"Angry" Change at New Hampshire Debate

Clinton tried to portray herself as an experienced fighter who can deliver results on the issues that her rivals put on the agenda. She aims to co-opt Obama's change and Edwards' populism.
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I'm not just running on a promise of change... I'm running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies... I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered.

At last night's Democratic debate in New Hampshire, a struggling candidate said real "change" demands a fight against corporate power -- "drug companies," "health insurance companies" and "taking on the oil companies" -- rather than settling for vague talk of "false hopes." The pundits swiftly labeled this an "angry" agenda. "Frankly, I don't even really understand" the argument, lamented ABC's Jake Tapper, "what I was getting was how angry" it sounded. Fierce change was definitely the priority last night: the word came up 80 times in the Democratic debate. (Bush and Iraq each netted 25 references, for comparison.) And sure, Hillary Clinton was fired up when she delivered the above remarks, channeling the messages of the two leading candidates in the Democratic race.

Clinton tried to portray herself as an experienced fighter who can deliver results on the issues that her rivals put on the agenda. She aims to co-opt Obama's change and Edwards' populism. It is an understandable strategy; most Iowa voters prioritized a candidate who "can bring change" over experience or electability, (according to entrance polls). But watching Hillary Clinton talk up change and the fight against corporate power is like slapping a Greenpeace bumper sticker on a Hummer. She has spent her entire campaign -- and her career as an elected official -- working within the framework of the Washington establishment. That's not a rare or terrible thing. It means she is a traditional domestic policy liberal and foreign policy centrist (by Washington standards), with an emphasis on solving problems through negotiation over social change. In other words, she's like most Democratic senators and the party's last nominee. But that makes it quite hard for her to co-opt change and populism in the coming days, even if her rhetoric now strikes some as "angry."

This post first appeared at The Nation's campaign blog. For more commentary on the Democratic race, here's a CNBC debate I recently did from Iowa.

Update: In response to this post, here's an interesting comment from reader TribunusPlebis, (which may be one of the only blog handles named after a breakaway group of Romans who fought for poor people's rights in the 5th Century B.C.E.). Anyway, the comment:

Barack Obama, who seems to have offended no one else in his march through Iowa, has obviously ticked off Hillary Clinton, but not because of what she claims, i.e. that she's the real agent of change rather than him. No, her tantrum at tonight's debate in New Hampshire is more likely a case of displaced anger. She's unhappy that she lost in Iowa to someone she regards as her inferior. The subtext of Mrs. Clinton's attack on Obama and Edwards, as unqualified agents of change, seems equally obvious: She's saying that their candidacies are purely rhetorical, whereas hers is substantive -- that her resume entitles her to win. This also implies that Iowans -- who saw and talked to all these candidates for months -- somehow neglected to notice or value Mrs. Clinton's biography. Excuse me: We all know Mrs. Clinton's biography. It is old news, not new news. Will implicitly slamming her competitors' backgrounds convince New Hampshire voters to embrace her? Can you persuade someone who you're wooing to love you, by lambasting two other suitors? The question answers itself. Iowa told us something, loud and clear: This election is not going to be about what people did in the past. It's going to be about what must be done in the future. (emphasis added.)

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