False Hopes

FALSE HOPES….I don’t like to obsess too much over single sentences in presidential debates, but by far the most jarring statment I heard in Saturday’s Democratic debate was Hillary Clinton’s admonition that “we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered.” This came at the end of her now-famous defense of her record of change, and I think I understand what she was driving at: she thinks that Obama’s belief that he can work in harmony with Republicans to pass liberal legislation is a naive pipe dream and that we all need to be a little more reality-based about what it’s really going to take to get our policy preferences passed into law.

Which is fine. That’s a key difference between her and Obama and she should certainly try to make the case that she’s more likely to actually implement liberal change than he is. But what’s surprising isn’t just that the way she put it was horribly off-putting, but that it wasn’t just a momentary gaffe. Back in December, when Obama’s poll numbers first started turning up, she said the same thing:

Clinton’s response has been to turn aggressive. For the second day in a row, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in national polls sharply attacked her leading rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, using some of the harshest language of the campaign. Arguing that her campaign is in a “very strong position,” Clinton hammered Obama for offering “false hopes” rather than action. She predicted that voters will want, in her words, “a doer, not a talker.”

This language backfired back then, so why would she deliberately resurrect it in front of a national audience? I thought she was doing fine up until that moment, but I’ll bet that “false hopes” line stuck in a lot of craws. After all, I’m pretty sympathetic toward her, and it stuck in mine.