Hillary Clinton exudes a competence at 70 that is hard not to envy. She carries herself with professionalism and grace. She is one of the vintage wines of politics. She appears like one of the most likely to succeed and success has marked her lesser achievements from piloting school bills at Arkansas to being secretary of state. Critics dub her a frontrunner. She always emerges as a leading candidate yet oddly fades out before the finish. There is a sense she runs the 10,000 metres well but she flags tactically when it comes to the marathon called the presidency. She ran for President in 2008 but lost out to Barack Obama. She was the candidate expected to win in 2016 but lost unexpectedly to Donald Trump. A career, which exuded success, suddenly appears among the list of also-rans.
The paradox of Hillary Clinton is that her huge trail of early success as a senator, governor have eventually reached a level of stalemate where new candidates, no matter how demagogic and superficial, seem more attractive and charismatic than her. Part of it is a function of time. Her very longevity in politics allows us to take her for granted. Suddenly she appears not like a star but part of the woodwork. Her charisma diminishes and she appears more like another career politician from an Ivy League school. In fact, as an Ivy League senator, she appears dated among the hard-hat workers who are desperate for a different kind of politics. She suddenly becomes one of history’s also rans. Suddenly she smells not of victory but of post-mortems of defeat. This sudden alchemical change in the career of Ms Clinton is a phenomenon we need to understand.
Ms Clinton. Competent in her professional life, she suddenly emerged vulnerable in personal life. Oddly, Mr Clinton gets away with his antics with a certain lightness of being. It is Ms Clinton who sounds heavy shackled with the heaviness of duty and scandal. She rises again like a phoenix, obtains more delegates than any female candidate but loses out to the phenomena called Barack Obama. She serves diligently as secretary of state for four years organising diplomatic forays before she is elected Democratic presidential candidate, promising change in everything from LGBT rights to climate change. Yet it is precisely as a candidate for such progressive change that Ms Clinton frightens lower and middle America, who see a fading away of the American dream as jobs are outsourced and as China eats into the US economy. She is a liberal feminist woman and becomes an anathema to the hard-hat class which likes its bawdy jokes and which expresses its anxieties through isolationism. Ms Clinton as a cosmopolitan could have been an alien from Mars to this social category of voters.
Another fact, which damaged her politically correct professional image, was the various audit charges she was subjected to. Suddenly, Ms Clinton appeared more a creature of multinationals, a performing seal at their beck and call, than a politician with her integrity intact. What was even more damaging was the array of rumour and gossip this scandal stirred, because Ms Clinton’s holier-than-thou look as a politician committed to serving the nation appeared tarnished. More and more, she appeared like a calculating woman with a quick eye for profits and a quicker eye for shady deals. The scandal that eventually became known as “Travelgate” tarnished Ms Clinton. It took her time to realise that a politically correct politician, who smells of corruption, is more of a liability than a politician open about his sins.
Mr Trump seemed more authentic than Ms Clinton. She might have been more competent than Mr Trump, but in a symbolic world Ms Clinton began appearing grey and bumbling. Mr Trump as a clown looked superior to the cold-eyed women subject to frequent bumbling. Eventually, it was Ms Clinton’s restraint that defeated her. She seemed cold and establishmentarian. Mr Trump seemed human, a clown who at least promised a different world. Suddenly Ms Clinton changed from being a leader who offered a different world to a manager who managed the current world. To a voting populace tired of technocrats and managers, Mr Trump suddenly appeared like a miracle, an outlier, trickster who had worked himself audaciously into the heart of politics. Mr Trump, to the voter, was a leader whose time had come. Ms Clinton on the contrary was dulled by the very time, which once spoke of her as a vintage politician. The rest is history as Mr Trump has become the next President of the US, Ms Clinton is now an also-ran of presidential politics. Such is the irony of politics.