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Fix Pick: Inside Hillaryland

"A woman running for president can't be a person with know...emotions."

-- Doug Hattaway, senior adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton pauses during her speech at the National Building Museum in which she suspended her campaign. (AP photo)

Although Hillary Clinton has now (sort of) stepped off the national stage, how she went from frontrunner to also-ran in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains a point of huge interest.

Gail Sheehy, who penned a biography of the former first lady called Hillary's Choice, offers the most comprehensive take yet on what happened to the Clinton campaign in a lengthy piece in the August edition of Vanity Fair.

Much in Sheehy's piece will be familiar to many people who have followed the campaign closely. Chief strategist Mark Penn and senior adviser Harold Ickes dislike each other intensely ("Penn was the chief strategist....following our loss, he now disclaims responsibility for anything and everything that went wrong and acts as if he were barely involved, which is especially galling for someone who made [nearly] $20 million from the campaign," Ickes told Sheehy); former President Bill Clinton set up his own power center within the campaign and acted as a free agent for much of the primary season; the Clinton campaign misunderstood the political landscape, running a race built from lessons learned in the 1990s rather than this 2000s.

But, at the core of Sheehy's piece, is a detailed analysis of the fundamental error of the Clinton campaign: the first viable female candidate for president ran as a man.

"Nobody knew how to run a woman as the leader of the free world," writes Sheehy. "They ran her as tougher than any man."

The decision to do so is placed by Sheehy at the feet of Penn and the former president. Of Penn's involvement in the crafting of this Clinton persona, Sheehy writes: "As her message-maker, he was convinced that she needed to throw around more weight than any man in order to meet the threshold test to be commander-in-chief."

To lay all the blame for this original, flawed decision on Penn, however, seems to be a stretch. As Sheehy makes clear, Hillary and Bill Clinton approved of positioning her as tougher than leather despite the protests of a number of the members of her inner circle including campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle and communications director Howard Wolfson.

A case in point was Clinton's near-tears response to a question the day before the New Hampshire primary about how she continued to get up and campaign day in and day out.

The incident drew massive press coverage and was widely credited -- from those inside and outside of the Clinton campaign -- for her stunning come-from-behind victory in the Granite State primary on Jan. 8.

Clinton the candidate didn't agree. "This newly exposed substratum of raw feelings disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced," writes Sheehy. "Hillary saw only the danger she had feared all her life -- to appear female was to court failure -- and the driving force of her life since childhood was to win."

That explains that the strategy in the wake of the New Hampshire win hardened even more -- with Clinton focusing on her readiness to be commander in chief. Penn pushed hard to run the "3 a.m." ad in the runup to the Texas primary on March 4 to illustrate the importance of national security in the race. ("Penn pounded his chest in pride as he recalled insisting upon his famous '3 am' ad," writes Sheehy.)

Despite wins in the Ohio and Texas primaries as well as a series of victories in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky, the die had been cast for Clinton.

The campaign effectively had convinced voters, who in truth didn't need all that much convincing, that Clinton was tough enough to be president. What the campaign had failed to do was show that Clinton was a human being with the same hopes, dreams, fears and worries as the average voter. Clinton became regarded as a hyperqualified bureaucrat while Obama was a transformational figure leading a movement built on hope and change. It wasn't a tough choice in the end.

It was only in her final speech, which Sheehy calls the "finest" of her career, that Clinton let people see the personal struggle that running as a woman had been for her.

As we wrote on The Fix at the time, "Clinton also spoke far more expansively than she had previously about the challenges of running for president as a woman. 'I am a woman, and like millions of women I know there are still barriers and biases out there,' she said."

Sheehy puts it more eloquently.

"She rose up in a grandiose, classically columned hall worthy of Caesar, the National Building Museum, and spoke, finally, as who she really is -- a woman of full humanity. Yes, ruthless, nakedly aggressive, hawkish and often tone-deaf -- qualities common among those who dare to compete at this level. But she was also staggeringly smart, empathetic, unsparing of her energy and commitment, and gallant in her optimism as she waded through the sludge of sexist and media bias."

In the end, Clinton was as she should have been at the beginning: a figure of huge gifts and well-know flaws. In other words: a human being.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 2, 2008; 10:34 AM ET
Categories:  Fix Picks  
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The thing I loved best about Bill was his humanity and his obvious regard for others. My enduring memory of him is from the 1993 midwest floods. I was living in Iowa at the time, and I remember when he visited Des Moines and a woman broke down in tears. He gave her a hug that spoke volumes of his empathy and concern. I wish Hillary would show that side too.

