January 5th, 2008
01:20 PM ET
13 years ago

Bernstein: An analysis on Clinton after Iowa

Clinton talks during a campaign stop at Merrimack Valley High School on Saturday in Penacook, New Hampshire.

Clinton talks during a campaign stop at Merrimack Valley High School on Saturday in Penacook, New Hampshire.

NEW YORK - Let’s be frank: There are more than a few levels on which what has happened in Iowa - and its carryover - is the Clintons’ worst nightmare. The shining aspect of the Clintons’ politics has always been their understanding of the tragedy of race in America. Each has spoken eloquently - publicly and privately - of the day when a black candidate for president would capture the imagination of the country, and be elected.

But never did the Clintons anticipate that it might occur on Hillary’s watch as a candidate for president herself, in opposition to them.

Twice, as a teenager, she went to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preach, and his effect on her was profound. When he was killed, Hillary was a student at Wellesley College. Her reaction on hearing of his death was almost a breakdown.

“I can't stand it any more! I can’t take it,” she screamed, and threw her bookbag against the wall. She was shaking and shouting. (She subsequently led student protests at Wellesley demanding increased black admissions, and other compensatory responses.)

Years later, when she moved into the White House, her chief of staff was Maggie Williams, a black woman. Her mentor, as a lawyer and children’s advocate, was Marion Wright Edelman, a black woman. Bill Clinton has often identified his three heroes as Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, and Dr. King.

* * * *

On Thursday night, Barack Obama concluded a remarkable, stirring speech that, whatever the outcome of the 2008 election, it will be regarded as historic. CNN’s Anderson Cooper and I discussed on-air what we were witnessing.

Her "third place finish to Barack Obama” was “probably the worst outcome for her today," Cooper observed.

But the circumstances were worse than merely finishing third, or Obama’s stunning 40 percent of the vote, I responded. Seventy percent of Democratic voters in Iowa had voted against her. When she finally met in a ballroom with her supporters after the numbers were beyond redeem, she gave a tired variation of her stump speech – in stark contrast to Obama’s sense of the history of the occasion.

Obama’s campaign was becoming a crusade.

"This is a great night for Democrats," Hillary, no longer her party’s frontrunner had announced. "Together, we have presented the case for change and have made it absolutely clear that America needs a new beginning."

Cooper asked, "How does Hillary Clinton now go on tomorrow?" He added that Bill Clinton would continue to campaign with his wife in New Hampshire.

Watching the former president on the screen, I responded: "You could see the devastation on Bill Clinton's face tonight. They are going to have to regroup. They are going to have to come up with a different rationale for this campaign, because what we heard Obama say tonight is: this is about Republicans. This is about independents. There's going to be a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, not just in New Hampshire, but through all those 20 Super Tuesday states. And that fight is going to be about who can best reach out and unite the country - because Obama knows that the rap on Hillary Clinton is that she's polarizing, is that she's divisive.

"And the Clintons now have to come up with a rationale that shows they are not [a divisive force] and they can unite the country, unite the party. It's a very difficult thing to pull off, after that inspirational speech, on top of which, you know, you looked at the people behind Hillary and Bill Clinton. They were old faces.” Among them, Madeline Albright, the Clinton Secretary of State; Terry McAuliffe, the family fund-raiser.

“Another thing that has been repudiated tonight is this idea of restoration of the Clintons plural, to the White House,” I said. “That was an underlying issue here. And it figures with the age-group breakdown that we have seen in CNN's exit and entrance polls. So, there has to be a whole new rationale. Why is Hillary Clinton now qualified to be the president of the United States, and what does she do to unite this country?”

* * * *

Hillary Rodham Clinton is nothing if not resilient.

Perseverance and resilience — especially in response to humiliation (make no mistake: the rejection of her candidacy in Iowa was a real humiliation) — are the strongest threads in the tapestry of her life, along with religion and family.

On Friday, traveling to New Hampshire the day after the devastation of Iowa, Hillary and her apparat embraced the “change theme” that she had previously ridiculed Obama for asserting and mocked with her mantra of “experience.”

