The Elevator Pitch

Many years ago, Sen. Ted Kennedy was running as a candidate to replace the incumbent President of his own party. Disasters and missteps had devastated the re-election prospects for Jimmy Carter, and Kennedy was the odds-on favorite to replace him. Then in one instant his candidacy shattered. He was being interviewed by CBS reporter Roger Mudd, who asked a softball question for which any candidate would surely have a ready answer, “Why do you want to be President?” Any smart politician must have a succinct and distinctive answer to this obvious query, often characterized as “the elevator pitch”. Kennedy stumbled and rambled on about this and that while the audience watched in wonder and dismay. It was over.

I thought about this because it seems to me that Hillary might do no better. Trump has an answer, fatuous as usual, “I’ll make America great again.” One might plausibly respond, “Please name a specific period when America was great before, and tell me how your policies will restore that greatness.” Based on his reactions to push-back before, Trump would no doubt reply, “Yo’ mama is fat!” Bernie also seems to have a ready answer, “I am the only Socialist running. Viva la Revolución!” But Hillary? What is her core message? “I am the last sane candidate standing.” Or perhaps, “Things are pretty good now, and I won’t make them any worse.

I have listened to many of her speeches and interviews with the press. It seems that she wants to do a little here and a little there to improve life for all of us, meanwhile being careful to avoid pitfalls and traps. If something is complicated, as most things in life are, I would imagine she would study it carefully and gather all stakeholder opinions before acting. This is no call to arms. It is “speak softly and organize a big committee.” I am not saying that caution is a character flaw, far from it, just that it doesn’t inspire.

Thinking that perhaps I just haven’t heard, or possibly understood, her elevator pitch, I surfed to her site for guidance from the mother lode. She has a list of “112 reasons (and counting) why Hillary Clinton should be the next President.” That is hardly succinct and direct. If you have many reasons for something, maybe you don’t really have any that are crucial and definitive. She presents the usual grab bag of progressive ideas but with few discernible plans.

For example, she proposes guaranteed paid family leave. Guaranteed by whom? Paid by whom? She wants all veterans to have access to timely and high quality health care. Does that mean she thinks Obama doesn’t want that, or that he does but has been incapable of managing it? What would she do differently? Several of her reasons amount to a promise to mount the ramparts and resist the attacks of those vile Republicans in Congress. I would expect no less of any Democrat running for President. But is she asserting that she of all others is best equipped to do this? Is there something in her senatorial experience that substantiates that claim? Or perhaps, does she have a secret team that would be more effective than Obama’s has been? The curious mind wonders.

Based on these data, I took a shot at trying to summarize the essence of her pitch but without success. So I am sympathetic for her inability to do so herself. It isn’t easy for anyone to explain why you are the essential person for any critical position, and all the more so for the world’s most important job. She just needs a few points beginning “Only I can …”, continuing with “… and here is why …”, concluding with “… and this is why you should care …”. If any of you can do this for her by all means let her know. I am sure she will be grateful, perhaps with a job in her administration?