I think the worst thing about Hillary’s much-maligned slogan is that I do truly think she believed it. It’s not a good sign when your genuine expressions of patriotic fervor sound indistinguishable from garden variety pandering that make liberals (and voters at large) groan. But while it is true that the Clintons basically employ a bunch of hacks and it sounds like something confected from them via focus-grouping, it seems to be just so off from what anyone even remotely inclined to vote for a Democrat would respond to that I have to assume that Clinton herself actually believes it and pushed for it to be included in the campaign. She did put a bunch of other issues–military intervention, capitalism, etc.–in the same terms. America is a force for good! Capitalism helped make the country great! It’s not like she’s the first to do this stuff, they all sort of do, but what was the point of it? Who was supposed to respond to it?

The thing is that when you compare that to Obama’s pitch, it’s not like it’s the total opposite approach, but the differences in the presentation are big and telling. Obama really did understand how liberal patriotism worked. They want to think that things are getting better, moral arc bending toward justice and all that. And he knew how he fit into that story. They want to believe the stated values of American society are the actual ones and not mere window dressing. They are idealists who believe we can overcome the demons of the past. Obama strongly argued for both propositions, both rhetorically and simply by running and winning his campaign. It’s been quickly forgotten since everything is these days (in ten years when I write my screenplay about the beer summit and make a million dollars, I will be able to remind everybody!), but Obama winning made liberals feel like something major had shifted and anything was possible. I’ve linked to the articles before. People really went nuts. And I was dumb enough to believe it all too! In retrospect, Obama won by sidestepping pretty much all the truly hot button issues–which is not a knock against him, he wanted to win!–and to be fair, some people were saying this at the time. Also his vision of how to ameliorate all this just devolved into a somewhat more leftist version of Clintonian centrist incrementalism, which didn’t really work, though we’ve been over this before. But the guy just had a keen understanding about how to tap into liberal patriotism and how to frame himself as part of the narrative that most liberals want to tell about themselves. Hillary just offered rah-rah imitations of right-wing patriotic tropes that nobody got excited about. Not that this was the only reason she lost. Comey, the Russians, sexism, etc. But you kind of have to reach peoples’ emotions to motivate them into getting out and voting for you. And she, um, sort of did the opposite at every turn. That slogan was one such example. Doesn’t inspire people. Doesn’t fit into the narrative. It’s just an assertion that is debatable. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to hang your campaign on that.

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