flew into the belly of the beast (again) Monday, unveiling a chapter of her health care plan that revived the fabled storyline of her failed push for reform in the early days of her husband's administration. Visions of hair bands and "Harry & Louise" flashed across cable TV screens. But almost as important as Clinton's new plan itself was her willingness to tackle old demons.
She's not alone in confronting her weaknesses this week.
While the senator was in Des Moines talking about health care, Barack Obama was in Manhattan scolding Wall Street, whose generous donations to his presidential campaign have caused no small amount of trouble on the trail. On the same day, announced he'd appear Friday before the National Rifle Association, whose leaders and rank and file surely remember the former New York City mayor calling them "extremists" in a 1995 interview with Charlie Rose. (Just in case they don't, Giuliani's rivals posted the clip on YouTube this week.) He also advocated waiting periods for gun purchases and backed the 1994 assault weapons ban.
Not all candidates appear so willing to confront forces they fear could undermine them. Republican front-runners, most notably, have refused to attend high-profile debates sponsored by Latino and black organizations, a move that's drawing stern warnings from party elders and strategists.
Indeed, targeting one's weaknesses is a risky strategy, one that reveals both vulnerabilities and the confidence that they can be overcome. Perhaps more than anything, though, it reflects the reality that anyone running a modern campaign for president is only as strong as his or her greatest weakness.
With that in mind, Clinton has structured her new health care plan to address the principal complaints about her old one. Thirteen years later and 1,300 pages lighter, Hillarycare 2.0 spreads responsibility more evenly than her first attempt did (aides noted that the plan's key word is "choice"). Her rollout was also more sophisticated. With visions of Harry & Louise ads still fresh in her head, Clinton made sure to have the first word, releasing a 30-second TV ad in Iowa and New Hampshire that claims she "changed our thinking" about health care in the '90s. "So if you're ready for change," an announcer says, "she's ready to lead."
Repeatedly this week, Clinton sought to draw distinctions between her new plan and the one she proposed in the 1990s, mostly by focusing on her campaign's biggest catchphrase: experience. "Having worked on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue now, I think I have a better chance of being successful with this legislation," she said.
Her point, in case anyone missed it: That was then, this is now. I've spent the past 13 years learning from my mistakes, which gives me the "experience to change the system." Voila, she's back on message.
While Clinton was releasing her health care plan, Obama was chastising Wall Street for failing to protect middle-class interests. He said the public is losing trust in the stock market and urged Wall Street to temper its greed to help bolster the country's financial well-being.
Was it his Sister Souljah moment? He is, after all, the candidate who draws most heavily from the security and investment industries.
More importantly, Obama's hopes to gain traction against Clinton rest squarely on his ability to draw more support from blue-collar Democrats, who so far fall into the camps of Clinton and . Is that why Obama delivered this speech the same day as the Service Employees International Union's conference, and why he rolled out his middle-class tax cut the following day?
Will it be enough? The thunderous applause he drew Tuesday from the SEIU crowd suggests he has support at the rank-and-file level.
Giuliani, meanwhile, has tried to make some inroads into the gun rights community this year. He hired NRA fundraiser Donna Henderson as his national finance director and has declared himself a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. He has characterized his past positions as part of an effort to reduce crime in New York City that may not make sense elsewhere in the country. "I reduced shootings in New York by 75 percent, and I did it by focusing not on guns but on criminals," he said earlier this month during a debate in New Hampshire.
But how he's received by the NRA's 4 million members Friday could tell us whether his attempts at reinventing himself on gun control are working. He is, of course, unlikely to receive their endorsement. But he doesn't need to; he just needs them to not be antagonistic. Recently, he endorsed the Miami Police Department's decision to arm its cops with assault weapons, suggesting just how problematic the issue could be for him in the "firewall" state of Florida.
What's next? speaking to Log Cabin Republicans?
Eh, don't hold your breath.