This piece over at Mediate is well worth reading–two good video clips that present a campaign issue very clearly: Did Clinton change her view of a Credit Card industry backed bankruptcy bill as a result of getting elected to the Senate and being on the receiving end of support from that industry? It’s a good piece of journalism from Tommy Christofer at Mediate.
Elizabeth Warren says she did changer her view when elected specifically because of the influence (e.g., money) of the industry. Clinton disagrees. She says she was lobbied by women’s advocacy groups and struck a deal with Republicans to vote for the bill in exchange for provisions that helped women. The interview with George Stephanopoulos is particularly telling to watch. Clinton is visibly angry.
Heres what I think is going on at the moment with this issue and the overall dynamic of the campaign narrative.
So, Clinton is accused of being corrupted by the consumer debt product industry–a big finance, soulless, make-money-off-debt-addicted-families lobby–and she responds by saying she was contacted by women’s advocacy groups to get provision into the bill that would help women. Or, if not help so much, provisions that would harm women less. She’s correcting the record by saying, in so many words, yes I voted for a bill designed to boost the profits of one of the most immoral industries in the world, but I did it because I was acting as an advocate for women in my new capacity as a Senator–and so, my vote in favor of this bill that I once worked hard to stop–that vote was the end result of a negotiation in which I helped women. Here’s the quote:
When I got to the Senate in 2001, one of the first big votes there was on a version of the bankruptcy bill and I was deluged by women’s groups and children’s advocates groups to do everything I could to make sure that child support and women’s precarious financial situation in case of divorce or not being able to get the kind of funding they needed from a partner or a spouse in bankruptcy would not be endangered. And it was. The current — that bill was making it a very low priority. So I did go to work on behalf of all these women’s groups and children’s groups because they needed a champion. And I got that bill changed. And in return, it had nothing to do with any money whatsoever — and I resent deeply any effort by the Sanders campaign to so imply. It had to do with trying to get a deal…
But if you go back and check the scorecard, it’s not exactly a win to say that you weren’t corrupted by donations because you were showing leadership on behalf of underrepresented women.
Here’s the big framing issue: Clinton is sinking into the narrative that she has been corrupted by money–or more specifically: that he has been corrupted by money, power and time.
Keep in mind that this narrative surrounding Clinton has reframed the debate concerning Clinton’s “experience” because it has turned act experience into process that has undermined her character. Her demeanor in the Stephanopoulos interview speaks volumes to how damaging this has been for her campaign. Her strongest card was the big story about experience and the Sanders team has not taken it away from her. I don’t care who you are supporting for the nomination–you have to stand back and marvel at what the Sanders folks have done.
Now, this doesn’t mean the Clinton team is defeated, but so far they do not seem to have a plan to get out in front. Instead, they are pushing narrative about “unfairness” being gendered. Here’s what I mean by that: Increasingly, Clinton’s reactions to Sanders pushing her on big money influence is to pivot to a story of herself as a champion of women. Nothing wrong with that. She is a champion for women. Reminding her base of that gets them charged up in a way that’s good for her campaign. Honestly, it’s probably good for the country, too. But it doesn’t take away the $153 million elephant in the room.
What’s worse for her, though, is that the “unfairness” narrative does not change the broad narrative that Sanders now controls because it commits the cardinal sin of bad campaign framing: it reinforces your opponents frame. She is essentially saying to America: It’s unfair of Sanders to be talking about how money has influenced me and he’s being unfair because I am a woman. The first half of that statement benefits the Sanders narrative. The second half falls into what I think of as the identity politics abyss. You make an assertion about gendered unfairness in a college seminar and people will listen to your arguments and respond with thoughtfulness–you do it in a Presidential campaign and people just vent at each other for a while on the internet, but there’s no real dynamic of persuasion that unfolds.
So, I think in terms of the big story of the primary campaign on the eve of the New Hampshire primary–Clinton is in trouble. Her strongest card (“experience”) has been taken from her in a way she was clearly not expecting. One of her most symbolic allies–Elizabeth Warren–is now speaking out against her over and over again in a viral internet video. And her communications team does not seem to be able to get out in front of this fast enough to give the candidate a confident demeanor in a network interview.
I still don’t think Clinton has lost the nomination, yet. But this is starting to feel like a tipping point. Remember–Sanders is going to win the NH primary and when that happens, most media outlets will have no choice but to roll out their “human, all too human” stories about Clinton the once and future inevitable nominee.