“[T]he message in New Hampshire has been working,” Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson insisted following the Iowa caucuses. “It’s who she is as a person, her experience making change, the importance of picking a president that is ready. That won’t change.”

It is difficult to imagine how she is going to steal the “change” issue from Obama.

In the paperback edition of my biography of Hillary Clinton, “A Woman In Charge,” there is this conclusion in a new afterword written in October:

“Inside the Clinton machine, the Obama challenge and, in particular, its central claim of representing necessary change in what Democrats had to offer, made an impression. ‘She realizes she can’t match him in the change department,’ said Deborah Sale [one of the Clintons’ oldest and closest friends. ] ‘He’s of a different generation and she’s been around for a long time. The Clinton administration is a very big plus for her, but it’s also a minus. And she knows it. She can hardly deny it. She emphasizes the positive. No one expected this kind of opposition, and she knows he’s strong and savvy.’”

The afterword concludes:

“So, in the end, Hillary for President had come down to Restoration, a co-presidency in which all the considerable talents and experiences of both Clintons and the hard lessons learned by each would be applied to reversing the catastrophes, ennui, and grievous misgovernance” of the Bush presidency.

“[T]he task was to convince voters that the Restoration would not be a voyage back to the future but rather would entrust the nation’s governance to the stewardship of a magical political pair whose priorities were indeed ‘progressive’ in the best sense, moving forward carefully from the perilous era just past, but with ideas culled from their vast experience and association with the brightness and best minds, with Bill’s voracious intellectualism, and with her sturdy, can-do optimism and rigor….

“They were very much a team, and that is how they increasingly presented themselves…. ‘I’m running because I think I can win and I can take the White House back for us, and, frankly, build on the positive of the nineties and avoid some of the mistakes,’ she said. She did not define us.”

Carl Bernstein, a CNN contributing analyst, is the author of "A Woman In Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton." The paperback, with a new afterword, will be released on Tuesday, the day of the New Hampshire primary. To learn more go to carlbernstein.com

Filed under: Hillary Clinton
soundoff (213 Responses)
  1. Sherry

    What everyone is not getting, is the fact that it is do or die time. We have got to have someone who will beat the republicans. I don' t think anyone but, Hillary can accomplish that. No one is expected to agree with any one cadidate on all the issues. Hillary with Joe Biden as vice president is the only way to go. That democarat who won in Iowa does not "stand for something and he will fall for anything". Runing for President on a platform of wishes is not good enough. He would make a good president if we live on idealism. We can't and he must not win.

    January 6, 2008 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  2. Shane, rockville maryland

    In the end, this democratic race is going to make the party more divided than the general election. We need to look at the issues and try, thats right TRY, and understand them. Then we have to admit that we cant fully understand the issues facing the country and that is why we elect someone to do that for us. I think Obama captures peoples thoughts and imaginations, where as Hillary is like a Parent who gives you Castor oil, you might hate it but in the end your better off. We need to sit back and think about what the Country needs right now. We need to feel good yes, but we really need some strong medicine And yes I'm voting for Hillary (I'm an African American male)

    January 6, 2008 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  3. tom

    Hillary's claim to fame is that she worked for Barry Goldwater.

    January 6, 2008 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  4. JL

    HRC claims that as part of her 'vast' international experience, she knows foreign leaders on a first name basis. I would like someone to ask her to name a few...she may have 'met' them with Bill 10-15 years ago must most have been replaced since then. Which CURRENT leaders does she know? Or does it depend on the definition of "know"?

    Maybe she means Queen Elizabeth or Fidel Castro.

    January 6, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  5. Mike

    I go back and forth between clinton and obama.

    I honestly think Hillary is by far the best candidate but I am so unsure of the whole "woman" thing. It has never become more clear to me that a woman cannot really fight back in such an election without being labeled a "b&tch" And now all I hear on the news is how Obama cannot be stopped. Its almost a self fulfilling profecy.

    What I do find very ironic is how everyone says Hillary is not likeable. Remember people for the last 8 years we have had the likeable president and how well has that worked for us?

