Hillary: Change is About Working Hard

“Change” was the theme of both of last night’s presidential debates in New Hampshire. On the Republican side, it gave John McCain the line of the evening with his rejoinder to Mitt Romney, “We disagree on a lot of issues, but I agree you are the candidate of change.”

For the Democrats, it provided the pivotal moment of the debate: Hillary Clinton’s assertion that while Barack Obama and John Edwards have been talking about “change,” she’s been making it happen through years of hard work.

Here’s the transcript:

SEN. CLINTON: Wait a minute now, wait a minute. I’m going to respond to this because obviously — making change is not about what you believe. It’s not about a speech you make. It is about working hard. There are 7,000 kids in New Hampshire who have health care because I helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. There’s 2,700 National Guard and Reserve members who have access to health care, because on a bipartisan basis, I pushed legislation through over the objection of the Pentagon, over the threat of a veto from President Bush.

I want to make change, but I’ve already made change. I will continue to make change. I’m not just running on a promise of change, I’m running on 35 years of change. I’m running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies.

So, you know, I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered. The best way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes that I’ve already made.

Josh Marshall predicts this snippet will “become a Rorschach for voters,” with people either seeing it as angry and shrill or smooth and decisive. Frank Lutz’ focus group thought she was “angry,” “vicious,” “defensive,” and proves she can’t take criticism (via Sullivan):

While not a Hillary fan, I thought she made a pretty reasonable argument. Her tone was a bit impatient, perhaps, but I’m not sure that’s inappropriate. Of course, I’m not the target audience.

In any case, I second Roger Simon‘s motion that it’s retire to ban “change” and its variants from these debates. It’s meaningless. As someone (perhaps Huckabee?) noted in the GOP segment, not all change is good. I’d much rather see a focus on specific issues than the silly notion that a single politician is going to be able to radically overhaul the American political standpoint by wishing really hard.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. grampagravy says:

    Bush has illustrated graphically how much damage a single politician can do while occupying the White House, and an electorate that demands and responds positively to “change” should be thought of as pissed-off not “silly.” Banning discussion about change is a vote for the status quo–a vote for this year’s losers.

  2. James Joyner says:

    As I said, I don’t have any problem with changing, just “change” as a buzzword minus substance. Let’s talk about specific changes, not the need for “change.”

    I don’t doubt that a president can make bad decisions or that some candidates would make better presidents than others. I’m dubious, though, of any of them radically changing the landscape absent extraordinary external events — and the cooperation of the other two branches of government.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    While not a Hillary fan, I thought she made a pretty reasonable argument.

    I think she made a good argument that she’s been a good senator for New York. Based on what my New Yorker friends have said, that’s been the case. My preference is that she continue to do that. The Peter Principle and all.

  4. Helter says:

    I don’t have a problem with her pointing to her record to say what she’s accomplished. That’s how she should make her case. But with Hillary, she can’t manage to scrape the sense of entitlement out of her presentation. As though she is the only one in D.C. who has voted liberal over the past 35 years. As though only she is qualified for the presidency. She can’t get rid of indignation that someone else is actually challenging her for the job as America’s leader.

    The moment feeds into the meme that while she’s smart, a policy wonk, and a hard worker, she might not have the temperament for the presidency.

  5. Susannah says:

    “While she’s a smart policy wonk, she might not have the temperament to be president”. Why? Because she’s a woman who defended herself with some emotion? This is so unbelievably sexist. John McCain and Mitt Romney were at each other’s throats last night, and no one’s saying that they don’t have the “temperament to be president.”

    By the way, I don’t think that Barack Obama has the “temperament to be president.” What was with his “Hillary, you’re likable enough” comment? Furthermore, Obama mentioned his Iowa win around four times last night in the debates. Not only did Mike Huckabee, not, mention his Iowa win, but he, also, managed to congratulate Obama on his. Bottom line, Obama came off as extremely arrogant and full of himself last night.

  6. Tano says:

    “the silly notion that a single politician is going to be able to radically overhaul the American political standpoint by wishing really hard.”

    What kind of a nonsensical statement is that? Who is talking about “wishing”?

    “I don’t have any problem with changing, just “change” as a buzzword minus substance. Let’s talk about specific changes, not the need for “change.”

    I find it amazing that such smart people can so little understand the dynamics of politics.

    You NEED to develop a constituency for “change” before you can sell any specific change. The general argument is akin to making the case that “it is broke”. We dont fix things until we admit or accept that they are broken.

    First you convince people that we need to do something different. Then you define what that difference should be. Doing it any other way just does not work.

    Obama is motivating and inspiring people in record numbers. And he is making himself the definer of the agenda. Who knows if he can keep it up, but so far he is offering an object lesson in how to build a political movement. Any student of the subject should be taking notes.

  7. Bandit says:

    Susannah that is so unbelievably ignorant. The only response to any criticism of Sen. Clinton is that it’s sexist to criticize her. If there were actually any substance to her and her campaign then her, her husband and her hanger oners would refute the criticism instead of trying to shout down her critics as sexists.

  8. Susannah says:

    Bandit, I didn’t say that it was “sexist to criticize her”. I said that it was sexist to to say that, “she doesn’t have the temperament to be president”, because she gave a forceful response to an insult. You and I both know, that people would never say that a male candidate “does not have the temperament to be president”, because he gave a forceful response to someone attacking him. I’m a Huckabee supporter, not a Clinton supporter–I’m just calling it like I see it.

    By the way, if you want to talk about ignorance, then let’s discuss your sixth grade level of reading comprehension.

  9. Wayne says:

    Usually when someone talks about bringing change to Washington it is not about passing another bill. Unless it is something to do with the culture of Washington such as term limits. Change to most is about changing the way Washington does things. Bringing bi-partisanship, control spending or cracking down on political corruption, all would be example of that kind of change. Hillary technical lawyer definition of change just shows how out of touch she is. Yes increasing school funding is a change but it is not bringing change to Washington.