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August 8, 2007

YKos Break Out: Hillary Lets Down Her Guard .. Sort Of

Hillary-Breakout-A

Edwards-Breakout-A

One way to look back at YearlyKos ‘07 is as a candidate authenticity test.  (I wish I had a business class upgrade for every time one of the presidential contenders finished a comment with: "Sorry, but that’s what I believe.")

More than anything, what characterizes the Kos community is a structure of egalitarianism and a near absence of social presumption toward one another.  The values most emanating from that structure are informality, openness and the explicit understanding that members  — for better or worse — need always lay it on the line.

Coming into this setting, it was easy to tell which candidates and campaigns were more or less adaptable to that oxygen. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend two of the candidate "breakout" sessions (one over my allotment), but the difference between the Hillary and the Edward gathering illustrates what I mean.

In the relaxed "hail fellow fare thee well" atmosphere of the overall
conference, it was strange watching Hillary’s entourage, almost all
clad in suits-and-ties, scurrying about and whispering seriously among
themselves, looking thoroughly important at the front of the room.
Also, there were so many of them (at least in comparison to the
competition), it seemed like the handlers had handlers.

Edwards-Breakout-2-1

(Edwards Chief Blogger, Tracy Russo)

Although both candidates were introduced by a campaign blogger,
the Clinton campaign did a curious thing. It sat their bloggers at a
table on the stage (top photo, left to right: the incomparable Peter
Daou, internet communications director, formerly of Daou Report; Judd
Legum, formerly of ThinkProgress and now campaign research director;
and Communications Director, Howard Wolfson).  The fact they emulated
the look of a YearlyKos panel but never spoke a word felt particular
curious, as if Team Clinton felt the inclination to put bloggers on a
pedestal, or show cred by putting their distinguished own on display.

Whether campaigns explicitly realized it or not, the symbolic
test here was how much the candidate (as if air-dropped into the middle
of a family reunion) could approximate the sense of parity in the
larger proceedings, a quality reflected in almost every single panel
over the three days between "outside" speakers and the netroot body.

With the phrase "equal footing" in mind, I was suprised that
Hillary — who has done many "townhall" style events — barely came out
from behind the podium.  On the other hand, Edwards had ‘em packed in
at ground level, his meeting room reconfigured as a theatre in the
round.

After making an opening statement, then expressing the desire
to "have a conversation," Hillary all told took 6 or 7 questions, her
first answer (on education) running almost thirteen minutes long.  At
the end, because so many people were waiting to ask questions (the main
point of these smaller sessions), she offered the audience they could
write in to the campaign website and her bloggers would respond.

In the Edwards forum, on the other hand, he offered a couple of
remarks, then moved directly to questions.  He got in about fifteen,
along the way giving explanation, without apology, for his support of
the death penalty and his opposition to gay marriage.  At the end,
because there were still so many hands up, he offered a promise: anyone
who went to his website and indicated they had attended the session
would hear back from him personally.

Perhaps Hillary came to the McCormick Center at least partially
infused with the "Kos vibe," and actually wanted to let her guard
down.  Several times on Saturday, Hillary telegraphed that she was in
different waters here, hinting in quips about "speaking straight" or
being more herself.  At the end of the break out session, for example,
expressing the desire to answer more questions, she got people laughing
by explaining how she, instead, had to "go to the green room to get
ready [for the candidate forum] … for some reasonwhatever that means."
Earlier, in a nod to "blogdom," she said: "I appreciate what you’re
doing." Then paused, getting a rise out of the assembly by adding: …
Well, not everything you’re doing."

In the forum/debate, the straight talk was plainly on display as
Hillary quickly and unequivocally answered "no" to whether she would be
willing to visit all 50 states, leaving the others to quickly survey on
another with hands half-raised.  More specifically, however, you could
see it in the highlight of the conference, when she offered a flat out
yes to whether she intended to continue taking contributions from
lobbyists.