Posted by: Amy | July 6, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

My opinion is that no matter what strategy and which tactics Clinton chose, the media would be hitting her hard all the way.

The sexism (not from Obama) but from the MSM was outrageous, but she still remains the best choice for VP.

The 2nd best choice for VP is Governor Ed Rendell and if Obama chooses him, I have no doubt the MSM will show an only thinly-veiled anti-Semitism. Lieberman doesn't get that treatment because he's on the media war/corporate/religion bus. A real Democrat like Rendell will get the full treatment: "urban," "machine Democrat," "pinky ring and gold chain" all know the rest.

Posted by: DexterManley | July 5, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I don't know how much more proof we need that the Democratic Losers Club (aka the "DLC") is is not irrelevant, as some critics claim, but is actually poisonous.

There ideology, based on capitulation to the lowest common denominator, does not inspire voters or win campaigns. Yet people circle these people around themselves and hope they can filter-out issues and controversies before they reach the candidate.

Handlers loose elections, candidates win elections. That's the lesson to be learned here.

Posted by: A Real Democrat | July 4, 2008 9:46 AM | Report abuse

We forget that Bill was put in a no-win situation. If he worked within the campaign it was going to be the Bill (and Hillary) show and if he worked outside the campaign, as so many of us do, he would be called a loose cannon. So he chose the latter which I now wish he had not. Had he managed the campaign from the beginning, with his men and confidantes, things might have been different. As it is, the Democratic party is the big loser. We end up with the least qualified candidate, truly an empty suit, and the only one who will give McCain a fighting chance.

Posted by: Opa2 | July 3, 2008 11:03 PM | Report abuse

HRC did not lose because of sexism or Obama or money. She lo9st because she has no independent record. She is the boss's wife who was handed an NY Senate seat w/ which she has done absolutely nothing. (In fairness to the DNC I think they expected Rudy to beat her handily & we all would have been rid of the Clintons finally.)
The tragedy for women in Hillary's loss is that there are so many women who are well qualified to be POTUS but they have been shunted aside, starting w/ Maloney & Lowey in NY so that HRC can have her turn.
Now that's she's had it can we just move on.

Posted by: Miri | July 3, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Wow, this column made me feel Hillary herself is a sexist.

That ought to hit some of the PUMAs where they live. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.

Posted by: Susan | July 2, 2008 10:03 PM | Report abuse

"she waded through the sludge of sexist and media bias."

What tripe. This country enslaved and segregated African Americans. Southerners lynched African Americans for even associating with white women. Even today, mainstream America often views African Americans as part of a ghetto. To say that Clinton faced any discrimination that measured up our troubled history with African Americans does a dishonor to history itself. Clinton was white, had wide name recognition, and ahead in most polls before the primaries. To claim sexism is a joke, and I can't understand why CC doesn't simply call him out on this.

Posted by: freeDom | July 2, 2008 9:09 PM | Report abuse

The more I see and hear about all of the
2008 Presidential Candidates from both
the Democratic and Republican Parties,
the more it convinces me that John McCain,
Barack Hussein Obama and Hillary Clinton
are the worst and most totally pathetic
out of touch with reality losers in all US
political history. So RE_DO Anybody?

Posted by: Sandy5274 | July 2, 2008 8:06 PM | Report abuse

HIllary can only blame herself. Had she a strong enough image of herself then she would not have been bulldozed into being a fake. She wanted to win, and being a fake was just part of the deal she made with the devil.
Hillary is a flawed person and was a flawed candidate running a campaign based on a flawed premise. It is not for nothing that she inspires such antipathy from both women and men. But she doesnt get it, and likely never will

Posted by: nclwtk | July 2, 2008 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Will the last Clinton supporter to finally accept reality, please turn off the lights when they leave.

Posted by: Nor'Easter | July 2, 2008 6:17 PM | Report abuse

That's bs.

The Obama campaign was impacted by racism just as much as Clinton's campaign has hit by sexism. Both issues are institutional afflictions that run deeper than most people can process.

How else can you explain that Michelle Obama was demonized for saying the exact same thing that John McCain said?

Or that Sen. Clinton's claim of plagiarism was front page news for a week, but then when she closed that week with plagiarism of her own, at the debate, the whole issue went away and she was never called on it.

Because a white person's patriotism is assumed. And because white people don't plagiarize, we don't need to "cheat."

