Substantively, I’m not sure I agree with Hillary Clinton’s attack Friday on Edward Snowden. But it offered a model for how she might run for president far more effectively than she did in 2008.
What Hillary conveyed in her answer was something she rarely conveyed when running for president last time: authenticity. Back then, her efforts to appease a base embittered by her support for the Iraq War without giving the GOP any ammunition it could use against her in the general election made her often appear hyper-programmed and hyper-cautious, if not downright cynical. Her Waterloo came during an October 30, 2007, debate in Philadelphia when she refused to either support or oppose New York State’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Eleven days later, Barack Obama eviscerated her at a Democratic Party dinner in Iowa, declaring that “not answering questions because we are afraid our answers won’t be popular just won’t do .… Triangulating and poll-driven positions because we’re worried about Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won’t do.” She never recovered.
Speaking on Friday about Snowden, by contrast, Clinton did not sound poll-driven at all. She said something some liberals will not like—that America needs to spy and that Snowden’s motives are suspect—but which she undoubtedly believes. It sounded authentic because her natural instincts are to see the world as a Hobbesian place and to defend America’s governing institutions against those on the right or left who would delegitimize them. After two decades working at the highest levels in Washington, she can’t run credibly as a Ron Paul- or Elizabeth Warren style-populist, telling Americans their government is predatory and corrupt.