[UPDATED] Blogs can be a loyal constituency, but not an unthinking one. Political bloggers tend to be passionate, idealistic about their politics, and less forgiving of the gamesmanship, issue flopping, expediency, rhetorical hedging, “message discipline,” “good optics” and compromise on positions that is part of normal politicking for office.
New York Senator and former first Lady Hillary Clinton faces a conundrum in the face of this fact.
As January of 2006 she had the largest war chest, the highest name recognition and topped ratings in national polls of any Democrat in the pool for a possible presidential bid. Normally that would allow a candidate to “play to the middle.” Susan Estrich in her book, “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” argued that she was the perfect candidate because “[W]hich of your safe white men are going to excite the base the way Hillary does, so they can spend all their time in the middle? I’ll answer: None.”
But in fact, the base, as reflected in leftblogs, is hardly cheering the Senator from New York on.
As Mickey Kaus comments on Estrich’s point: “Exciting the base is not something Hillary Clinton has been doing a lot of lately! I doubt that the Democrats’ ‘base’ will forgive her for her Iraq vote even if the war turns into a relative success. Suppose that happens–what’s she going to do, run on a campaign of ‘I told you so’? That’s always a turn-on for the die-hards!”
Indeed Clinton is faring poorly among the left/dem/liberal blogs and partisans precisely because of her consistent attempt to steer a “middle” policy course and win swing voters. As one Washington Post headline put it: “Clinton Angers Left With Call for Unity: Senator Accused of Siding With Centrists.” And Cindy Sheehan, the Goldstar icon of the anti-war left is calling her a “warmonger” and setting up a “camp Casey” outside HC offices. Leading the leftflank’s disparagement was the King of the leftbloglands, Kos himself.
John McCain, the only republican who bests or equals Clinton in current polls faces a similar dilemma with rightblogs that think of him as too moderate and too Washington, and the worst credential of all, too popular with big media.
Politicians have always needed to balance the base and the middle. Blogs make this tension, if not more difficult, more public.
Senator Clinton’s lonely “blog” entries on breast cancer for the American Cancer Society’s “Blogs for Hope” are press releases rather than real posts, and very safely worded at that. Why is she not blogging more? One can imagine why: Should Hillary Clinton give a $1,000-a-plate speech that will be picked up by the networks or post a blog entry that may or may not get any big media attention?
Further, when she gives that speech, her staff can control the crowd to a great extent, organizing a friendly response; that is not possible in the bloglands. Should a frontrunner, well ahead without blog help, risk blogging at all?
Update #1: A Cook Political Report/RT Strategies Poll of December 2005 showed a third of democrats supporting respectively a “classical liberal,” a liberal with “moderate appeal,” or a centrist as their ideal 2008 candidate. Charlie Cook, “Looking For The Right One” National Journal. (Dec. 13, 2005).
Update #2: In response to this post, Bob Kunst, the longtime liberal democratic activist who has led the grassroots “HillaryNow” group since 2003, said to me that blogs represent only one section of the democratic left. He is correct, and he should know: his record as a liberal activist is long and accomplished.
But the five million-visitor DK site gives Kos the largest independent soapbox on the Web. The press and the party take him seriously as a player and one day I think he will also be appreciated as a political kingmaker–a sure sign that the blog has arrived in the circles of power. (Misexpressed this point, see new post). Update 2a: Rather I think he is/will be seen as a sort of party boss. And he is no friend of the Democratic Leadership Council, the “centrist” group of Clinton allies and they, in turn, see him as inimical to the party’s return to power.
And Kos is not alone: Steve Gilliard, probably one of the most prominent and well-spoken leftbloggers writes of HC:
Mark my words. She will never make it out of the primaries if she runs. Hillary Clinton’s instincts suck. They are horrible. Her enemies will ALWAYS paint her as a liberal, regardless of her real stands. Her name is a byword for liberalism and corruption among the right. They will fight her to their last breath. The DLC wants to use the same failed playbook it has always used, run down the middle of the road and lose to the GOP.
We often speak of antagonism between bloggers and traditional mass media. Perhaps a Hillary candidacy will offer a contest between traditional Democrats vs. leftbloggers. That is too simplistic a typology, but there is no doubt that Hillary’s run for the nation’s highest elected office will be a major test of the roles bloggers play in the political media-system.
Update #3a: Bob Kunst of HillaryNow sent me an extraordinary “open letter” that he has written to Senator Clinton. Again, keep in mind, that Kunst is the REAL DEAL. It is is hard to think of anyone who has (a) more solid track record of liberal activism and (b) has been longer–as non-staff outsider–defending Hillary and promoting her as a Presidential prospect. Read this over and you will agree that HC faces a “grassroots fire” on her left. Here are some excerpts. The entire letter is within “DOCUMENTS” section in the left (no pun intended) sidebar.
