Clinton Finally Announces Her Message: Banality and Incoherence.

The much-ballyhooed announcement video offers little hint [of who, policy-wise, Clinton is].  For the first half-minute or so, you would be excused for thinking that it was some sort of detergent commercial, intended to air during the Olympics. Gay weddings! Babies being born! Moms going back to work! Clorox, this commercial seems to say, has finally gotten with the program.

But then the ad continues. Clearly, this is some sort of anthology drama, around the theme of getting ready for things. Possibly the next installment of “Love Actually.”

Call it “Hillary, Actually.” Women getting ready to start businesses! Brothers getting ready to start businesses! Moms getting ready to go back to work! Families getting ready for the addition of new members! Gay weddings! Tomatoes! Legendary tomatoes! School plays! “I’m gonna be in the school play and I’m gonna be in a fish costume,” says a child. This is actually a thing that happens in the commercial. Actually. “The little tiny fishes…” the child sings. It doesn’t stop there. Cats! Dogs! Hillary actually is all around us. All it was missing was an aging rocker, hoping for one last hit.

But instead, we have Hillary. “I’m getting ready to do something, too,” Hillary says at the end of the video, one-upping all these people with their businesses and prize tomato gardens. “I’m getting ready to run for president.” (That fish costume doesn’t sound so impressive now, does it?)

“Because it’s YOUR time and I hope you’ll join me on this journey,” she amends quickly, but not quickly enough.

‘Hillary, Actually’–Hillary Clinton actually is all around us, Alexandra Petri, Washington Post online, late yesterday afternoon

My late father (no less a politics junkie and frustrated liberal than is his daughter) and I had a longstanding joke dating back to the 1988 Michael Dukakis campaign.  The ad, a short one, 30 seconds, probably, shown late in the general-election campaign, began with the camera showing … something; I no longer recall what the video showed, but I think maybe it was just Dukakis speaking into the camera, and with Dukakis saying … something.  I don’t recall the specifics of what his first sentences were, other than that they were unspecific.  But the last three sentences were, if I remember right, “That’s not a Democratic concern.  That’s not a Republican concern.  That’s a father’s concern.”

Actually, I do remember, precisely, that final sentence, since it served as the punchline of our standing joke.  Which had to do with the fact that the ad gave no clue to what the “that” was.  The first time or two that you saw the ad, you thought you simply had missed what the “that” was.  But you had not missed what the “that” was.  Dukakis had missed including it.

I began to think about that ad again around the time last fall when most of the political reports about Clinton said she planned to run as a grandmother.  (“That’s a grandmother’s concern.”)

Then came news, early this year, that she was also going to get into substantive economic policy that would go beyond verifying yet again (and again and again) her support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, paid sick leave and vacation time, and affordable childcare and guaranteed preschool. She was, it was reported, speaking at length to economists.  Did this mean that she might discuss Keynesian vs. Laffer fiscal policy, and the actual effects of each?  Hope springs eternal.  So, maybe?

But hope began to fade (it wasn’t eternal, after all) a few weeks ago, when every three or four days, or so it seemed, there was another report about another one or two or three new communications hires—um, should she decide to run.  The solely political hires seemed fine, if very numerous.  But then there were the ones from Madison Avenue, including the one most recently from Madison Avenue and, before that, Michelle Obama’s staff.  (She’s credited as the one who suggested that Michelle do a dance on some daytime TV show, or something, which apparently was a big success in the effort to “humanize” Michelle for the then-upcoming reelection campaign.)

On the heels of those reports came the ones, repeated again and again in the past two weeks, that Clinton would forego, at least for the first few months, the traditional large rallies and speeches to large audiences, and would instead speak with people in small, somewhat intimate settings.  I thought that sounded great; I detest those idolatry political rallies and the like, and Clinton, it was clear from her 2007-08 effort, was particularly bad at this type of thing.  And I assumed that Clinton would use these small-setting meetings, in part, to discuss specifics of economic policy.  After all, this campaign, high-level people inside it made a point of indicating, will not be focused on her—her political ambitions; her desire to be the first female president—and will instead be focused on economic policy addressing middle-class fears and aspirations.

