But it's different now that I'm 53. Instead of food just being "there," I find that I use it as a form of comfort to relieve stress and as a kind of trigger to help me focus on my work. The more I eat, the better I'm focused and the more I get done. As a result, losing weight is frustrating because a lot of reasons besides hunger. I'm unfocused and unproductive as well. Exercise makes the situation worse. I have two disks in my back that have ruptured but didn't need surgery. Thank you, high school football, for those disc problems. As soon as I start even the most minor workouts, the discs become unstable and painful.
None of this means that I won't move forward with dieting and exercise, but it makes the whole enterprise more difficult and problematic.
The Obama Dieting Analogy. In certain ways, Barack Obama is campaigning as though issues could be handled in the thoughtless way I lost weight as a 20 year old. He seems to think that enacting health care reform, bringing the federal budget back into balance, and making judicial appointments is not going to involve a lot of painful conflict. Here's Obama responding to Hillary Clinton's criticism of him raising "false hopes" by saying that she was "depressing."
"Sen. Clinton saying, 'don’t feed the American people false hopes. Get a reality check.' You know? I mean, you can picture JFK saying, 'We can’t go to the moon."Going to the moon" was relatively easy because there was a national consensus behind getting it accomplished. But going to the moon was one of the few consensus projects of the sixties and right now there's little consensus about anything. Most Americans support universal health insurance, better schools, withdrawal from Iraq, abortion rights, and general government competence. However, this country also has a powerful right-wing that is dedicated to taking the country back to the Victorian era. That's why accomplishing what people want is going to be as painful and frustrating as dieting is for a fifty-something guy like me.
It’s a false hope. Let’s get a reality check.' It’s not, sort of, I think what our tradition has been," he said.
Building a Better Hillary. Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for the hard slog of getting through the post-Bush era. She's smart, determined, has a comprehensive knowledge of American government, and knows how to play hardball with the right. However, she's falling behind Obama and she had a particularly bad today, tearing up at one question and answer session and trying to scare people about terrorism at another. In many ways, Hillary is beginning to drift into the "tunnel of unlove" (a line from either Joe Biden or Bob Kerrey) that losing presidential candidates have to endure. Perhaps she's already toast. I don't know. But if Hillary is going to recover between now and Feb. 5, she needs to do a better job of engaging America's culture of compulsory optimism and talking critically about Barack Obama.
Here's some suggestions:
1. Be the Happy Warrior. Hillary has the "warrior" part down. Voters view her as competent, tough, and willing to fight the right-wing. But Hillary does not project enough joy to ward off the accusations that she's "joyless." Not that projecting joy in public settings or through a tv camera is that easy. It takes an underappreciated talent for politicians to project optimism and energy in public. But Hillary needs to keep working on projecting love for the battle, an eagerness to reach out to people, and faith in herself as a leader. People will appreciate these qualities more when she's working from behind than when she was the presumed nominee.
2. An Embodiment of Progress and Opportunity. Obviously, Hillary talks about being the first woman contender for the presidency. But I think she could do more to emphasize that her story is one of rising from modest middle-class roots to political prominence as an indication of how far people can come in America. It's hokie and it opens her up to charges of riding on Bill's coattails, but it's also a way to frame herself as a candidate who can continue America's progress during a difficult period. This is the kind of statement that I would like to see Hillary avoid.
"You know, I have so many opportunities from this country, I just don't want to see us fall backwards," she said, her voice breaking a bit . . . "This is very personal for me, it's not just political, it's [that] I see what's happening, we have to reverse it," she said emotionally, adding that some "just put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds.To be honest, I view the next administration as being primarily a struggle to keep from falling even farther behind than we've already fallen after eight years of Bush. Therefore, there's a way in which I agree with Hillary here. But Hillary should still be framing what she does in terms of progress. Nobody in the U. S. or anyplace else likes to hear fear or pessimism from a politician running for office. Instead, Hillary should be posing her candidacy in terms of an opportunity to resume progress. Certainly, that's what she'd be trying to do anyway.
3. Put Meat on Her Critique of Obama's Naive Optimism. One thing I've never liked about Hillary's campaign is that she poses her "experience" and Obama's "inexperience" in such an abstract manner. She needs to be able to say what her experience is. For example, she could talk about health care. Her "experience" is that she set forward a good (if flawed) plan but that it was defeated by $100 million in attack ads, scorched earth tactics by the Republicans, and weak and uncertain Congressional Democrats. Since then, she's worked on health care issues with people like Newt Gingrich and is much better prepared for the $500 million plus that that the health insurance industry is going to spend opposing the next legislation.
Another issue she could bring up is race. Obama's rhetoric gestures toward transcending race (so loved by the right) are hopelessly naive. In fact, the right wing is circling him with racial innuendo about being a "secret Muslim," his "black nationalist minister," his "aggressive wife," and the like. Hillary might point out that she is much more realistic about the dangers posed by right-wing smear tactics and that she and her team are far better prepared to deal with those tactics as president.
4. Push the Obama-Bush Analogy. Slate has a mention of Hillary making a comparison between Obama and George Bush today.
"I think it's good to have a likable president and if I remember a lot of people said they voted for George Bush because they wanted to have a beer with him. Maybe they should have left it at that."
She should go further with this. Much of what has been so disastrous about the Bush administration is that the right-wing got to live out it's "dreams" of invading and occupying Iraq with a ridiculously small force and projected themselves as being out in six months. Obama's "hope" is just as unlikely to be realized because he's no more prepared to deal with determined opposition to his proposals than George Bush was prepared to deal with a determined insurgency in Iraq.
The core of Hillary Clinton's argument against Barack Obama is that she is better prepared to deal with the realities that the next president will confront. But she needs to figure out a better way to formulate her mix of realism and optimism.