Hillary Clinton’s supporters like to tout her supreme competence, hard working determination, and her ability to discuss intricate policy details. At the same time, they knock Barack Obama for being a hollow rhetorical shell who won’t talk about the issues at hand.
Last night’s debate between the two candidates served to highlight the fallacy of those arguments, as the most striking contrast between them was in the way they communicated their ideas. Although the specific policy differences between Clinton and Obama are relatively minor, their differences in the use of language, and their focus on the questions being asked, gave a pretty good preview of the way each candidate would lead.
The key question that crystallized for me during the debate is this:
Do we want a president who wants to listen to people, or do we want a president who wants to tell people “what is imperative?"I lost count, but I’m sure Hillary used the word “imperative” nearly as many times as she used the words “I” or “me.” Apparently, her campaign must think the word strikes a chord with listeners, so it was imperative that she use it as often as possible! Clearly, Hillary likes to be the one who knows it all, and is eager to tell people what they must believe. She gives her lengthy, often rambling, but fact-filled, answers, and usually ends with the same egocentric flourish, “and that’s what I’m going to do!”
It’s the classic “top-down” leadership style versus the “collaborative” leadership style of Obama, who seems willing to listen to others, and spoke of surrounding himself with bright, competent people who are willing challenge his ideas and hopefully make them stronger. Rather than talking about the policy solutions that “he is offering,” Obama speaks in a more inclusive way, about the policy solutions “we can accomplish together.”
I find it fitting that the line most widely considered to be Hillary’s best - about “needing another Clinton to clean up after another Bush” - was clearly scripted, probably from the earliest stages of her campaign. And Obama had at least three or four funnier, more dramatic, and seemingly improvised lines that actually related to the questions asked during the debate.
Hillary’s answers, on the other hand, often veered away from the question into vague pronouncements of her experience and determination, often sounding something like this:
It is imperative, starting on day one, that we have a president who is willing to buckle down, roll up her sleeves, and put her nose to the grindstone!And her supporters say Obama uses hollow platitudes?
Ultimately, Hillary’s signature line of the debate serves as a good reminder of what this primary election is about:
After eight years of George W. Bush, do we want the next four to eight years to be with a president who wants to listen, or a president who wants to tell us “what is imperative?”