One of the stranger aspects of a modern presidential campaign is the double roll-out: candidates kick off their national campaign, and then soon after, they do it again, this time for a larger audience. In Hillary Clinton’s case, the Democratic frontrunner launched her bid in a two-minute video in April, and then over the weekend, she held a big rally to drive the point home.
But in her defense, this weekend’s event on Roosevelt Island in New York wasn’t just a re-hash of her launch nine weeks ago. If the April video was a trailer, Saturday was the feature film. Alex Seitz-Wald reported for msnbc:
“[I’m running] for everyone who’s ever been knocked down but refused to be knocked out,” said Clinton, who lost her 2008 presidential bid. […]Clinton’s speech, which aides have said will serve as guiding document for the rest of her campaign was like a policy sandwich. It began with history, was filled with a meaty list of policy goals, and concluded with her personal motivation for seeking the highest office in the land. In between she bashed Republicans and struck a populist economic tone. What it lacked in sweeping rhetoric it made up for in policy wonkery.
Indeed, it was one of the most substantive announcement speeches I’ve heard any candidate deliver in recent memory. This wasn’t rah-rah rhetoric intended to generate goose-bumps, it was a 45-minute address, intended to highlight the challenges facing the nation and the Democrat’s vision for addressing them.
Clinton has never been a great orator, and her campaign aides intend to play to her strengths and avoid her weaknesses. This was clear on Saturday – the former senator and Secretary of State skipped the soaring rhetoric and instead presented a fairly detailed and ambitious policy agenda, filled not only with progressive priorities and economic populism, but also popular policy ideas with broad national support.
There was one word, however, that Clinton used more than any other, which told voters quite a bit – about her personality, her style, and her approach to political leadership.
That word was “fight” – she used it, by my count, at least a dozen times. In fact, the main body of the speech was built on a foundation of “four fights” Clinton wants to “wage and win” on Americans’ behalf.
“The first is to make the economy work for everyday Americans, not just those at the top…. [T]he second fight is to strengthen America’s families, because when our families are strong, America is strong…. So we have a third fight: to harness all of America’s power, smarts, and values to maintain our leadership for peace, security, and prosperity…. That’s why we have to win the fourth fight – reforming our government and revitalizing our democracy so that it works for everyday Americans.”
The entire announcement was built around the belief that Clinton is a tireless fighter, a hallmark of her lengthy career in public service.
“I certainly haven’t won every battle I’ve fought, but leadership means perseverance and hard choices. You have to push through the setbacks and disappointments and keep at it. I think you know by now that I’ve been called many things by many people – ‘quitter’ is not one of them.”
Eight years ago, Barack Obama’s announcement speech was built around the audacity of hope. He believed then, much as he believes now, that Americans’ differences are superficial compared to the values that bind us together. He sees a search for common ground is a key to effective leadership.
Eight years later, Hillary Clinton’s pitch is altogether different. She’s less hopeful and more confrontational. She sees our divisions as real, deep, and worth fighting over. Clinton recognizes her foes who aren’t committed to helping American families, and she’s ready to brawl.
In Obama’s 2007 speech, he made no reference to Republicans or even the Bush/Cheney administration he sought to replace. In 2015, Clinton named names, calling out Republican failures and radicalism repeatedly throughout the speech.
The media’s fascination with a “post-partisan” era was always overblown after Obama’s election, but on Saturday in New York, Clinton effectively told the political world, “Don’t bother using that phrase around me. That era is over.”
David Frum’s take rings true: “[Clinton] self-advertises as the toughest, fiercest, most relentless fighter Democrats have seen in a very long time. Some people (you know who they are) might imagine leadership as inspirational rhetoric and necessary compromise. Hillary Clinton disagrees. ‘Leadership means perseverance and hard choices. You have to push through the setbacks and disappointments and keep at it.’”
On Saturday morning, Clinton got in the ring. As soon as the bell rang, she came out swinging, and if this speech was any indication of what’s to come, she plans to stay on the offensive for quite a while.
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Clinton gets in the ring, starts swinging