New York-based hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal once had a voice mail saved; one he would play to visitors. It was Hillary Clinton thanking him for his support during her unsuccessful 2008 run to be the Democratic Party’s nominee in the US presidential election, though she did rhyme his first name with pant.
Last December, Chatwal was convicted by a New York court for violating campaign contribution limits using straw donors to boost his funding for three preferred candidates. Among them was Clinton.
Dodgy donors aside, Clinton’s 2016 campaign for the White House — assuming she wins the nomination this time, as widely predicted — will be marked, or marred, by her ability to convince voters she’s trustworthy enough. A recent CNN/ORC poll showed that nearly 60% of Americans didn’t think she was. In her maiden television interview as a presidential pretender, she told CNN: “People should and do trust me.” This, though, isn’t a Government of India form where self-attestation is permitted, as even her interviewer later commented, “I did not hear a more open or transparent Hillary Clinton.” If Barack Obama, during his term, has been given to evolution, Clinton has mostly been gifted with evasion.
Clinton, Version 2015, is attempting a remake, from being a member of American royalty to trying to mutate into a welfare queen. Her campaign’s talking points include raising the minimum wage and taking on Wall Street vileness by taking “additional steps to rein in banks that are still too big and too risky.” However, critical memes are flourishing, including one that lists her 10 largest political funders, with five financial institutions among them.
Her coziness with corporate America, though, should hardly impact her progress through the primaries but could impact her attempt at the presidency, in what she has described as her “last rodeo”.
Her real problem will be convincing her party base, the get-out-the-vote grassroots that she’s Leftist enough.
Ironically, John Kerry, while running for president in 2004, kept dodging even the liberal tag, but 11 years later, even an openly socialist candidate in Bernie Sanders doesn’t find that affiliation putting him in the red. As the Cold War grows into a distant memory, or not even one for millennials, the Democratic Party has hewed to a deeper shade of pink.
During the 2008 primaries, Obama successfully attacked Clinton from the left, on her support for the Iraq war resolution. In attempting to capture the centre, she found herself outflanked. Now, her competitors within the party will wilt and she will almost certainly become the nominee. But she’ll need to rouse the ground troops, the army of volunteers needed to win an election, and for voters, especially the young, to take to their queues at voting booths.
There’s a lesson in lethargy that she could draw from the Republican candidates of 2008 and 2012. Both John McCain and Mitt Romney were deemed moderate and in the modern age of ideological extremism, neither managed to muster the ranks to file in to vote. They were derisively dismissed as RINOs (Republicans in name only).
Dinosaurs may be ruling the box office this summer with Jurassic World, a franchise reboot 14 years since the last instalment. But a Clinton labelled a DINO may find it difficult to make a triumphant rerun. Her statements favouring austerity for Greece or calling Israel “a vibrant bloom in the middle of a desert” underline her divorce from the reality of her party lines firmly to her left.
Clinton remains a very 20th century Democrat, one prone to centrism. But the centre may not hold much fascination for the party faithful of this century. It isn’t a vast Right-wing conspiracy that’s her greatest fear, but a mass Left-wing condemnation. The trustworthiness poll indicates even many Democrats do not believe in her.
In his biography, A Woman in Charge, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein inferred Clinton was “a mind conservative and a heart liberal”. The question the Left wing of her party will ask is: ‘Has she changed her mind?’