Last week, Jonathan Chait made a good observation, Hillary Clinton Is Reliving Al Gore’s Nightmare. But I think he is missing the true story here. He thinks that Hillary Clinton and Gore are suffering from residual guilt due to Bill Clinton. He dates Gore’s problems to the 1997 “fundraising for the White House” scandal as the beginning of Al Gore’s problems. But is that true? Was the knock against Gore that he wasn’t trustworthy? Not as I remember it. I remember the supposed problem being that he was “wooden” and had a tendency to exaggerate — not that his tenure in the White House would be scandal plagued.
After the 2000 election, there was lots of Washington journalist navel gazing. Had they given Bush a pass? Had they made stories out of literally nothing to tarnish Al Gore? Had they treated the campaign like it were an election for prom queen rather than president? The answer to all of these questions was yes. Remember Margaret Carlson’s statement, “Gore elicited in us the childish urge to poke a stick in the eye of the smarty-pants”? A lot of people made fun of her about that because they saw that this was exactly the mentality of reporters who were shaping what Americans thought of the two men competing to be president.
So I fully accept Chait’s contention that Hillary Clinton is in Al Gore’s position — just not that it has anything to do with Bill Clinton or anything else. The press has just decided on a narrative for Clinton and it just so happens to be the same narrative they decided for Gore: she’s not authentic. It’s a wonderful narrative for them because it is meaningless. In the context of a politician, what does it mean? I’m a big supporter of Bernie Sanders, but I haven’t missed the fact that his hair is always combed now. This is politics: it is about shaping perceptions of reality.
But let us not forget this: Gore won the election. Electoral College or no, he won. In a democracy, Al Gore would have been president. In fact, relative to my election model, he actually did slightly better than he should have. So I don’t especially worry that the Washington reporters are childish when they aren’t being totally useless. The American people are smarter than that. But certainly it doesn’t help to have all these fraternity and sorority rejects live out their fantasies of what it’s like to be part of the “in crowd” or the “mean girls.”
Clinton and every other Democrat is currently losing to the top Republican candidates in poll match-ups. Even Ben Carson is beating Clinton. But that’s because people know who Clinton is and they don’t know who Carson is. Thus, like young people in love, they assume anything they don’t know must just be perfect. Over time, when the actual election is under way, people will learn about the Republican candidate (who will absolutely, positively not be Ben Carson). And they will make the same decision they always make: the one based upon the economy.
So, does this mean that the political reporting about the presidential campaign is useless? Yes. There’s no need to beat around the bush. I so wish there were a law against political polling this early in the campaign. It provides literally no information. At this time in the 2000 campaign, Bush was beating Gore by 15 percentage points: 54% to 39%. Currently, Clinton is neck and neck with Jeb Bush. And that too means absolutely nothing — just like all the mainstream “reporting.”
See also: The “Clinton Malfeasance” Conspiracy Theory.