Peter Brown of Quinnipiac wants to balance out Time Magazine’s venerable Person of the Year award by recognizing abject failure and ignominy. Brown launched his first annual Bumbler of the Year, recognizing someone who managed to seize defeat from the jaws of victory on the biggest possible stage this year. In fact, Hillary Clinton didn’t even need a Barackopolis as a backdrop for her Greek tragedy of hubris and incompetence:
It’s too easy to find a bad guy or gal who hurt others. Bernie Madoff, who bilked so many out of so much, would be the runaway winner for 2008.
No, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to qualify for the “bumbler.” To win, someone has to suffer from a massive self-inflicted wound that by its nature would be a product of ego. …
By contrast, the inaugural “bumbler” goes to Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. Her name is unlikely to appear in any other sentence in the coming weeks with the word inaugural, although it didn’t have to be that way. …
That’s because if she had not forgotten that February had 29 days in 2008–not just the five for which her campaign planned–she, not Mr. Obama, would almost certainly be taking the presidential oath of office on Jan. 20.
Brown argues that Hillary thought so highly of herself that she and her team assumed the primaries would be over on February 5th, the Super Tuesday when 22 states went to the polls or the caucuses. Team Hillary failed to staff or plan past that date, spending all of their money on the first Tuesday and assuming that they would be far enough ahead not to worry about the rest of the primaries. Of course, as it happened, Obama managed to fight to a draw by out-organizing the Clintonistas in the caucuses, and his forward planning for the rest of February all but knocked Hillary out of the race.
Well, that’s according to Brown. I seem to recall it differently. By the time February 5th actually rolled around, Barack Obama clearly had the wind at his back. He won most of the contests leading up to February 5th, while Hillary finished third in Iowa. She barely beat Obama in New Hampshire with her much-publicized weepy moment on the eve of the primary. She did well in Florida and Michigan, whose results didn’t count, thanks to a rules dispute. By the time February 5th rolled around, Obama’s performance came as no surprise.
In fact, Hillary reorganized after February and almost knocked Obama out of the race. She outperformed him in almost every primary, while Obama held the edge in caucus states. Obama never did clinch the nomination, and it remained an open question whether Obama would hold enough superdelegates to keep the Clintons out of the White House.
If Hillary bumbled, she did so in 2007, not 2008. She allowed Obama into the race with a disastrously bad Philadelphia debate performance in November, where she reversed herself twice on drivers licences for illegal aliens within 120 seconds. She completely undermined her supposed advantage on experience and made Obama seem like a reasonable alternative to another four years of Clintonian double-talk. She never recovered from the blow; Obama made significant gains at her expense in popularity, organization, and fundraising. In 2008, Obama simply outperformed Hillary just enough to squeeze out a win.
If I had to pick a Bumbler of the Year, I’d seriously consider these potential hubristic losers:
- Rod Blagojevich — Despite knowing that Patrick Fitzgerald was pursuing a years-long investigation into public corruption in Illinois, Blagojevich managed to get himself on tape saying explicitly what most politicians are smart enough to remain unsaid. Talk about hubris! Did Blagojevich ever think of holding those kinds of conversations off the phone?
- Hugo Chavez — He wanted to use his oil-driven economy to transform Venezuela into Cuba. His sulphuric crude now sells for less than $30 per barrel, his electrical service fries appliances in middle-class and poor homes, and economic stagnation has already taken root. I guess he succeeded.
- Eliot Spitzer — He didn’t just win higher office by crusading against high-priced prostitution rings … he’s a customer, too! He couldn’t break the habit even after winning New York’s highest office. Most politicians of his rank don’t have to pay for sex, at least not on the front end. Bonus points for subjecting his wife to the scrutiny of the media in his resignation presser.