Americans, perhaps more than anyone, worship the future and resent the past.
This is never truer than during a political season. It doesn’t matter whether the past (meaning all of four years ago) trumps the present, or whether the future carries a whiff of embers and smoke. We gallop into tomorrow like a dog who mastered the screen door latch, and find little worthy of regard in yesterday.
All of which is problematic for Hillary Clinton as she begins another presidential run. Among other things, she must persuade voters to ignore her association with a time gone by. A few questions naturally arise: How do you run on change when you were aboard the hope-and-change train? How do you distinguish yourself from your predecessor when you worked for his administration? How do you sell tomorrow on yesterday?
The juxtaposition of yesterday and tomorrow was vividly on display as both Clinton and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio announced their candidacies this week.
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Once Americans regained their equilibrium from this staggering news, they must have noticed the stark contrast between the two.
One is a 67-year-old grandmother, who, though her resume exceeds most others in the race so far, is loaded down with several pieces of excess baggage. The other is a 43-year-old, bilingual retail politician, married with four young children, and — if elected — a first in his own category: a president born to Cuban immigrants. More to the point, it is probably safe to say that he can’t buy beer without a photo ID, which isn’t always helpful when you want to be taken seriously. But Rubio’s relative youth underscores Hillary’s yesterdayness.
The contrast hasn’t escaped Rubio, who said during his announcement, “Yesterday is over, and we are never going back.”
Contrast, too, the way each announced: Rubio from Miami’s Freedom Tower, where Cuban refugees in the 1960s moored themselves for processing upon arrival to the U.S.; Hillary from the remote perch of a YouTube video.
The Clinton video consisted of vignettes that felt like a commercial interruption of regularly scheduled programming. It showed diverse people in various poses of human interaction — the pregnant African-American couple, the Hispanic entrepreneur opening his first business, the Asian student, the soon-to-be married gay couple, the mom and young daughter flexing their muscles in girl-a-darity.
Diversity and inclusiveness. Got it.
At the end of this ennui-inducing marshmallow roast of good feelings and American awesomeness, Hillary materializes as an apparition of the Good Mom, eager to help (e)veryday (a)mericans find the uppercase key — and perhaps a nice glass of milk.
Otherwise, there was no there there. No passion, no policy, no pie. At least, couldn’t there be pie?
The series concludes with a retired woman driving along (her path, get it?) and talking about reinvention. Whereupon Hillary, air-brushed and luminous, surfaces to say that she, too, is reinventing herself.
“I’m running for president.”
Very short, very sweet. Her platform? To help people get ahead, not just get by, because when American families are strong, guess who else is strong? America!
Cheesiness is hardly a fresh face, and Photoshop is cheaper than Botox. To be perfectly mean, the furrowed brow is rarer in Washington than compromise, so no one’s judging. What happens at the dermatologist stays at the dermatologist.
But appearances will be more than mere optics in 2016. Between Hillary and anyone else but Jeb Bush (or perhaps Lindsey Graham), the choice represents a generational crossroads. Hillary’s first-woman aspiration is powerful but, like our light bulbs, doesn’t have the wattage it once did.
A younger generation probably considers shattering the glass ceiling less urgently compelling than do Hillary’s peers. Millennials helped put the first African-American in the White House the last time Hillary ran, and they fully expect to see a woman there during their lifetime.
Many might also wonder why a first woman is more important than, say, a first Hispanic? Or a first libertarian, who happens to speak to such universally urgent concerns as government spying and civil rights abuses?
Finally, haven’t most recognized that electing someone partly to check a box — or to feel virtuous — is a lousy way to choose a commander in chief? Senators of little experience, beware. (Rubio was Florida’s speaker of the house when he was still in short pants.)
At the end of her video, Hillary says she’s touring the country “because it’s your time.” What she really means, you can safely reckon, is that it’s her time. She may have stood in line too long.
To reach Kathleen Parker, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.