UPDATE: Hillary Clinton, Copycat (of Barack Obama)
by horizonr, Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 02:54:39 PM EDT
Last Wednesday, Hillary Clinton held a rally / fund-raiser in a Washington, DC, parking lot. The event,
billed "Club 44," targeted 18-to-24-year-old women. By all accounts, the turnout was decidedly more
middle-aged. As the Washington Post put it, the crowd included "a few youngsters in the moon bounce,
a few older folks on the stage, and the rest in the big, soft James Taylor middle."
When Clinton's campaign posted video highlights of the event as its home page main feature at the end
of last week, the headline, in giant block capital letters, was "READY FOR CHANGE." That headline was
up until today.
Hmmm. Which other Democratic candidate had a national canvass on Saturday called "Walk for Change"?
You know, the canvass that had been branded and promoted with that title on his own Web site for the
last two months? The one with 10,000 volunteers across 1,000 events? Was that...Barack Obama?
Now, the well-worn rhetoric of "change" has been used for generations in campaigns for everything
from the village council to the White House. Obama doesn't have a corner on that market.
But no 2008 candidate has more strongly branded and positioned himself as the candidate of change --
including the mantra that "it's time for a change" -- than Barack Obama.
And Hillary Clinton's use of "change" on this particular weekend was a pretty shameless, transparent
move to step on Obama's line.
Today, the Club 44 video is still Clinton's home page feature, but there's a new photo -- a shot from
behind Clinton, looking out at the crowd -- and a new headline: "WATCH: 8,000 STRONG."
Again, the Obama subtext is clear. The petulant headline, with its crowd shot, impatiently whines:
"Me too, me too!! People like me too!! You're not the only one that can get crowds!! I can get
crowds!! Me too!! Me too!!"
Is Hillary Clinton literally stomping up and down and pouting, her fists clenched and her eyes
in a furious squint? Probably not. But she might as well be.
For two years, my wife worked for a New York Democratic consultant who now supports Obama
but who raised $250K for Clinton's Senate races and bundled $1M for John Kerry in 2004. So my
wife knows a thing or two about campaign messaging.
When I mentioned Clinton's rip-offs of Obama, her response was immediate: When a candidate starts
being transparently reactive, stealing another candidates' messages, and not being themselves -- and
when they start doing it this early in a campaign -- they're on their way out.
UPDATE Of course, Hillary Clinton can use the word "change." As I said, "the well-worn rhetoric of
'change' has been used for generations in campaigns for everything from the village council to the
White House. Obama doesn't have a corner on that market."
The point is not "change" as such. The point is that Clinton had nothing better to say or do with her
Web site this past weekend than to score a cheaply timed shot at Obama's "Walk for Change" by
mimicking the line with her own "Ready for Change" -- and that when reports then start coming
in of 10,000 volunteers at Obama's event, Clinton changed her headline to "8,000 Strong."
This is not an accident. It's part of a continuing pattern in which both Clintons have for weeks been
trying to blur the lines between Clinton and Obama in particular. We saw this most recently in the
last debate, where Clinton hammered the idea that all the Democratic candidates are basically the
same -- the same on Iraq, the same on healthcare, etc., etc.
By telling voters that "there's nothing to look at over there" -- Obama, Edwards, etc. -- Clinton
hopes to distract voters from her actual leadership record, preserve her current poll margins,
and ride the "experience" myth all the way to the White House.
But Clinton also knows that she has a couple of vulnerabilities:
(1) Obama is perceived as the candidate of change. She is not.
(2) Obama has proven his ability to draw and excite large crowds. She has not.
Clinton's Web site maneuvers -- "Ready for Change"; "8,000 Strong" -- signal a subtle but
determined effort to coopt these two aspects of Obama's brand, which she needs.
Of course, Clinton's saying these things doesn't make them so. But the fact that Clinton feels the
need to say them at all hints at desperation. And it strongly suggests that it is Obama -- not Clinton --
who is defining the terms of this race right now.