Eleven years ago, a young Senator from Illinois took the stage at the Democratic National Convention. “Tonight is a particular honor for me,” he began, “because let’s face it — my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely.” Thus, Barack Obama’s star was born. He exploded onto the stage of national consciousness and captured the hearts and imaginations of scores of Americans.
His campaign was nothing short of electric. Volunteers turned out by the thousands to campaign for this captivating, hopeful and, frankly, cool young candidate. An apathetic youth was roused from passivity and went to work for a man they believed in and championed. It was a movement for and by the people, a grassroots campaign of Average Joes who became invested heart and soul in the American political system.
Now, again, we have a potentially groundbreaking Presidential candidate. Just as President Obama obliterated the color barrier, Hillary Clinton stands poised to smash that stubborn glass ceiling. So why does this time feel so different? The lack of Hillary enthusiasm is palpable, from big Democratic donors to college kids. Where Obama inspired passion and ardent loyalty, Clinton seems to be sprouting resignation and halfhearted support.
There are some explanations for her limp political showing. First of all, it is very early in a long and arduous process. Clinton has yet to deliver her kick-off speech, which is scheduled for June 13. In addition, the timing is an unfortunate amalgamation of damning scandal for her campaign — the private emails and the shadiness surrounding the Clinton Foundation fundraising. Due to the nature of the 24-hour news cycle, without a doubt these scandals will blow over and her disheartening poll numbers will recover.
However, there are some major intrinsic differences between candidate Obama and candidate Clinton that will result in very different campaigns. Obama was fresh and new to the scene — a message of hope and change reads as much more believable when coming from the mouth of such an unsullied and eager political actor. His youth made him relatable and hip while his eloquence and charisma lent him stature and dignity.
Hillary, on the other hand, bears the albatross of the Clinton name. No matter how she tries to distinguish herself, she is a Washington insider tethered to the dysfunction and secrecy currently so abhorrent to the American public. She’s been on the political scene for years, and there’s nothing surprising about her bid for President. She lacks Obama’s magnetism and oratorical energy, often coming across as cold and professional.
Despite these drawbacks, Clinton’s campaign is not doomed by any stretch. Though her poll numbers have taken a dip, it’s nothing compared to the lackluster Republican performance where a forerunner has yet to break away from the pack. Her speech on the 13th will establish the theme of her campaign, and her longtime Washington connections can be toted as experience and legacy rather than dysfunction and sliminess.
The bottom line: it’s very early and Clinton has plenty of time to run a fine campaign and to pluck the heartstrings of the American public. However, declarations that we’re “Ready for Hillary” will almost certainly lack the full-throated verve and ardent passion of “Yes We Can” all those years ago.
Kate Riga is a junior in the College. Panem et Circenses appears every other Saturday.