I don't know what it is like to be a woman or to be black, but I am glad that I don't have that knowledge. Any white man who thinks that being black or a woman has to ask himself one simple question: would i really want to be black in america? would i really want to be a woman?

Similarly, white women need to realize that sexism is not going away as long as they continue to support the republican party, a party that took equal rights for women out of it's platform 30 years ago and has fought against it ever since. Ask yourselves: why do republicans fear equal pay for women so much?

Posted by: JR, Boston | July 2, 2008 5:38 PM | Report abuse

"We have moved into the 24 news cycle all news all the time and nothing to say. So Robin Givhan can report on Hillary's cleavage and the Post can become an extension of Obama's campaign."

I'm tired of the fake indignance over the Givhan column. Anyone who read it knows it was tasteful and not lewd in the least. There's plenty of sexism in the media, but that's not an example.

But its always someone else's fault with the Clintons, isn't it? Obama turned Bill into a racist. The mainstream media was too easy on Obama and too hard on Clinton. (despite the fact that HER versions of Ayers had to out THEMSELVES) The DNC took away her delegates from Florida and Michigan, the negros voted for Obama, the superdelegates stole it from her, the caucuses aren't fair, people with college educations are elitist, blah, blah, whine, whine, moan, moan.

She has garnered a LOT more pity than she has votes. People were stumbling over themselves to say how great she is.

Posted by: DDAWD | July 2, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Re: No Deal Sealed

I am a woman, but I do not buy the argument that the media bias affected Senator Hillary Clinton's Campaign. I do not like any candidates who exploit their identities, instead of competing fairly. Hillary ran for the toughest job in the world; she should have known better that there would be all kinds of biases out there. Then, what were the causes of her campaign debacle?

My problem is the ways in which the Democratic Party handled the situation: They endorsed a candidate without any verification process only by imposing the rules. Did the Leaders not know that Obama was that disqualified? He does not have any single case to win against John McCain. He claimed he graduated from Harvard Law School; he claimed he taught the U.S. Constitution, yet none of his records are consistent with the recent Supreme Court rulings. He even endorsed the compromised FISA bill with the overwhelming support of the Party Leaders.

Then why didn't Hillary raise such critical issues earlier and why didn't Leaders intervene if they knew he was not qualified to endorse? Were they duped by his rhetorical eloquence as many Americans were-and-are? Were they that stupid and still are?

I truly think that Nancy Pelosi screwed up by mismanaging the situation. When the Party decided to seat the MI and FL at the Convention, everything was clear what they feared--women and black voters who are the key constituencies of the Party. She just did not want to offend neither of them, instead of resolving such incompatibility fairly.

Her highly "compromising" style also led the Party to compromise with the Bush administration regarding the FISA. Now, the Party does not have a qualified candidate or even the Lethal Weapon to fight against the Republicans. Nancy just believed that the popularity of Obama would reflect the voices of voters--without even questioning his past records. Was that fair, to whom?

Obama Campaign further hired Solis Dolye who was the very architect of Hillary's campaign debacle and the producer of infamous arrogance who had such a horrible relationship with the media: She was the source of the media bias.

After the long nomination fight, Obama was a rock star, assuming that he could win the Election without Hillary. Obama wanted Hillary to endorse him publicly what he calls "symbolic gesture" of unity. Hillary endorsed him in such a graceful manner; Obama then wanted Bill Clinton to help his campaign as well, although he said family is off-the-limit.

What Obama is doing right now is exactly same as what he did to the Rev. Wright--the same way he disowns people: Giving them "a benefit of doubt" to see how they respond to his call and then disown them if he does not need them. To simply put it, he is publicly executing the Clintons in such a humiliating manner.

Do you endorse someone who just hired the person who had screwed up your campaign? Do you campaign for someone-with-a-phony-identity-and-a-thin-vitae who just hired the person who was the source of media bias? Do you want to run for someone's VP, who has humiliated you in front of the American public--for whom you served for 8 years?

Obama does not have any morality or basic civility who does not even know how to respect the former President and former First Lady. His arrogance will be paid off: That is a fair deal.

The Democratic Party gave him a free pass, the first presidential affirmative action in American history, but voters will never give him the free pass. Why should we?

Posted by: peace4world | July 2, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

There will be plenty of finger pointing in the campaign and of course the blame has to be Hillary's in the end.

But let us not forget how the press treated the first woman to run and the first Black man to run. The press was enamored with Obama and well they should have been. But that translated into trashing Hillary and not vetting Obama. The press has to look at themselves and their role in Presidential elections for the future.

