After convention, no guarantees for Clinton

Hillary Clinton, like other dynastic candidates, doesn’t know what her campaign is about or why she’s running.
Hillary Clinton, like other dynastic candidates, doesn’t know what her campaign is about or why she’s running. AFP/Getty Images

“The best darn change-maker I ever met in my entire life.” So said Bill Clinton in making the case for his wife at the Democratic National Convention. Considering that Bernie Sanders ran as the author of a political revolution and Donald Trump as the man who would “kick over the table” (to quote Newt Gingrich) in Washington, “change-maker” does not exactly make the heart race.

Like most dynastic candidates, Hillary Clinton doesn’t know what her campaign’s about or why she’s running. She seeks the office because it’s the final step on the ladder.

Her campaign’s premise is that we’re OK but can do better. It’s like Sanders lite. Or Bush’s short-lived slogan: “Jeb can fix it.”

The one man who could have given the pudding a theme was Bill Clinton. Instead, he talked of a passionate liberal’s social activism. It was an attempt, I suppose, to humanize her.

Perhaps somewhere in there is a real person. But what a waste of Bill’s talents.

He concluded with this: “The reason you should elect her is that in the greatest country on earth we have always been about tomorrow.” Is there a rhetorical device more banal?

Trump’s acceptance speech was roundly criticized for offering a dystopian vision of America. For all of its exaggeration, however, it reflected the view from Fishtown, the fictional white working-class town created statistically by social scientist Charles Murray in his 2012 study “Coming Apart.” It chronicled the economic, social and spiritual disintegration of those left behind by globalization and economic transformation. Trump’s capture of their feelings of anxiety and abandonment explains why he enjoys a 39-point advantage among whites without a college degree.

His solution is to beat up on foreigners for “stealing” our jobs. But while trade is a factor in the loss of manufacturing jobs, much more important is the emergence of an information economy in which education, knowledge and various kinds of literacy are the coin of the realm. For all the factory jobs lost to the Third World, far more are lost to robots.

In either case, Clinton has no counter. If she has a theme, it’s about expanding opportunity. But the universe of discriminated-against minorities – so vast 50 years ago – is rapidly shrinking. When the burning civil rights issue is bathroom choice for the transgendered, Fishtown understandably asks, “What about us?” Telling coal miners she was going to close their mines only reinforced white working-class alienation from Clinton.

As for chaos abroad, the Democrats are in see-no-evil denial. The first night in Philadelphia, there were 61 speeches. Not one mentioned the Islamic State or terrorism. Later references were very few and highly defensive. After all, what can Democrats say? Clinton’s calling card is experience. Yet as secretary of state she left a trail of policy failures from Libya to the Islamic State’s rise.

Clinton had a strong second half of the convention as the Sanders revolt faded and as President Obama endorsed her in one of the finer speeches of his career. Yet Trump’s convention bounce of up to 10 points has given him a slight lead in the polls. She badly needs one, too.

She still enjoys the Democrats’ built-in Electoral College advantage but is highly vulnerable to outside events and internal revelations. Another big terror attack or email drop and everything changes.

In this crazy election year, there are no straight-line projections. As Clinton leaves Philadelphia, her lifelong drive for the ultimate prize is perilously close to a coin flip.