This wasn't Hillary Clinton's year. For as well as she did (and she really did fantastically well for how many strategic blunders she made), her success was based upon who Hillary Clinton was before this year, not what she was this year. And if people based their votes on what Hillary represented to Democrats in 2008, she would have been trounced as badly as all the other Dems were. People picked Hillary because they liked Hillary, not because she offered them something they couldn't get elsewhere.
And even if she had tried this "Gas Tax," anti-elitist, Obama-bashing crap throughout the campaign, she would have been hurt even more. Liberals in California, New York, and other places would have been really turned off if this had been the Hillary that had campaigned in their states. But all the same, even her faux-populism didn't really win her any votes. It may have staved off Obama's push into her base, but it didn't win her new converts. And even then, I suspect it didn't help at all. It may have finally established why she was running, but it only seemed to appeal to the same people she was winning before her transformation (ie, low information voters who knew her better than Obama).
And the reason why is because she just didn't have anything to give to people this year. If you voted for her, it was because she was Hillary Clinton in 2000 and you approved of what she and her husband did in the 90's. Her Senate career, while ok, really wasn't the stuff presidential campaigns are made of. Had she not been so famous, it's quite unlikely she'd even have attempted to run for president. I mean, for as much as her supporters attacked Obama for being a political neophyte, he's held political office longer than she has. Nor was she particularly strong at wooing crowds, like Edwards and Obama. But she was the best known and trusted candidate for a lot of people who didn't know or trust Obama and that was enough to almost win it for her...almost.
The Republican Dynasty
In a year people were clamoring to get rid of George Bush and the Republicans, all she really had to offer people was a record built on being DLC Third-Way Republican-lite; and even she knew that wasn't what people wanted. When she entered the Senate in 2001, she had made the wrong bet based upon her experience during the 90's, and come 2008, she was forced to rely upon her reputation from a decade earlier. But she had nothing to give people in 2008.
Hell, many of her supporters in the blogsphere wrongly attributed many of her weaknesses to Obama, accusing him of being the DLC candidate or believing him to be the Democratic Establishment's candidate with the Big Money Donors. Why? Because she wasn't even the candidate her supporters wanted. They were voting for First Lady Hillary Clinton, not Senator Hillary Clinton, and never realized it. While she had positioned herself well for 2002 or even 2004 by latching onto the imagined Republican Dynasty the media kept telling everyone about, by 2006 it was obvious the anti-GOP writing was on the wall.
And in 2008, all she had to offer people was her name. For as much as people attacked the Cult of Obama, it's obvious that Clinton had built her strategy in 2007 solely on name recognition alone. That's what the "Invincible" strategy was all about. Her entire sales pitch was premised on the idea that she couldn't be beat. Oh sure, she'd give them a potporri of policy positions to look at, but they were all recent inventions to make up for the fact that she didn't have a particularly liberal record in the Senate. Even the "Fighting Hillary" had no history of actually fighting Republicans in the Senate.
Because again, like too many politicians, she bought into the Republican Dynasty theory and were caught flat-footed once it became obvious that the Dynasty was a curse to anyone who touched it. When the political winds shifted, she had become too conservative even for a general election and she hadn't counted on a primary battle at all.
The Big Bush Problem
And if Hillary had a Bush problem, it's quite obvious that John McCain is royally screwed. And he totally knows it. Things have gotten so bad that he's now just totally ripping off Obama's slogan, logo, branding, and campaign theme. It's like if Pepsi replaced its product with Coke in hopes that you just preferred drinking Coke out of a Pepsi can, and even changed the can to look like Coke's. Or in this case, he's promising to give you what Obama's giving you, but with the added bonus of getting a crusty old guy with a creepy smile and an anger that barely simmers under the surface at all times. How tempting!
And without a doubt, McCain is finding himself working all this on Obama's turf, the way that Dems typically work on Republican territory. But the problem isn't that Obama's taken some sort of stranglehold on politics the way Republicans do with issues like communism and terrorism; where they tell scary stories to spook people into voting incorrectly. No, this is a backlash against that exact sort of scaremongering, where the Republicans pushed imagined mandates waaaaay too far, and are now reaping what they sowed.
