Hillary Clinton's Bad Beginning

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11:  Stickers are handed out to supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton's yet to be announced presidential
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11: Stickers are handed out to supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton's yet to be announced presidential campaign at a rally in Manhattan on April 11, 2015 in New York City. It is expected that Clinton will end months of speculation and launch her anticipated 2016 presidential campaign on Sunday with an announcement on social media. Following that it is believed that candidate Clinton will travel to Iowa and New Hampshire, seeking to connect directly with voters in more intimate settings. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton's campaign announcement is an insult to the presidency. It represents a total capitulation to the political consulting business -- two-and-a-half minutes of marketing images, without anything resembling serious argument.

Madison Avenue has replaced Madison at the center of the Republic. Clinton's 30 second appearance in her grade-B advertisement is a tribute to sound-bite democracy. The triviality of her performance is heightened by apologists who are already reading deep meanings into her two-liner: "The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion." (See here and here.)

Nothing compelled Clinton to choose this path to emptiness. To the contrary, she has the nomination locked up, giving her the freedom to define her campaign on her own terms. If she found a face-to-face format most congenial, a fifteen minute video would have sufficed to set out her core political commitments.

She has chosen instead to leave all of us in the dark. This will make it easier for her to fine-tune her message to exploit the particular weaknesses of the Republican who wins the primaries. But it is all too likely that she will leave her supporters guessing about the seriousness of her progressive commitments, whatever they may turn out to be.

At the end of the day, this evasive strategy won't prevent me from casting my ballot for Hillary on Election Day -- since a third Clinton term will save us from a fourth Bush term, or something even worse.

Nevertheless, even if she makes it to the White House, her Madison Avenue campaign is a grim augury for the future. If Clinton has so utterly failed to stand up for anything at a moment of such great political strength, is there any reason to expect her presidency to serve as a platform for an ambitious campaign for progressive values?

Or will 2020 be a year of deepening liberal alienation -- in which Hillary Clinton's performance as America's first woman president serves to emphasize the shattered hopes inspired by Barack Obama's "Yes We Can?"

Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale, is currently the Daimler Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.