Perhaps more acknowledging however, was Hil’s utterance after
attacked the assumption that lobbyist money could somehow have an
effect on a seasoned politician like herself.  To a rising crescendo of
laughter, Hillary called out: “Well, it gives us a real sense of reality, my being here.  Doesn’t it!”

  • http://wonderworldofbooks.blogspot.com/ Books Alive

    Hillary having arranged her small meeting ahead of the group event, it was smart of you to attend Edwards’ also. Isn’t that a media coup? I know of few persons able to participate in two breakouts.
    I sat in the fourth row of Obama’s small session. He remained up on the platform, but no bloggers on hand. He roamed with the mike, calling for questions from the left, right and center, occasionally in those words.
    It was his birthday, so the session began with dueling renditions of “Happy Birthday to Barack”. The questions were excellent. An earnest young man in a blue lei caught Obama’s eye, and that played into his answer, as he recalled his home state. Because the question was about “rough politics,” and how would Obama stand up to that, he quoted former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington that “politics ain’t bean bag,” and that he considers himself up to the rigors. Drew Westen had earlier said that Obama will be targeted with subliminal messages to impede his campaign success, so it’s good to know he’s already primed to head them off.
    I sat next to a media rep from the Council on Foreign Relations who juggled her notepad, camera and recorder, waved her hand wildly, but was not called upon. Finally, a probing question on the New Orleans situation by a displaced resident came near the close. Barack called on her, observing that everyone around her was pointing at her. How’s that for unity effect?
    No shockers in any of the questions, but I admit that I have twice found myself zoning out when I hear him in person. I think what happens is that my thoughts spread out in many directions, ruminating and pondering what a fine President he would make, so that I don’t follow each and every word.

  • Mike Disharoon

    I too benefited from the early time for the Clinton breakout and got into the Richardson session as well. Granted, turnout in the Richardson session was much lower (Clinton’s was totally sold out), but the contrast in styles was pretty dramatic. Here’s a link to a pic I took at Clinton’s breakout (sorry, it’s a bit blurry) showing the distance between her and the crowd (they even set up ropes in front of her podium!).
    Compared that to Richardson coming down off the podium and getting much closer to the audience. Plus, he stayed after and shook hands for another 10 minutes after he was done answering questions.
    Still, while she did keep her distance compared to the other candidates, I do think Clinton did a better job opening up to the netroots than I expected (lobbyist answer aside). I certainly left with a more positive impression of her, and I hardly consider myself a big booster.

  • PN

    One thing to consider is that Clinton would have secret service agents from when her husband was president. If the others have them (not sure when candidates are assigned SS), they may have not yet set up the whole working together, etc., thing. Anyway, the distinct sense I’m getting here from the Clinton setup is a much longer working relationship with SS.

  • jtfromBC

    Interesting point PN, fwiw Obama has been assigned SS

  • demit

    I don’t mind if someone’s personal style leans to the more formal. Not everybody has a backslapper kind of personality. I always think of Nixon attempting to smile. Yikes. That was just wrong.
    Hillary’s not exactly my choice, but if she becomes president I won’t mind her style. I’ve had quite enough of the fratboy who thinks that making a joke of everything shrewdly diverts his audience from seeing how blank-minded he is. Please let’s retire this idea that good presidents are somebody you want to have a beer with.

  • http://www.reachm.com/amstreet/ Kevin Hayden

    Thank you for the perspective.
    I don’t want to have a beer with any of them. I want someone with good ideas who can talk w/o talking down to me or evading the tough questions.Tossing off a funny to deflect ctiticism is a technique that causes my distrust.

  • Samantha

    Another possible explanation is that Hillary is around 5′6″ tall. In addition to the secret service angle, she may have chosen the podium to increase her visibility to everyone in the room. Even given the focus of this blog, I’m sure this was accidental and circumstantial, but the tight framing of her shot in comparison to Edwards’ “populist” photo makes it more difficult to arrive at this conclusion.

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