    Then I hear how hillary is not a change candidate and Obama is? Lets face it everything she is attempting to do is history making, and dont even get me started on the "she failed with health care before" argument. People who say that dont understand politics in my opinion. She never had a chance.

    In end I want the republicans OUT so I will get behind whomever gets the nomination.

    January 6, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  6. Steve

    "Obama's agenda is OUT THERE…..it's very clear. Expand health care so it is affordable to everyone..(mandated for children but not adults as HRC would have it). Increased tax incentives to encourage the use of alternative fuels and vehicles that do not use oil…oil independance from the middle east. Revised tax structure (including no taxes for elderly people making less than $50K a year). Most important, closing corporate tax loopholes that take jobs overseas and tax incentives to encourage the return of corporate jobs to America…"

    With all due respect, this is not an implementable agenda. It's wishful thinking at best. Explain to me how the math will work out on these proposals.

    All Obama has been saying to date is the equivalent of : "I will change this, I will change that, we will change this, we will change that." But there are no convincing details. The usual MBA marketing stuff, or is it fluff?.

    The candidate that SPELLS out HOW he/she will solve the nation's problems – with enough convincing details that the policies ARE IMPLEMENTABLE will get my vote. In fact ALL voters should be asking ALL candidates this question.

    The country needs change, but saying "I am for change" does not equal to making the necessary changes happen.

    January 6, 2008 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  7. nadeem

    Alan and Meg,

    I agree that Hillary needs to find her true self, but she can't do that with Bill toting along, If she is going to establish her own identity she needs to fire Bill as a campaign advisor, or at least get him off the stump.

    Every time he shows up it just reminds people of divisive 90s

    January 6, 2008 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  8. Elena

    You are all sheep, haven't we been herded by the media enough?

    Hillary is our only hope...

    January 6, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  9. Bill W - PA

    Being married to a pilot does not make one qualified to fly an airplane. Being married to a doctor does not make one qualified to treat disease. Being married to a surgeon does not make one qualified to operate on anyone. Being married to a priest does not make one qualified to perform mass. Being married to a mechanic does not make one qualified to fix my car.

    Is any of this getting through?

    January 6, 2008 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  10. Steve

    "Being married to a pilot does not make one qualified to fly an airplane. Being married to a doctor does not make one qualified to treat disease. Being married to a surgeon does not make one qualified to operate on anyone. Being married to a priest does not make one qualified to perform mass. Being married to a mechanic does not make one qualified to fix my car."

    OTOH, if one has not been in any of these professions before, it makes one eminently qualified.....?

    January 6, 2008 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  11. Chris, Middletown, CT

    Funny...she left out her thesis "hero" – Saul Alinsky....the architect behind the 800 Billion in proposed (unfunded) entitlement spending....research this key figure in Hillarys life....btw....he was a grassroots Marxist....(he would be proud of her "mandated" big government programs....so very proud that America would consider a socialist)

    January 6, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  12. Chris, Middletown, CT

    Experience?? 6 years elected experience....Obama has more elected experience than Hillary....what flavor Koolaid is that?? (in this "35 years political experience" Hillary speaks of...she was a partner in the Rose Law firm...and on the board of directors at Walmart.....when did she have time to also be the governor of Arkansas....the state that was smart enough to tell her that she had no political experience of her own to run for senate...thus the Clinton move to a state that would "elect any Democrat" to office) – she's lies...you bought it....you should feel dumb....and cheated....

    January 6, 2008 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  13. M. Pace

    It is ridiculous to state that Obama won 40% of the vote when in fact he won 37.6% of the vote (in whatever mysterious way that the Iowa Democratic caucus decides how popular vote translates into final percentages).

    There is no purpose in rounding numbers as Mr. Bernstein did, unless his purpose was to slant the news.

    I happen to prefer Mr. Obama, at present, to the alternatives. But I would still prefer that news organizations and columnists stick closely to the truth rather than to try to distort it to serve their goals.

    January 8, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
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