I’m sorry, I can’t resist writing this article, because the title is just too perfect. It deserves to be on the front page of every newspaper in 120 point type. It’s just too sensationalistic and too perfectly poetic not to use.
In what can only be described as the most blatantly manipulative moment in American political history, Hillary Clinton managed to summon up some convenient tears at a diner in New Hampshire on Monday, and somehow humanized herself enough to overwhelm Barack Obama’s substantial lead in the polls and win the New Hampshire primary.
It was a high-risk strategy. It could have backfired as it did when Ed Muskie cried in 1972 and made her look weak and out of control. But in the aftermath of Obama’s boost among women from association with Oprah Winfrey, a humanizing gesture appealing to women was probably a good bet. What was a disaster for a man in 1972 might work quite differently for a woman in the much changed and feminized culture of 2007.
In less than 24 hours she went from trailing Obama in a distant second position to erasing his Oprah-edge and winning back the female vote and surging about 15 points to beat him by a narrow margin. Exit polling shows that Obama got his core votes and that Hillary’s surge was mostly women who were undecided and got motivated at the last minute to actually go to the polls and vote for Hillary because they’d apparently decided she was perfectly qualified for the presidency because she cried.
Ok fine. It’s as good a reason for voting for her as Obama’s endorsement from Oprah, or Edwards’ nice hair and sexy accent, or McCain’s years in a prison camp or Thompson’s resemblance to a bloodhound or Giuliani’s choice in dresses when he drags it up. But all of this stuff is trivial and manipulative and largely irrelevant.
A catch in the voice and a few suppressed tears is worth a primary victory, but apparently issues and platforms and ideas are largely irrelevant. Most of the candidates haven’t put forward anything resembling a meaningful proposal to deal with any of the problems the country faces. Some issues they just ignore. On others they may have pro or con positions, but they rarely have actual plans. Some of their positions are so patently ridiculous that they can’t follow them up with actual plans, but they come off well in a sound byte. Some of the candidates make great speeches, but have nothing to say except for the well-honed generalities in those speeches.
Hillary’s devastating emotional moment sums up everything which is wrong with the campaign process. It’s the ultimate victory of style over substance. Her abyssmal record, impossible campaign promises and half-formed unworkable proposals no longer matter, because that one action caught the attention of the media and the voters and saved her campaign from its dying swan dance.
On the positive side, maybe her payoff for a high risk move will inspire other candidates. If we don’t get serious ideas from the candidates we can at least get some entertainment value. Maybe John McCain will have a torture flashback, or Huckabee will have to struggle with sudden weight gain, or Giuliani will have a teary reconcilliation with his estranged kids, or Obama will get pulled over for DWB, or Ron Paul will find aliens flying his blimp. There are so many cheap, attention-grabbing possibilities. Now that Hillary has opened the door what’s to stop all of the rest of the candidates from charging on through.
What Obama mostly had going for him was his well-articulated message of hope. That’s nice, but it gets stale when we’ve heard the speech a few times before. It just can’t compete with opportunistic histrionics and personal drama. Hillary has proven that great speeches and actual policy ideas don’t stack up against the appeal to pure emotion. She’s discovered the great secret, that most voters aren’t following the campaign because they care about the future of the country, they’re following it because they think it’s a soap opera. Once they realize this, the candidates are all too likely to give voters what they want. Get ready for 10 more months of manipulative melodrama. And no bitching, because you get what you deserve.