As the preordained nominee, Hillary Clinton was anticipating a coronation, not a contest with a junior, younger, African-American upstart who bested her in organisation, mobilisation and fundraising. Her campaign morphed from enthusiasm to bitterness, pettiness, pandering, and race-baiting that has left unmistakable symptoms of Clinton fatigue. In the closing weeks, she began to resemble the turnaround in perceptions of President George W. Bush: from resolute steadfastness and tenacity to stubbornness, disdain for expert ("elitist") opinion, denial of reality and life in an alternative and parallel universe instead.
When Ms Clinton and her strategists sit down for a collective post-mortem, they should begin with a simple question. If Barack Obama is so deeply flawed and weak, how come she lost? She began with the biggest brand name in Democratic politics, household name recognition nationally, a party machine and electoral organisation in thrall to the Clintons, a solid older white women constituency, a war chest of over $100 million, a network of operatives and loyalists across the country, and the priceless asset of a spouse who was hero-worshipped by the party's base. None of this was proof against the lethal mix of hubris, arrogance, incompetence and misjudgements.
In a year when voters were hungry for change, she ran on experience as her core theme. She had positioned herself as the inevitable nominee and clung to the centre confident that the left-liberals would swallow their pride and stay inside the Democratic tent. Hence, for example, her vote for the Iraq war. By the time she made course corrections and discovered her true meta-narrative as the fighter for the ordinary worker, it was too late and her liberal, youth and black voters had defected, never to be won back, to Mr. Obama. Ms Clinton was counting her general election chickens before her primary eggs had hatched.
Her desperate mid-campaign skate back to the party centre blurred the policy differences with Mr. Obama. The contest then became one of character and personality. Matched against the elegant and cool Mr. Obama, she was dead duck; or rather, the ugly duckling that never did turn into the beautiful swan even during the swansong of her lofty ambitions. Eloquence-envy from a pedestrian and sometimes grating public speaker may have led her into the disastrous fabrications of being under sniper fire in Bosnia which so damagingly played into all her public negatives.
Again too late in the day, she discovered that Mr. Obama was most vulnerable if she hewed to the cultural, not political, centre, as the champion and defender of everyday American habits and values. Her greatest successes came when "she transformed herself into working-class Sally-get-her-gun, off duck hunting with dad" (Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, 9 May). But then this too was immediately undermined by her blatant pandering on the idea of a gasoline tax holiday which allowed Mr. Obama to turn attention back from the Reverend Wright to her gimmickry (and by implication untrustworthiness) against his own honesty with the voters and search for real solutions for the long term, not for the electoral cycle.
Like Mr. Bush, Ms Clinton elevated loyalty above competence. Mark Penn, her chief strategist, never grasped that Democrats allocate delegates proportionately. He - her chief strategist! - thought that victory in California would bag all the State's 370 delegates. They were similarly bewildered by the complexity of the primary rules in Texas, with the result that Ms Clinton won more votes but Mr. Obama collected more delegates.
Team Obama's attention to detail and rules paid handsome dividends in harvesting delegates in caucus after caucus that Ms Clinton had chosen to ignore and then publicly belittled and denigrated after her string of losses. Mr. Obama's brilliance at fund-raising left Ms Clinton flat-footed. Her model was to rely on big old money which swelled her campaign coffers to begin with but left her with very little viability once the assumption of an early knockout victory proved illusory. Her big donors had already given the maximum allowed under the law. By contrast, Mr. Obama drew on over a million small donors who could and did keep giving $5, 10 and 20 endlessly.
Ms Clinton's political strategy too was based on an early victory. Astonishingly, she had no Plan B, neither politically, financially, nor organisationally. The resulting turmoil and shake-up did little to restore faith in her organisational, presidential, financial management and commander-in-chief credentials.
Ms Clinton had a powerful case regarding the importance of Michigan and Florida and the political perils of disenfranchising voters from these key battleground States. Almost certainly she would win these States in a proper contest. Her case would have been compelling and persuasive if she had protested from the start against the party's decision to penalise the two States for trying to advance their primary dates in order to jump the queue. In fact she agreed with the party's wrong-headed decision not to count their delegates. Her subsequent insistence that they be counted, once she started losing to Mr. Obama, cemented negative perceptions about her: duplicitous, untrustworthy, refusing to play by the rules, willing to do anything in desperation, etc.
Ms Clinton's biggest and lasting mistake came towards the end when, in an interview with USA Today, she said bluntly that "hard-working Americans, white Americans" in her coalition would never vote for Mr. Obama. This "only whites are hard-working" and "Psst, Obama is black, America is white" strategy incensed blacks, outraged many liberal whites and antagonised several Congressional colleagues. But it was part of a pattern, starting with the Hispanic card in Nevada, including Bill Clinton's effort to corner Mr. Obama as a black candidate in South Carolina, and exploding most recently with a live on-screen confrontation on May 5 between Paul Begala, a Clinton supporter, and Donna Brazile, an undeclared Obama-leaning super-delegate.
Ms Brazile took note of a party revitalised by the infusion of new and young voters by Obama. Mr. Begala, inferring that working-class whites were no longer welcome, argued that Democrats cannot win with eggheads and African-Americans, "the Dukakis coalition which carried ten states" in 1988. The "only" path to victory for "my party," he added, was to stitch a coalition of whites, African-Americans and Latinos. Ms Brazile, insulted and angered by the suggestion that the party she had worked for her whole life belonged to some but not to others, hit back with "What do you mean my party? It's our party." After Ms Clinton's own use of the race argument, the New York TimesBoston Globe editorial made similar points on May 8, and both were preceded by John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei in Politico on May 1.) Just Bill Clinton's 1999 pardoning of convicted FALN Puerto Rican terrorists ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XET4gxCiJjg&feature=related) alone touched on honesty, patriotism, terrorism, national security, justice and abuse of office to help Hillary's run for the Senate to court New York's Puerto Rican vote, all wrapped in one convenient scandal. columnist, Bob Herbert, let loose with a brutal assault on her on May 10 that recalled the Clintons' many lapses and ethically-challenged code of conduct from yesteryear that Mr. Obama had been too polite to use against a fellow-Democrat woman. (A
Others noted that the Republican stranglehold on black votes was broken by John F. Kennedy in 1960 and no Democrat could have been elected President since then without the nearly total support from blacks. This year the liberal condescension - what I earlier called the Rosa Parks syndrome, that blacks should know their place at the back of the bus or queue and stay there until called - will be put to the test with Mr. Obama as the nominee. Blacks have delivered for white Democratic candidates for 50 years; it's time to call in the favour.
Some suspect that Ms Clinton may be angling for the vice-presidential spot or negotiating to get Mr. Obama's help in paying off her large and mounting campaign debts. A combined "dream ticket" seems extremely unlikely. It is not clear that she is seeking or would accept such an offer. Her presence, with all the baggage of old politics, would contradict his campaign's central message. As someone commented, he would have to employ a full-time food taster. Michelle Obama is said to have vetoed the idea. Ms Clinton's presence would make it difficult to reach across to independents and moderate Republicans. The Clintons back in power would mean a reprise of the drama and dysfunctionality that comes with their territory. How would Mr. Obama handle his Vice-President's spouse being a former President?
Still, nothing can take away her historic run as the first viable woman candidate for a major party's presidential nomination. What next? All that remains is for Ms Clinton to choose or negotiate the terms of her surrender. She can pout, stomp and whine, or she can put her considerable connections and talent to campaign for Mr. Obama and recover some of the lost lustre and respect from her own party faithful. The choice is hers, not his.