Reposted from Politico Magazine
Thousands have run for president, but only one candidate has ever unrun for the office: Hillary Clinton. Ever since she finally announced her entry into the contest a couple of weeks ago, she has been unrunning with ferocity. First she road-tripped a minivan 1,000 miles from New York to Iowa to … listen.
Listening tours (or sessions) are supposed to add a little fabric softener to a politician’s starchy image, buffing their scaly reptilian exteriors down to kid-leather smoothness. The technique worked for Clinton in New York, where booking upstate listening stops helped her win a Senate seat in 2000.
Listening is the epitome of unrunning, allowing a candidate to do nothing at all but remain operational. Today, Clinton is listening in New Hampshire, and a full-time physician has been assigned to her care, lest the pure calm of bland political chitchat turn her life signs negative and she unruns herself to death.
Why is Clinton unrunning? If the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination were a Little League baseball game, the party would have already recognized Clinton’s insurmountable lead and invoked the mercy rule to give the victory to her. By unrunning, she avoids the intense political debate that would only call attention to her underfunded, unannounced and relatively unknown rivals, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee and Joe Biden, all of whom are un-unrunning at various paces.
With nine months until the first presidential primary, Clinton can’t afford to actively run for president. Indeed, if she had her druthers, she probably wouldn’t even be unrunning now. She was pressured by the constant press attention about when she was going to announce and the email controversy. That sort of press attention was positive media attention she couldn’t control, and only by announcing could she dial it down. The email controversy was negative media attention she couldn’t control without the attention-deflecting machinery of a campaign. Indeed, she may be the first politician to announce for the presidency in order to decrease attention in her candidacy.
She’s succeeded wildly. Her coffees, roundtables, discussions and “spontaneous” meetings with voters have immersed her campaign into a box of dry ice and slowed it to the lowest metabolic levels. Suspended animation would look vigorous compared to what Clinton is now doing. This is smart. Steady coverage on the inside of newspapers is exactly what she wants. I buy what Team Clinton stalwart Donna Brazile recently told BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer about the campaign’s pacing (“There’s a rhythm. She’s starting off like Beethoven, with melodies and chords that people understand. But she’s got to end up like Beyoncé”) except to my ears early Clinton sounds more like a hobbled version of the Beatles’ “Within You Without You” than Beethoven.
Actively running for president at this point would be too politically damaging for Clinton. By actively running, she would have to declare herself for or against the current administration, something she doesn’t want to do until it presents some advantage. By unrunning, she can blend passively into the background, where she can be there but not here. Depending on how suggestible the audience that is listening with her, Clinton unrunning looks like a continuation of the Clinton and Obama legacy without explicitly saying so.
Having gotten what they wished for, an official Clinton candidacy, the press must now cover the Clinton 2016 slow lane the best they can. The press already knows almost everything about her, and she’s not going to voluntarily serve any fresh meat, so reporters and editors will have to go to the freezer and the landfills where her past is stored. That’s one reason behind the press excitement over Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. Even if there’s nothing damning in the book, reporters can grind out hundreds of column inches on the subject and make it relevant to the campaign. The only alternative until the campaign awakens from dormancy will be profiles of the 24-year-old staff wizards (I’m sure they exist) who are vitalizing the Clinton campaign. I shudder.
What should ordinarily follow unrunning would be running, but that won’t be possible for Clinton. Until the 2016 campaign boiler room fires up with an identity of its own, she’ll be rerunning her 2008 campaign, necessitating yet another transition in her candidacy. According to POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush, the Clinton campaign plans to spend more time generating calm and less time fighting the press than it did in 2008. We’ve got plenty of time to come up with a snazzy phrase to describe the new, yet-to-be-released Clinton method, but until we come up with a winner, how about “un-rerunning”?******
Double-unrunning would mean taking an unrunning campaign several gears lower than a silent John Cage composition. Dash to your keyboard and send me emails with definitions of these variations: “triple-unrunning,” “reverse-unrunning,” “bellyfeel running,” and “duckspeak running” (Shafer.Politico@gmail.com). Subscribe to my email alerts before I declare my list full. My Twitter feed is like a multiverse. And, am I the last writer on the planet who promotes his RSS feed?