AMES, Iowa — Hillary Clinton and John Edwards held dueling events here on New Year’s Day, and though they drew comparable crowds of a few hundred people, Edwards seemed to be gaining steam in the final days before the caucuses and Clinton showed the strains of a long, already drawn-out campaign.
Speaking at the Gateway Hotel, Clinton’s vocal chords sounded worn out, her voice was faint and she spoke in a hushed tone during several parts of the speech. Though she is never a graceful orator, when her campaign was at full strength in the fall, she at least had a tightly focused message for her stump speech. On Tuesday, she meandered for more than 45 minutes in a speech that lacked a climax, and she gave long-winded answers when she opened the floor to questions.
The first question she took was on immigration, and she was still answering it six minutes later when I had to leave to see Edwards. By contrast, Edwards seemed to be hitting his stride at a speech at Iowa State University and was much more efficient — speaking for 25 minutes, and packing about 5 or 6 questions in the next 15 minutes, before wrapping things up so he could head off to another event.
Clinton’s closing argument can be summed up in her line that, “Some people think you can get change by demanding it, others think you can get change by hoping for it — I think you get change by working hard for it every single day.”
Despite her limited track record of tangible accomplishments, Clinton wants voters to believe that she has been fighting successfully for change for 35 years. She says that during the 1990s “we” turned a deficit into a surplus and noted that she and her husband “tackled” health care — something that even FDR, Harry Truman, and LBJ were afraid to touch.
“We took it on, and we weren’t successful, but I’m proud we tried,” she recounted. Here she was, highlighting a colossal failure in an attempt to make an argument that she has been successful at bringing about change.
At times, Clinton speaks not merely as if she were co-president during the 1990s, but as if she were actually running the country. “I was deeply involved in the Northern Ireland peace process,” she boasted. “I actually went to Northern Ireland more than Bill did.”
EDWARDS’S PUGILISTIC populism (which John Tabin captured brilliantly last week) is an absurd spectacle to witness in person. I’ve never heard so much macho talk coming from an adult since I used to watch the WWF as a kid.
His closing argument is that, “I will fight for you with every fiber of my being,” and he spent the speech explaining why we needed a fighter, why he is itching for a fight, and why he can kick the butts of corporations because his father taught him to stand up to street toughs when he was a young boy. (I kid you not.)
During his speech, he recounted the story of a 17-year-old girl who died because her insurance company resisted approving payment for a liver transplant. “And people say to me, that what I’m supposed to do as your president, is to sit at a table, and negotiate with those people?” he asked indignantly.
“Let me say this very clearly: Never! It will NEVER happen when I am President of the United States!”
His heroic intransigence is especially silly coming from a man who wants to reengage with Iran and North Korea. So, if you’re a communist country that runs gulags and starves millions of its own people, a leading state sponsor of terrorism, a nation that threatens to wipe Israel off the map, vows “Death to America,” and supplies Iraqi insurgents weapons used to kill American soldiers, Edwards wants to chat. But meeting with an insurance executive is simply beyond the pale.
Unlike Barack Obama, whose message of change and inclusiveness would translate well in a general election, both Clinton and Edwards will face obstacles should they get the nomination.
Clinton’s problem is that too much of her support is tied to her being the wife of Bill, which may be enough for her to win among Democrats who are nostalgic about the 1990s, but will not do much for her among a broader electorate that is more ambivalent. Edwards’s anti-corporate message is simply too tailored to winning the votes of angry liberals in Iowa to play on the national stage.
Philip Klein is a reporter for The American Spectator.
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H/T to National Review Online