presence. We see it every day on the campaign trail, something I noticed back in February when C-Span broadcast the presidential forum at the Firefighter's Union. Even that early in the race, Clinton walked to the podium and told personal stories of her connections to key figures in the union and then, proceeded to push every hot button issue.
If it's a campaign stop in South Carolina, she tells stories of her family vacations to Hilton Head ("before all the traffic"). She tells stories of working with South Carolina native Marian Wright Edelman thirty years ago. She notes the presence of the Parris Island Marine Corps base and talks to veterans' issues (and working with Lindsey Graham).
If it's New Hampshire, she recalls the visit she and her husband made to that town in 1992 and talks about six renewable energy projects in New Hampshire. If it's San Francisco, she wows the scientists giving her a tour of the new green museum and the legislations she's introduced. If it's the week after a bridge collapse in Minnesota, she proposes emergency infrastructure legislation and rattles off statistics gleaned from her days on the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. If it's Nevada, she proposes Congressional hearings to stop the Yucca Mountain Project. If it's Florida, she instantly knows to attack Fred Thompson for comparing Cuban refugees to terrorists or Obama for being willing to meet with Castro.
Or, take the biggest issue of the race, getting out of Iraq. Clinton does her homework and knows the polling shows Americans are as concerned about getting out sensibly as they are about getting out soon. So, what does she do? She goes after the Defense Department to make sure they are actually planning a redeployment so that it can be accomplished safely. She has the perfect position on the issue, backed up by her actions as a Senator and member of the Armed Services Committee.
If Clinton is this prepared to run for the Presidency, I am confident she'll take preparation for Presidential decision-making just as seriously. Will she get all the decisions right? Nope. No President ever does. But, it won't be for lack of preparation.
Is her nomination a lock? Not by a long-shot. But, the other Democrats better get their campaigns in gear, because Clinton's diligent preparation is helping her to run circles around them on the campaign trail, against some pretty impressive Democratic challengers.