From: “Robert Kunst” : firstname.lastname@example.org/ Date: Fri, 30 Dec 2005 13:34:45 -0500
It’s been my pleasure to represent you these last 27 months as President of Hillarynow.com, in 118 cities and doing 730 media interviews, to draft you for President in 2008.
…Two weeks ago, I made CNN, St. Pete Times, Air America, News Max and NY Post, trying to overcome doubts about you, when you were pushing a ban on flag desecration as your priority on the very same day that the ‘9/11’ Commission was giving Bush and ‘f’ for failing to see their recommendations to thwart another terrorist attack with any real urgency or commitments.
While you had a grand opportunity to expose Bush’s failures that is putting this nation at risk, and offer the answers regarding what dangers we are facing….while you could have led an identity missing in the Dem. Party that they even care about national security….while you could have demanded for New Yorkers, what Bush is ignoring….all of this and more was missing, while you focused on a ‘non-issue’ of banning flag desecration.
I’ve been able to fight all of your other battles, but this one is inexcusable, and poorly timed.
Your advisors seem bent on playing you for a ‘centrist’, that might have worked for Bill prior to ‘9/11’, but is flatly making you look bad and irresponsible and exploitive and totally unnecessary, which gives the public a negative image of you, we can’t make excuses for.
If they wanted to sabotage your campaign for 2006 or 2008, you managed to fall into this trap, and we would NEVER have advised this on any level.
…I’m in the trenches. I’m fighting all these battles for you and for this nation, and I know you still are light years ahead of any other candidate in the Dem. Party, and you can win it all for everyone’s benefits.
….We can get you there, for the grassroots is a totally different ball game than those $1000 a plate dinner folks, you have no problem raising monies from.
….Yours Faithfully and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to you and your family.
Pres., Hillarynow com
To repeat: Kunst has been Hillary’s most loyal independent grassroots supporter!
Background: Clinton has so far successfully–by the standards of fundraising, big media handicapping and poll numbers–followed a “pole vault” strategy. Normally in the Democratic Party you run left in the primaries to attract the party loyalists and activists, then run center in the general election campaign to bring in the so-called middle and swing voters. The Senator from New York has been taking centrist and even conservative positions since she took office. Why? Because the Washington/Elite Pundit analysis is that the nomination is hers without much effort or fight: “Hillary and the X Dwarfs” is how the primary run has been projected. If that is the case, then it must have seemed to make sense to jump to the “general” campaign immediately and not wait until May 2008.
But the left grassroots online and offline, in the bloglands and “in the trenches,” is not playing the game. They are not standing by in silence while Senator Clinton takes policy positions that outrage them. Stay tuned!
Perlmutter’s piece brings up the question of how far the front running Clinton can get in 2008 if the “netroots” are lukewarm if not disappointed in her willingness to chill the base and appeal to the DLC crowd. It is a valid point to raise, given that Clinton has managed to see challengers spring up on both her left (Russ Feingold) and her right (Mark Warner) who both will have significant appeal and much help from the netroots. Clinton may very well feel that boatloads of money and the Democratic machinery behind her will be enough to get the nomination without making an overt effort to appeal to the anti-war portions of the base or the netroots. Some would say that it’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi would say, with another establishment “electable” front-runner trying to steamroller their way to the nomination without hearing or even reaching out to the base or netroots. As I said, both Feingold, as well as Warner will have help from the netroots, and this doesn’t count John Edwards and Wesley Clark, both of whom are paying close attention to the netroots and have significant support in the country.
Will it matter if Clinton is supported by the netroots by 2007? Is Clinton staying distant for now until after her reelection, only to embrace the netroots and the base in 2007 when her full-fledged candidacy kicks in? Perhaps. But will any late-arriving embrace of the netroots and the anti-war base by Clinton work, if Edwards and Feingold have already spent over a year working with them, and Warner and Clark have likewise done the same from the right?
And Bob Geiger offers the following:
our need for true leadership is immediate and, despite her de facto status and power as one of the perceived leaders in the Democratic party, Senator Clinton has not shown the courage or leadership required to maintain the enthusiastic support of people on our side of the political spectrum.
Not that she needs to go begging for grassroots support right now. Hillary Clinton could strangle a kitten on prime-time television in Times Square and still win back her Senate seat next year and, unless the Republicans find a way to swift boat her beyond recognition, she’ll be reelected by a wide margin.
While I will immediately come to her aid if the GOP puts a serious dent in her candidacy, I resent the lack of a strong voice coming from her office right when we need her most.
And she has no excuse.
Originally posted January 29, 2006 at PolicyByBlog