Dear Hillary: Let Your Wonk Flag Fly

Let’s be honest. One reason why Hillary Clinton has struggled as a politician is that voters sometimes doubt her authenticity. If you need an example of that, during the 2008 New Hampshire primary when she shed some tears, too many people wondered whether or not that was simply staged to boost her campaign after the huge blow she took in Iowa.

That’s why Peter Beinart’s take on what the Clinton campaign is up to this time around is so interesting. He notices that she keeps delaying her “why I’m running for president” address and has instead given two engaging speeches on policy (criminal justice and immigration reform). He posits that: “Soaring rhetoric and grand themes have never been Hillary’s strengths.” Instead, he suggests that:

She’s at her best talking about America not abstractly, but concretely. She’s most inspiring when talking not about what she believes, but about what she wants to do. And she most effectively humanizes herself by being true to who she is: knowledgeable, passionate, and vaguely obsessive about making government work.

A lot of Democrats are like Hillary…passionate about making government work. As I’ve said before, it is Republicans who are obsessed with empty rhetoric because that’s all they’ve got. When wonkery is combined with authentic passion, it can highlight just how empty that rhetoric is.

While many in the media will try to critique any candidate if they stray too far from the conventional wisdom of what they think a politician should look/sound like, I suspect that what actual voters respond to is passion. If a concrete expression of what she wants to do for America is what fires up Hillary’s passion, I say: “Let your wonk flag fly!”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.