Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
In her victory speech in Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton seemed to be channeling John Edwards, talking about her grandfather who worked in the Pennsylvania lace mills, and acknowledging a debt to her working class forbears. "I carry with me not just their dreams but the dreams of people like them and like you . . . people who embrace hard work and opportunity," she told the crowd.
Never mind that Hillary is the Wellesley-educated daughter of a prosperous, Republican family in Park Ridge, Illinois. She's been milking that working-class connection throughout the long second act of her campaign.
"I'm in this race for you, to fight for everyone who's ever been counted out," she said, after taking the stage to the strains of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down."
Hillary implies in her "I'll fight fer you" speeches that she won't back down because of her progressive values and her drive to serve the needs of America's forgotten lower middle class.
One unintended consequence of the long primary campaign is that Hillary has switched from the "inevitable," pro-military, establishment candidate to a presenting herself as a scrappy populist challenging the powers that be.
She has been campaigning lately as if she were not just Edwards but Ralph Nader, bashing NAFTA, talking about America's loss of "economic sovereignty" to trade deals that let multinational corporations run roughshod over U.S. workers and the environment, and warning that the trade deficit with China gives that country too much power over our financial system.
Of course, the record doesn't stand up to these claims: Hillary was a booster of NAFTA during the Clinton years, her records as First Lady show. And her husband gave us Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China.
There is something profoundly dishonest about Hillary's pitch that she is staying in the race for all those families whose homes have been foreclosed on or who work the night shift and worry about paying for college. The truth, which she herself acknowledged in the last, disreputable debate, is that her positions on the issues are not all that different from Obama's. Unlike Edwards, who, as long as he stayed in the race, played an important role by bringing up the issue of poverty and the corrupting influence of money in politics, to the other candidates' chagrin, Hillary is hanging in there for one reason only: her own desire to win. All Presidential candidates are driven by ego, of course. But some can credibly tap into the desires of a constituency that isn't otherwise represented.
Who really believes that Hillary will govern as the progressive she has recently morphed into during the campaign?
Obviously, she was persuasive enough to Pennsylvanians to get a 10 point victory over Obama. But that was after a campaign where she attacked her opponent on nonissues like flag pins and attenuated ties to 1960s radicals.
She may yet prove that she is meaner, tougher, and more willing to try anything to win than Obama. But the idea that, in doing so,- she is championing the interests of anyone other than herself is transparently false.