If you want to know what Hillary Clinton is worried about, take a look at her first real political move since leaving office.
Clinton Monday launched her Twitter feed — pre-leaked a week earlier
to Politico by a staff that has shown no familiarity with the social web — with some of the most studied jokes in the history of the internet, riffing on a meme — Texts from Hillary — that's more than a year old. The message of the image, the studied colloquialism and pantsuit jokes, and the idea was simple: "I'm not old."
Clinton approached her 2008 campaign with the same single-minded focus. Then, she and her pollster, Mark Penn, determined that her biggest vulnerability was that, as a woman, she would not be perceived as strong enough to lead. The permanent campaign's obsession with strength helped produce her vote to authorize the Iraq War, and it determined her refusal to apologize for it. And while she lost the war, she won the battle: Who thinks Hillary Clinton isn't tough enough.
The new dagger at Clinton's heart is generational. Even in 2008, Barack Obama won in part by promising to "turn the page" on the Clintonian past, and to welcome a new generation. In 2016, Hillary Clinton will face an electorate that includes people who were born just as Monica Lewinsky was becoming a household name, to whom the Clinton years are a kind of hazily positive past — the sort of film-reel history that Watergate represented in Bill Clinton's election.
The painstaking Twitter rollout is the digital representation of that neurosis.
And the generational threat remains the main one to Hillary Clinton. Cory Booker's likely ascent to the Senate in 2013 puts him, as one ally said, on a plausible, if perhaps unlikely, path to Iowa. A more clear and present danger is Marco Rubio, who grew up listening to hip-hop artists Bill Clinton was wagging his index finger at.
So the new Clinton brand will be painfully, ostentatiously hip. This will be the late Hillary, her hair literally let down, dancing ecstatically in Africa. It will be a campaign of conference calls about hashtags — #tweetsfromhillary. And all that is the dressing on the one thing that makes her the plausible candidate of the future, and the feature — the same one that her 2008 campaign feared would make her seem weak — that represents her main path to victory in 2016: her possible status as the first woman president. That would be new, and its newness is why she could win.
Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Ben Smith at email@example.com.
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