They have to find a way to keep their personal feelings in check and report on facts- something they couldn't seem to do.

We have moved into the 24 news cycle all news all the time and nothing to say. So Robin Givhan can report on Hillary's cleavage and the Post can become an extension of Obama's campaign. The columnists like Eugene Robinson and Colby King, Dana Milbank and Richard Cohen were so enamoured with Obama that they lost all perspective.

They managed to turn Bill and Hillary Clinton into racists and didn't bother to mention that is what Obama had to try to do to win the 90% or more of the African American vote he needed to win NC, SC and MS.

Eugene Robinson was even at his most honest after the primary was sealed for Obama when he said "I don't even know if he is qualified to be President or if he will win. But it doesn't really matter". He finally just admitted it was a Black/White thing as far as he was concerned- whether or not Hillary would be the better President meant nothing to him.

Again, I see the real mistake that Hillary Clinton made was not to run an insurgent campaign. Everyone basically knows that no matter how far ahead you are you run as if you are behind and she didn't do that.

But clearly Obama had the help of the media in his campaign.

Today that is changing as Obama shifts all his positions. FISE, Death Penalty, Public Financing, NAFTA etc. We are learning about special deals on his mortgage and who knows what else we will learn about him in the next few months. As a Democrat I hope it's not much because I want him to win.

But again someone should write the story of what the press did for Obama. It will make an interesting story though not a very pretty one for the media or journalism.

Posted by: peter DC | July 2, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Simply= She ran yesterday's campaign while "O" ran tomorrow's.

He won - she lost.

Let the fingerpointing begin!

Posted by: Peter L. Sun City Roseville CA | July 2, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

"War is an important metaphor here," says Robert Reich, who has known Hillary since their days together at Yale Law School and who served as secretary of labor in Bill Clinton's first term. "The right wing waged war on the Clintons in the 1990s, and I think their experience normalized that approach," he tells me. "It taught them that politics is war and that war means any instrument, any tool, any means to achieve your end."

That Sen Obama won the dem nomination in what looks to be a dem year means that on day one we won't have a president who pulls out their enemies list and uses executive power to settle old scores. We have real problems that need to be solved - economy, nat'l security, health care, environment, education, inner cities... - and Obama can bring dems and reps together to solve them.

We don't need Filegate, nonsense, and more Clinton family dramas.

Posted by: JR, Boston | July 2, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

She lost by a few hundred thousand votes to a truly phenomenal politician. To say that she lost this election because she "ran like a man" is nonsensical. She lost because she hired a bunch of egotistical brats to run her campaign and by the time she had figured her mistake out, Obama's well-run and well-executed campaign had already put the race away.

Had she hired a better staff at the onset, we would likely be looking at Clinton/Obama, with Clinton on the top of the ticket.

Hillary supporters would love to blame the media, sexism, "fanatical" Obama supporters, the unfairness of the caucus process, etc. But just as the Clintons themselves are wont to do, they'll blame everything and everyone except the true factor in the race: Hillary's lack of leadership within her own campaign precipitated her defeat.

Posted by: P Diddy | July 2, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

When the administration announced a new National Homeland Security Strategy, with reliance on Tribal governments, Hillary thought it meant either the Clinton tribe or the Bush tribe. Too much watching Survivor can lead to that kind of thing.

From the White House site for the DHS:

Instituted an active, multi-layered approach to that integrates the capabilities of Tribal, local, State and Federal governments, as well as those of the private and non-profit sectors. In addition, Federal grant funding and technical assistance has also enhanced State, local and Tribal homeland security training and equipment, emergency management capabilities, and the interoperability of communications.

Posted by: Mesondk | July 2, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

still no mention of her poll numbers in New York although I did notice an article that she would be heading up state to kibbitz with some local white folks. Good for her, get your sea legs, because when you finally show your face to the blacks you slammed during your losing campaign you will be thoroughly BOOED!!!! But more important, you will be beat in the Democratic Primary for your seat by "hopefully" a black woman, but I would accept a Black male. Anything but white wine liberal racists.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld | July 2, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

the village obsession with the clintons will never die. oh, to relive those glory years of sniffing out a stained gap dress....

Posted by: linda | July 2, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I believe that no matter what the Clinton campaign strategy was, it didn't matter. Obama's handlers were ready to strike back the instant Hillary, Bill or her supporters said something that the handlers could turn around and use to anger Obama's supporters.

Posted by: Michael | July 2, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

And it comes down to as it always does when it's about women: emotions are to women as women are to emotions...the intelligence quotient secondary to the FEMININE mystique. America has a lot of growing up to do.

