I was asked during the Q&A session following a speech last Thursday what tactics I'd suggest you embrace given Senator Barack Obama's ascendancy. I write this before anyone has cast a vote in Wisconsin, though what I have to say would be the same whether you ultimately win or lose. My chief goal here is not to pretend to be your campaign consultant, because I'm not. Rather, I simply want to let you know what I told the person who asked the question.
Attacking hope won't get you where you want to go. The emerging response to Senator Obama by both you and Senator McCain has been to try and undermine notions of "hope" that he has spoken about. But attacking "hope" as a fluffy concept that won't put food on people’s tables or keep jobs in America denies something of critical importance to many Americans. People are in search of something that has been missing in our society for far too long. And, there is, indeed a huge difference between false hope and authentic hope, something I have written and spoken about extensively. But don't make us cynical about "hope" as you seek the presidency. Disagree with your opponents on substantive matters in ways that let people draw their own conclusions about hope; otherwise, you might win but have little hope within the nation on which to build change.
Go into an empty room and name three defining characteristics of your candidacy. My advice to you is the same advice I give to leaders and public innovators across the nation: find an empty room, go into it alone, decompress for an hour or two, and then pull out a small sheet of paper and write down three key defining issues or characteristics of your candidacy. I say "three" because people and often leaders too need clarity about the purpose of our efforts and about what motivates us. You often say that you have 35 years of public service. Tell us about it. Keep it short. Make it about the nation’s future and why you're the one to lead. Currently, you’re offering people a series of fragments which don't add up to a cogent narrative.
Where do you want to go? I know you have numerous policy papers, and that you can speak fluently about your positions. But, Senator Clinton, the main problem you face is the very one you yourself identified in your New Hampshire victory speech: you must find your own voice. Right now your tactics, such as attacking hope or arguing with Senator Obama over details of health care plans, are all people see and hear. Maybe these tactics will work in the short run, but a successful campaign cannot be built on them. You must give rise to a clear narrative about the path you seek to pursue: where did you come from, why are you here, and where do you want to go.
Next, kick your advisors off the plane. I don't know for sure, but my sense is that you have a lot of people yelling in your ear and pulling at you. It's too much. Get rid of some (many) of these folks and go with the three ideas from above; use your own voice; get rid of the noise. Now, I've worked on quite a few campaigns myself, and I know it's not as simple as I'm suggesting. But I've seen many candidates soar when they’ve freed themselves from their advisors and opened up their own voice. Too much advice leads to too many tactics; that's not what you need.
Now, last week, when this person asked me the question about you, they seemed to want to know why you weren’t doing better, and why there was this growing Obama-frenzy across the country. I don't profess to know the answers to all these questions, but what I found myself saying to this individual was that I have followed your career, had met you once in the Governor's mansion in Arkansas, and that I believe that you hold very deep convictions about public life and the welfare of society. Yet these convictions often seem to be missing from your campaign.
Literally, as I write this last sentence, I received an e-mail from a colleague in my office which suggests that the Wisconsin race is now tightening. No matter whether you win or lose I hope you will consider your path ahead. What you do is important - to yourself, the nation, and the condition of public life.