And now, we see McCain putting out defensive campaign ads where he casts himself as the anti-war candidate who is forced to fight wars for reasons which even he doesn't try to explain. As if him claiming that he doesn't like war is enough to prove to us that we must fight this one; hoping that all the folks who oppose this war somehow forget that it's optional. Call me crazy, but I don't think they're that stupid.
It's the Intelligence, Stupid
And really, the one big breakthrough for this campaign season is that we finally have a candidate who doesn't treat us like idiots. And that's the thing, for as much as his critics try to cast him as "elitist," all they really mean is that he'll speak to us like adults rather than slumming and pretending to be as dumb as they imagine we are. Essentially, they've flipped logic on its head and it's elitist to assume that voters aren't idiots.
And now we've got Obama, whose strategy is to actually give people what they want. Not what people tell pollsters they want, but what they really really want. It's sort of the flaw with the MTV-Mainstream Radio method for picking music. Music can only be popular if the people can hear it, but MTV only wants to play what's popular. So you get this chicken-egg conundrum, where the only stuff that can be popular is what is already popular and there's no reliable way of introducing anything new to the mix. And then, seemingly out of the blue, you get a band like Nirvana pop-up and change the music scene overnight. But it wasn't that Nirvana discovered a new form of music; merely that the corporate whores picking our music finally learned that there was something else that could be popular.
And that's exactly what we see with Obama. He didn't invent this shit. I swear, about 90% of the stuff he's saying is what I thought Kerry should have been saying in 2004, except he's saying it even better. The big problem is that the political establishment just didn't have any good way of finding this out. They thought they already had all the answers and it was just a matter of finding out how best to sell it to us. Rather than giving us a new product, they thought the problem was how the old one was packaged.
Repackaging McCain's Old Shit
And in this case, we are extremely lucky that the new product was able to get through. The way this was supposed to work is that we were supposed to get two established products for the general election, and Hillary would have sqeaked through with 50.1% of the vote in a bitter, bitter political season that would force Dems to flock to her aid throughout a bitter, bitter eight years of political travesty. And what's sad is that if you remember back to the post-Iowa days, this is exactly what Hillary and her supporters were promising us. They assured us that any Democratic president would get the shit beat out of them, and the sales pitch for Hillary was that she was already accustomed to this kind of thing. Again, it was about selling us what they had, rather than what we wanted.
But instead, we got Obama. And this is going to be a picnic with Obama, because he's the product we really wanted. He's the fuel efficient car during times of rising gas prices and the comfortable shorts during a hot summer. And while he's a great communicator who can sell his position well, it's not necessary; he sells himself. Because he's what we've wanted the whole time. And while he would have been great in 2000 or 2004, he's best of all in 2008 when everyone hates Bush. And it's obvious that even McCain realizes this. His ads emphasize how bad war is and how serious our problems are. As Carpetbagger mentioned, McCain used the word "change" 33 times in his greenscreen speech.
McCain's totally given up trying to sell John McCain and is now trying to convince people that he's Barack Obama. Why? Because he knows this is Obama's year. But it can't work. If anything, the hotshot Obama could sneak-in and use McCain's playbook better than McCain can; which was essentially the Clinton's DLC strategy, to give people a better version of whatever the GOP was offering. But this can't work in reverse. Even if the products were the same on the inside, nobody's going to prefer the old beat-up version that can't even smile properly.
And these products aren't the same at all. McCain's trying to jam an obsolete PC inside a cool new iMac without understanding that it just won't fit at all. Particularly not when there's about 30% of the population that still demands the previous version of the obsolete PC. I'm honestly wondering if McCain's going to end up pissing off everyone. I should add to all this that I find it extremly unlikely that McCain could get less than 40% of the vote in November. But even 45% would be an Obama landslide, and I think that's quite possible.
When a presidential nominee dumps his campaign strategy by mid-May and adopts his opponent's by June, it's obvious this isn't going to be a very good year for the guy. But of course, that's merely an admission that he's paying attention. He still hasn't shown that he's got any real answer to it besides embarrassing himself. And frankly, I don't think there is a good answer. The problem isn't the sales pitch; the problem is the product.