Aaron's Real Opinions:

Hillary's Mistakes May Be Her Biggest Advantage
by Aaron Harber
July 16, 2007 - Print Article

Part 1: Barack Obama’s Relative Strengths

One of the most interesting aspects of the now-in-full-gear 2008 presidential contest is the rise of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and the concomitant decrease in support for the originally assumed heir apparent, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). A year ago, no one would have predicted Obama would be a candidate for President and, for the most part, almost no one had heard of him.

In the first half of 2007, that changed as Obama became a full-fledged candidate, used his rhetorical skills and his consistent opposition to the War in Iraq, and his organizational prowess to become one of two top tier Democratic candidates and lead the entire field in fundraising success. The fact Clinton was seen as a polarizing figure and had a substantial number of Americans dead-set against her candidacy (registering in some surveys at a stunning +/-40% of the electorate) also created an opening for Obama.

Although Obama was not well-known and has almost no legislative track record, it may be those features which gave his campaign a tremendous boost. These attributes remain his greatest strengths. By being a “blank slate” for so many citizens, the likable and eloquent Obama may be seen by individual voters as the person they want him to be. Of course, over time, as the blank slate gets filled in, these benefits for Obama will dissipate.

Voters desperately want change and are attracted to Obama as an agent of change. Because he is seen as an outsider, he appears to not be beholden to special interests and he appears willing to take on those special interests which are damaging the nation. Clinton, on the other hand, has struggled to convince voters she is an agent of change. Instead, at times she seems caught between arguing for change and emphasizing the success of her husband’s administration when she actually could easily combine the two by arguing her experience makes her the better change agent.

Part 2: Why Hillary’s Weakness Could Be Her Strength

In Hillary Clinton’s case, she is so far from being seen as Barack Obama is (i.e.., as a blank slate to be filled in as voters please) that it is difficult for most voters to see her as an agent of change. Surprisingly, this actually may be her strength. People know Clinton as a smart, strategic, tough woman who knows the issues and isn’t afraid to take on any subject, any organization, or any person. People also know Clinton as someone who has made a number of mistakes.

While most candidates shy away from admitting they have made mistakes, doing so ensures Clinton she is seen as an honest person. It humanizes her while simultaneously allowing her to assume a mantle of expertise due to “the benefits of experience” which Obama cannot claim. Having “been there, done that” gives Clinton a path to discuss what courses of action should be most effective as well as which ones should be avoided. And she can speak from a wide range of experience - unlike her many opponents.

Her argument could be that it may be better to have an experienced officeholder who has made mistakes and who has learned from them rather than an officeholder who is new and untested - and, hence, likely to make serious mistakes while in office. “I’ve made my mistakes before being President,” is Clinton’s argument. “Why elect someone who will make those mistakes while in office?” is her more subtle proposition.

Recent polling data shows Obama’s support leveling off or even dipping a bit while Clinton’s support appears to be gradually rising. Is the Democratic fascination with newcomer Obama slowly being replaced by a more pragmatic perspective? At this point, it is difficult to say but, with straw polls and even caucuses and primaries not that far away, we may have answers very soon.

In the end, if Clinton can convey to the nation what the benefit of her experiences - both good and bad – could be, she may win the nomination and presidential election not simply as a “tried and tested” candidate but as someone who knows how to most effectively lead the nation and efficaciously shepherd substantive change in America. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade...

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