Halli Casser-Jayne

Posted by: Halli Casser-Jayne | July 2, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse


As the summer 2008 political campaigns roll on, mainstream media pundits continue to sweat through the alleged complexities and obvious realities of America's change movement. We still hear Frankenstein-stitched rationales and analysis on what presidential candidate Barack Obama is thinking, doing and saying, and how the American electorate feels about it. Most of the pundits still just don't and won't get it.

A major political and socioeconomic paradigm shift, or tipping point, has occurred in the last three-plus years since the 2004 presidential campaign, rising U.S.-Iraqi war death tolls, ballooning American debt, global economic shifts, social insecurity and a decline of real confidence in our national government. In other less stable nations, a major social or violent uprising would be taking place. Fortunately, most Americans still feel more invested in our values and the future thanks to a credible social network of real news.

The iconic "What's going on?" question is being answered and updated hourly. However, mainstream pundits and sound bite bunnies still use old formulas, clichés and benchmarks to decipher present day realties. Ask them when was the last time they talked face-to-face with twenty average people on the streets of twenty cities about what's really going on in America. Ask them how recently have they felt furious from the diminishing returns after paying their taxes and bills. Ask them only if you think they'll give you a straight answer -- as with many of our public officials. Clearly, their twenty-twenty vision of America suffers from increasing blindness.

Breaking it down, making it plain, keeping it real and facing reality has become a lost ability in the deceit decade. Dumb-downed communication, integrity, insight and honesty have been a growth industry for most of this new millennium's first decade. We accept moronic and misinformed observations about our daily lives as normal in most media and education.

So, it is suffice to say that less is more when it comes to explaining why pundits and news talkers struggle to understand how and why another relatively young and smart senator from Illinois got and holds our attention. Simply put, beyond the depth and detail he can easily communicate, Senator Obama speaks to and with us about what really matters to us -- just as "government of the people, by the people, for the people" did in a brief two-plus minute speech by an earlier Illinois politico.

As my father always said, "Simplicity can be difficult for the complicated mind." Nevertheless, as we all pursue the challenges of our choice for change, let's enjoy mainstream media's comic relief in predictably providing profitable podiums for pretentious pre-paradigm pundits pontificating preposterous prognostications about politics and people.

Dennis Moore, Chairperson --
District of Columbia Independents for Citizen Control Party --
CUIP Member (Committee for a Unified Independent Party)

Posted by: Dennis Moore, Washington, DC | July 2, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

It is an understatement that we might find material here to be familiar. There is nothing new in this ultra long article. Was really looking for really stories about battle amongst the principal players. Never saw it. (Hope the book is better.)

Posted by: Tony | July 2, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Just a few votes here and there and Gails article would have been drastically different in tone.
I am happy to be done with the clintons,, we can do better then the dysfunctional drama that is brand clinton.

Posted by: adam | July 2, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Great Column Chris.
""She rose up in a grandiose, classically columned hall worthy of Caesar, the National Building Museum, and spoke, finally, as who she really is -- a woman of full humanity. Yes, ruthless, nakedly aggressive, hawkish and often tone-deaf -- qualities common among those who dare to compete at this level. But she was also staggeringly smart, empathetic, unsparing of her energy and commitment, and gallant in her optimism as she waded through the sludge of sexist and media bias."
While I question the extent that "sexism" played in Clinton's loss (her final stunning wins seem to refute the charge), I have to agree that the Media bias was against her, and I say that as an Obama supporter.

I would also say that, unlike some people have charged, I found Hillary to be a wonderful speaker with her speeches full of specifc content, empathy, and with her sense of dry humor. I do think however, more than anything, that Democrats were ready for a new Generation of Political Leaders to emerge as, after 16 years of domination, Clinton fatigue had set in (I, like many in our party, are grateful for the service and vision of the Clinton's for this Country, but I think that Obama has not only learned from the Clintons on how to win, but how to present a vision for America based on Clinton style moderation.)

At any rate Mrs. Clinton was ill served by some of her advisors, and, it must be said, by her own ego. Still, there is much to admire about Hillary Clinton, and women can justly take pride in her ongoing success.

Posted by: radical_moderate | July 2, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Yep, and that is the Hillary Clinton I could have supported instead of Obama, who might now be listening to offers of the VP slot from Clinton. Many older women doggedly stuck to Hillary but I could not respect the campaign she ran, which ultimately meant I could not respect her enough to give her my vote.

Posted by: greyparrot | July 2, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

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