Super Tuesday & Hillary Clinton's Economic Strategy

by Rick Rockwell

When it comes to the economy, the image of the Clintons as the benign rulers over a kingdom of prosperity during the 1990s seems to be the prevailing notion.

Hillary Clinton intends to invoke that image as much as she can to punch her ticket back to the White House.

When Super Tuesday unfolds tomorrow, we’ll get to see if the two-fold strategy of Sen. Clinton (D-NY) and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, worked. (And don’t you love how the media now casually call the power couple “Billary?” It is as if the two were a tabloid gossip pairing a la the once united Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck: Bennifer. Even great political writers such as Frank Rich use the term.)

The Clinton strategy is a simple play right out of the old James Carville book of political rock ‘em sock ‘em reverse field campaigning. (Please take out your dusty copies of The War Room for a lesson.)

The high road strategy: tell the electorate again and again your plans for a future economy, just as we enter a recession. Also, remind them how during the Clinton presidency deficits were slashed, a budget was balanced, there was a surplus, the economy boomed and the nation lived in comfortable bliss. The not so subtle message is the Clintons are the only ones who know how to do this (arguably they do have the best record in that arena) and if you cast your vote elsewhere you will be doomed to the vagaries of a scary economic time ahead. While invoking the theme of economic security, remind voters if they want change it is best to go with the female candidate who by the way has the most experience in the Senate, at least among the Democrats anointed by the media.

The low road strategy: Go on the attack.

Yes, the media denounced that strategy as a failure, and in the recent California debate Hillary backed away from that tactic. But the media don’t see the Clintonian slight of hand. The Clintons have injected doubt into the campaign now. The tactic is much like what a tough lawyer does before a jury. Yes, inflammatory statements may get stricken from the record, but they can’t be stricken from the jurors’ memory. With Florida as a bellwether for this strategy, even the mainstream media are awakening to the fact that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has little time to make his case against the Clinton steamroller.*

This was why the Clintons employed the one-two punch against Obama in South Carolina. Hillary talks about the economy and Bill attacks Obama’s record. Many saw it as race baiting, although it wasn’t that exactly. (Despite the glowing idealism of some, the truth is in a bare-knuckle political fight, which this has become, both leading Democrats still find it easy to hide behind race and gender when it becomes convenient.) In South Carolina, the Clintons strategically challenged Obama on his statements about the Republican party and Ronald Reagan. Although the Clintons certainly spun what Obama had said, he was definitely not among orthodox Democrats by noting the Republicans were “the party of ideas.” (This does not mean he agreed with the Republicans, as he tried to say in response to attacks. But it does mean Obama believed the Republican propaganda which portrayed the GOP as having the only original political ideas in the 1980s and 1990s; a not so subtle Obama strategy to diminish the Clinton presidency.) The Clintons decided that by squaring off hard with Obama in the South they would lose one state, but maybe gain more later. This is akin to how Bill Clinton took on Jesse Jackson with the now forgotten Sister Souljah incident in the 1992 campaign. That uncomfortable moment reaped Clinton rewards with voters who were considering race in the 1990s and it could still work this time around.

As the Clintons watch the Super Tuesday returns tomorrow night, at least one them will be wondering if this old Carville play worked again. Will voters resort to thinking about their pocketbooks and economic security while also seeing Hillary Clinton as a tough leader willing to confront the populism of her opponents? This is a strategy that neutralized and diminished former Senator John Edwards for almost all of the campaign season. Tuesday’s results will tell us if Obamamania can withstand this Clintonian chess move or if the Senator from Illinois becomes its next victim.

*The Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll which has been one of the most reliable this year indicates otherwise, that there is no Clinton steamroller. Indeed, that poll may indicate the Clinton tactics have backfired. This poll shows Obama with a slim lead in California and Obama tied with Clinton almost everywhere else, with high numbers of undecided or dissatisfied voters.

For more background on the election campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic from Comandante Agi of California via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license; you can see more of the comandante's political graphics at his blogs, This Blog Will Self-Destruct in Five Seconds and Guys from Area 51.)

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Cerebus said...

Absolutely right, it is "The Clintons"
What is wrong with a third term any way?

Let me hear it......."Four more years!!!"

Anonymous said...


The main reason is his great anti-war speech on Iraq something that Hillary Clinton can’t say she backed until the polls turned sour.

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