In October, when Hillary Clinton made a spectacle of the congressional Benghazi committee during a marathon interrogation that seemed designed to make a spectacle of her, she emerged stronger than ever. Her polls numbers surged.
That performance had come on the heels of a strong debate performance the week before in the first Democratic presidential debate.
She had bolstered the image she wanted to project: strong, smart, capable and battle-tested.
But now the Clinton campaign seems increasingly desperate and reckless.
During a debate in January, Clinton seemed to me to go too far in her attacks on Bernie Sanders, while simultaneously painting herself into a box that will be very hard to escape.
She wrapped herself in President Barack Obama’s legacy so tightly that she could hardly breathe, and then built an image of herself as a practical politician who could build on Obama’s accomplishments by taking small steps and negotiating tough deals.
But practicality and incrementalism, as reasonable as that strategy and persona may be, are simply no match for what animates the Sanders campaign — a kind of kinetic, even if sometimes overblown, idealism. His is a passionate exposition of liberalism — and yes, democratic socialism — in its most positive light.
I find his earnest philosophic positions to be clear and often laudable, but also somewhat quixotic. I think that he is promising far more than even he knows he can deliver, and the electability question is still a real one, even though polls now show him matching up well against possible Republican opponents.
When Sanders is pressed on how he will accomplish his ambitious goals, he often responds with the nebulous answer that it will require a “political revolution,” which seems to mean energizing and engaging an unprecedented number of new voters who would not only ensure his election but flip control of the Senate and possibly the House.
Interesting, but also unlikely. There are political realities that exist in America that can be changed sometimes, and often are, but that are not often subject to sea changes.
But instead of Clinton finding a way to express that her plans are more tangible than Sanders’, and her chances in the general election are stronger than his, she and her campaign have made some incredulous inferences about Sanders’ honor.
The swipes at him as being soft on the gun industry as some way of cozying up to it, or of being anti-Obama because he wanted Obama to be stronger in pursuing a liberal agenda, or that he wants to scrap Obamacare, simply do not connect.
Sanders may be a dreamer, but he’s not dishonorable. Trying to sully him in this way only sullies her.
There are a tremendous number of echoes starting to be heard between the way Clinton ran against Obama, and the way she is running against Sanders.
Clinton has what political insiders call the “firewall”: Overwhelming support among black and Hispanic voters in Southern and some Western states. But a win by Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire could supply a boost of momentum that could greatly erode the Clinton firewall.
If Clinton can’t find a positive, energetic message to project, and soon, she is going to be swept away by Sanders.
Some part of Sanders’ proposals and even his vision for this country may indeed be a fairy tale. But in the 2008 race, Bill Clinton criticized Obama and his position on the Iraq war as a “fairy tale.” Well fairy tales sometimes come true, particularly when Hillary Clinton stumbles.•
Blow is a New York Times columnist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.