Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Tortoise and the Hare

Things aren’t looking too good for Hillary Clinton. I don’t believe that all is lost quite yet; stranger things have happened in American politics (and Hillary’s own life) and the lady may still win the day. But I think she would do well to take a different tack over the next few weeks in what might be her last opportunity to rescue her presidential candidacy.

I listened hard to Barack Obama on Tuesday night when he was wooing Houston and giving thanks to the people of Wisconsin for his primary win there, and I watched him just as closely. He’s more than a gifted orator, he’s a spellbinding preacher. When he speaks of hope and what can be achieved when people assert their power from the bottom up you can’t help but feel a giddy sense of joy. It’s the same feeling people get when they’re imbued with The Spirit, like at a revival meeting, and Obama is hypnotizing his adoring crowds as he preaches his gospel of The Urgency of Now, promising with conviction that yes, we can make miracles if we get fired up and ready to go. It’s been so long since an American politician spouted dreams and poetry that if you’re not at all touched by him, you must be completely jaded or slightly dead. (Isn’t he what we fans of The West Wing wanted when we fantasized about Martin Sheen – or Jimmy Smits – really being president?)

What can Hillary Clinton, Superwoman perhaps, but mere mortal nonetheless, say or do in the face of the proverbial knight in shining armor? Pitting a pragmatist against an idealist seems like the classic race between the tortoise and the hare. In the fable, the steadfast tortoise is victorious over the splashy, speedy, charismatic hare, because the hare gets over-confident and sloppy. Tenacity triumphs over celebrity. If Hillary is lucky, Barack’s ego may get the better of him, slow him down and reveal his darker side – because bright light always casts a long shadow.

Obama the hare is, astrologically speaking, Leo the Lion. He’s a rock star (geez, how many metaphors can I mix? Wanna metaphor cocktail??) – and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that stars get tripped up when they start believing their publicity. Conversely, Clinton is a Scorpio – passionate, private, devoted to her purpose. Scorpio is the Guardian-Warrior, also known in this transitional, multi-tasking era for women, as Mommy. Can Mommy best the Rock Star? In the past, Hillary has achieved her goals by playing hardball. I don’t think that game will work here.

If I were Hillary, what I’d say to Obama during tonight’s debate is this: I can’t deny the beauty and often the truth of what you say. But being a visionary isn’t what makes one a leader. In order to win big, you have to have lost big. You can’t lead well without having known failure, and without having made tough, sometimes ugly choices. I’ve known failure. I’ve known humiliation. I know what it means to be hated, to be pitied, to be misunderstood. At this age and stage of my life, I’m best equipped to lead, because I have 60 years of life experience. And I lived in the White House for eight years. I know how power works – and how it doesn’t. What will you do when your path is blocked, when forces more numerous and more powerful than you rise up to resist you? What will you do when Congress turns on you, or your cabinet offers conflicting counsel, or the audience for the world stage doesn’t embrace you like the folks back home? If you want the power of the presidency, stop charming the crowds and start addressing the issues. Come down from your pulpit and talk specifics. And while you’re doing that, I’m just gonna keep on moving down the road…

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