Monday, June 09, 2008

Why did Clinton lose? Plain and simple in one word: Judgement

Adding to the post mortems of the Clinton campaign, in my view Clinton lost because she didn't have the good judgement to win. She didn't have the good judgement to know who is in the Democratic Party and what their issues were. Clinton didn't have the judgement to see past her own issues. She didn't have the judgement to know that a leader doesn't ignore the base of the Party in fundamental issues.

At every crucial fork in the road, she misjudged the Democratic base. No amount of "experience" can make up for poor judgement unless it is used to transform poor judgement into good judgement. Unfortunately for her, Clinton just couldn't or wouldn't admit that her poor judgement on the war needed transformation. She did not have the judgement to lead herself out of the corner she had painted herself into. A leader needs the judgement to know the difference between pandering and following, and while Clinton showed no reluctance to pander on certain issues, she was incapable of following the majority of the Party's base on the most important concern of the day, and without demonstrating the judgement of responsive leadership she doomed herself and couldn't win.

In 2002, Clinton didn't have the judgement to vote against George W. Bush and he war. This was when she lost me in her bid to become president. Clinton didn't have the judgement in 2002 to know that if she wanted to run for president in either 2004 or 2008 that in 2002 she needed to show leadership against the Republican war machine. She needed to have the judgement of knowing right from wrong when it came to Bush's doctrine of preemptive war. She needed the judgement to know that the people want a leader who knows the difference between waging a war of defense from a war of offence. Clinton didn't have the judgement of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to Congress, who voted against the First World War.

Then in 2004, Clinton went on Larry King (among other venues) and still did not have the judgement to apologize. Instead she defended her vote and defended the war with its preemptive war doctrine, claiming only that President Bush was failing to execute the war properly.

Thus, Clinton lost her campaign way before the actual race had begun.

Yes, if there had been no Obama, no viable alternative, Clinton may have gotten away with her poor judgement. But the majority of the Democratic Party was hungering for someone to stand up against Bush, not for someone who followed him off the cliff. So even though Obama didn't fight strongly against Bush once he came to the Senate, the mere fact that he was on record at the time in a speech opposing the war was enough to give his improbable campaign credibility with the Democratic base as the candidate to be rallied around and to trust as someone who had the judgement to say "No" to the stupidity of the war. No amount of sheer charisma on Obama's part would have been enough to catapult Obama into the lead if he did not have the war as the fulcrum.

Once the campaign started and before the first primaries, Clinton still refused to apologize for her war vote. She blamed Bush for lying when she still didn't recognize that the rule against preemptive war is in large part just for the purpose of protecting the people from an executive's lies, precisely because a president has too many enticements not to lie if a war will be of use to shore up a failing administration. If she had the judgement to say, "My vote was a mistake because I was not giving enough importance to the doctrine against preemptive war, and now I have learned the lesson why preemptive war is wrong" then she might have had a chance. She would have demonstrated analysis at work.

Instead she continued to embrace war as an option of diplomacy, instead of as a last resort of self defense when there are no other options. So she voted for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, once again demonstrating that she had learned absolutely nothing from the Democratic Party's base.

There are just too many forks in the road to list where Clinton demonstrated she did not have the judgement to listen to the Party's base and make corrections. Here are just a few the instances of failed judgement at the turning points.

At the crossroads of deciding to run on "experience" or on the vision of a better future, whether it is called "hope" or "change,"
she misjudged and chose "experience" even though her husband had run against "experience" and won.

At the crossroads of healthcare, instead of using the judgement to see that the Democratic base wants single payer health care, she chose not to show leadership and instead essentially adopted and edited version of John Edward's healthcare proposal. One has to wonder why, since she had made healthcare a center piece of her campaign she did not have an original, innovative, and bold proposal at hand before she even officially announced her candidacy?

After the first four primaries and the writing was on the wall that Obama was the frontrunner and Clinton needed a new strategy beyond the hollow claim of "experience", one that would show her leadership in action, Hillary could have come out strong against Bush and called for his impeachment. Only an issue like impeachment could have brought a significant portion of the progressive base of the party (that is of those who needed more than the mere fact that she is a woman) toward her. If she didn't want to go all the way to impeachment, she could have at least promised to call for an independent prosecutor to conduct a complete and thorough criminal justice investigation of the Bush administration's crimes leading up to the war. Instead even after Bush's lies were completely apparent, she denied the need for impeachment and did not offer any leadership toward an alternative. At this time of course, Obama didn't support impeachment or an alternative either, but he didn’t have the need to do so because he had the high ground of his anti-war vote and was the front runner. It was the need to show bold leadership at that time when she was behind that Clinton again misjudged.

Lastly, on Tues, June 3, Clinton once again showed her poor judgement by refusing to concede, and instead of selflessly stating the obvious and eloquently and graciously praising her opponent and getting behind him, she had the poor judgement to think she could continue her campaign with a tasteless appeal to her supporters to help her decide what to do next. If on the last day of the campaign she didn't have the judgement to see that she had lost and to know how to be decisive and to rise to the occasion to admit defeat, then she still didn't have the judgement to be Vice President, much less President.

Cross posted at The Daily Kos

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