And even when the campaign insiders said she planned to meet with ordinary people in order just to listen to them and learn what’s on their minds, I figured that that didn’t preclude something more than soundbites and clichés from her during these discussions.  Her answers could involve, maybe, three or four sentences of substantive background and explanations.  Theoretically, anyway.  Her husband did that, at times.  Maybe she could, too.  So I held out hope for a campaign of genuine substance about economic policy.

And we all were assured, and assured and assured, that her long-awaited announcement wouldn’t be like her announcement last time, which was, “I’m in.  And I’m in to win.” Weren’t we?

But instead, it turned out, it would be: “I’m in.  And I’ll use a Super Bowl-style commercial that, for its first three-fourths, gives no hint of tie-in to the product being pushed, and then closes with a few words or maybe two sentences generically identifying the brand, the product, the slogan, and, finally, the intended message of the very long lead-in.”

Which, in this case, is that Clinton, like other Americans who are preparing for something new and major in their lives, is getting ready to do something, too!  In her case, it’s running for president.

But something had to be said about, y’know, policy.  Or something hinting at it.  And so, in perfect Super Bowl-ad style, she said, “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”  And, in perfect Super Bowl-ad style, that was it for a tie-in to, well, anything.

Okay, well, almost it for a tie-in.  She did add, “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion so you can do more than just get by.” So she’s “hitting the road to earn your vote, because it’s your time.” And “I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”

Which I will, of course.  Bush, Walker, Rubio and Paul don’t appeal to me, partly because Laffer doesn’t.  And on my way home from the voting booth I’ll stop in at a grocery store and buy a bottle of Clorox.  Or maybe buy that Chrysler advertised during the Super Bowl.  It might be my time for one of those, anyway.  I mean, who knows.


Appended to add the following exchange between reader CaffeinatedOne and me in the Ccomments thread:


April 13, 2015 3:59 pm

Yes, Presidents are expected to do substantive policy things, but campaigns are a lot more than that. All this was intended to be was a feel-good kickoff announcement and some broad framing of themes. Given where we are in the campaign cycle, doing much more than that hardly necessary and likely counterproductive,

Anything solid that she proposes at this point just becomes a target for the republicans in the clown car, and the media and doesn’t really help her much. Once republicans have a nominee and (somewhat) coherent set of policy proposals, then we’ll (hopefully) get to the meat of things.

Yes, it’s cruddy that campaigns aren’t policy focused affairs, but tactically it makes a lot of sense for her to focus on framing and positioning at this stage and wait for an opponent to form up.

Beverly Mann

April 13, 2015 6:19 pm

“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.” And, “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion so you can do more than just get by.” And she’s “hitting the road to earn your vote, because it’s your time.” And “I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”

There was a complete disconnect between “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top” and “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion so you can do more than just get by,” and the stories of the people in that video. There was no one in the video, best as I recall, who sounded like he or she was just getting by. The child who sang the fish song, maybe?

They all were upbeat and excited about the upcoming big change or big event in their lives. Just like Hillary’s all excited about running for president. But the things that these people were excited about are basic parts of their lives. Expecting a new baby. Finishing college. Moving. Major home repairs to that young couple’s new home. A woman looking forward to her imminent retirement and thinking of what she will become involved in then. None of these people looked as though they were just getting by, or, if they were, expected that it would last much longer. The deck may still be stacked in favor of those at the top, but it wasn’t hurting the people appearing in that video. It may be their time, but they didn’t seem to need a champion.

This was a deeply incoherent message, surely the result of a compromise between the Madison Avenue messaging folks and the political people who wrote a coherent passionate message for her give and then saw three lines of it appended disjointedly to the Super Bowl ad.

Clinton doesn’t really care very much about policy, other than the traditional women’s movement policy issues. She wants this particular glass ceiling broken and she wants to be the one to do it. That’s why she flits from one persona to another, convinced that what matters for her electability is her persona and nothing more. I was surprised at how really bad that video was, in my opinion. I’m pretty sure it was really bad.

Not fatal, of course. She will, after all, be running against a Republican. But more than a day after I watched that thing, I still can’t shake a feeling of incredulity.

Added 4/13 at 6:37 p.m.