Fix Pick: Inside Hillaryland
"A woman running for president can't be a person with multiple...you know...emotions."
-- Doug Hattaway, senior adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign
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.
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