WASHINGTON, D.C. - You have to make several assumptions in order for Hillary Clinton’s announcement not to seem bizarre, and most of us do. That isn’t a good thing.
You have to assume, for starters, that political campaigns are primarily marketing events. The “thing” of Hillary’s announcement – the “event” -- was an advertisement distributed on social media. The candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was entirely disembodied from the traditional accoutrements of political office: party, supporters, endorsements, qualifications and, oh yeah, positions and beliefs. The brand, Hillary, was fully displayed. Is there a difference?
You have to also assume that tactics and strategy are now the important and interesting things that voters should focus on, for only in that kind of world is an announcement without any pretense of substance anything but absurd. Hillary’s ersatz announcement was all subliminal seduction and no pretense of appealing fully to conscious reasoning. That is normal only in a world where every voter’s a pundit.
Finally, you have to assume that the idea of a presidential campaign as a finite race with a beginning and an end is a relic of quainter time. Campaigns are now infinite, unceasing for office-holders and aspirants, punctuated by occasional moments of governing – or governing-esque posturing. Knowing that Hillary has been running for years, it doesn’t seem at all odd that the official kick-off is just another ad.
Now, only naïfs and suckers don’t make all these assumptions. And isn’t that sad?
I suppose you could make the argument that there is something very honest about the way Hillary announced. It didn’t pretend that she hasn’t already been running. It didn’t pretend that a stage-crafted, focus-group tested media event was anything other than a marketing stunt. It didn’t pretend that her campaign has a clear message or point. It didn’t pretend that there is a new, reinvented Hillary to unveil, announce and anoint. And it didn’t pretend that the campaign is about anything other than Hillary and the fact, as she says in the ad, that she’s “getting ready to do something, too.”
Why is she running? Because it is “your time.” Or maybe because, “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to me that champion.” Ooh-ahh, do I detect a populist subtext there? Cool, substance!
The 2:15 ad has been subjected to Talmudic scrutiny already so that we might better understand Hillary’s tactics: Who is being targeted and why? What are her proto-pre-messages? Did the scenes and language signal the “humility” as was the intention, according to her aides’ pre-announcement spin?
All that seems deeply trivial. The announcement was a “feel good” advertisement for a brand exactly like 10,000 others you’ve seen and nothing more. It dropped all the traditional markings of a campaign for high office, including even a mention of what party Hillary is in.
The Hillary Announcement announces little of consequence about her campaign. But in its little way, it is another step in the total surrender of politics to marketing, a moment where we stop pretending there is a difference.
“If you're not trying to be real, you don't have to get it right,” Andy Warhol said. “That's art.” Politics, too.