The more I watch Hillary Clinton’s announcement video, the less I like it. This may be putting it mildly.
I understand what Clinton & Co. were trying to do: Make the moment less about Hillary, more about the voters. Downplay the sense of Clinton as inevitable juggernaut and entitled successor to the dynastic throne.
Clinton’s 2007 announcement was all Hillary, all the time. She wanted to start a conversation with voters – “Let’s chat,” she said, if unconvincingly – but she also wanted to make clear: “I’m in, and I’m in to win.”
The message of Clinton 2015 was different: She’s in the race, albeit one minute and 30 seconds into the video, but she’s really in to win you, the voters, over. Just like you, planting your garden or trying to keep the dog out of the trash while the home renovations proceed (good luck with that), she’s embarked on a new venture.
What’s wrong with that?
For one, the video was relentlessly, insultingly vapid – a Verizon commercial without the substance. “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” Clinton said in what passed for a meaty message. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”
Seriously, this makes Ronald Reagan’s gauzy “It’s Morning Again in America” commercial look like a Brookings Institution seminar on economic policy. Understood – an announcement video isn’t the moment for a detailed policy platform, but it is, or should be, a venue for at least nodding to specific goals.
In 2007, for instance, Clinton cited specifics: “how to bring the right end to the war in Iraq … how to make us energy independent … how to end the deficits that threaten Social Security and Medicare … how every American can have quality affordable health care.”
Sunday’s announcement – well, I just quoted the entirety of its substance. The Clinton campaign is focused on reassuring voters, as a campaign official put it in a conference call Monday previewing Clinton’s Iowa trip, “it isn’t about her … this is about . everyday Iowans.” But everyday Iowans deserve to hear more from the woman who would be president about what, exactly, she intends to do in office. It disrespects them to spend precious video seconds on the cute boy playing a fish in his school play.
Adding insult to vacuousness was the demographic box-checking nature of the video, however beautifully filmed. Working mom, check. Hispanic entrepreneur, check. Retiring grandma, check. Gay couple, check. African-American family, check. Hardworking small-businessman, check. South Asian, inter-racial, lesbian, check, check, check. If your demographic was not featured, you should write the campaign, and it will probably splice you in.
Clinton has an undeniable challenge. She is the best-known woman in the world and has a seemingly clear path to the Democratic nomination. She wants to avoid alienating voters by appearing entitled and overconfident. If George H.W. Bush’s unintentional slogan for the 1992 campaign was “Message: I care,” Clinton’s is, “Message: I’m humble.”
Got it, and, OK, there will be time enough for policy. Indeed, no politician does policy more seriously, with more detailed attention to the briefing books and seminars with the experts, than Hillary Clinton. This combination of intelligence and drive is, actually, a good reason to elect her president. Not that you would know it from this launch.
Might I suggest the best way to demonstrate her humility to voters is to take them and their presidential choice seriously, not to pander and condescend.
Washington Post Writers Group