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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 11:57 pm | Fair 51º


Susan Estrich: At a Time of Malaise, Hillary Clinton Brings Out Smiles While Republicans Frown

It’s “June gloom” in Southern California, that period well known to locals when the sunshine you expect doesn’t show until the end of the day, if at all. This year, the gloom couldn’t wait until June, and so it came in May.

That may also be true for the country.

Back in the 1970s, when inflation and interest rates were hovering near double digits, then-President Jimmy Carter gave a speech that was understood, not entirely fairly, as accusing the country of suffering from “malaise.” Carter was widely ridiculed by those who put the blame on the accuser and called it lack of leadership. A bloody intra-party war ensued.

I grew up believing the glass was always getting fuller, not because that described the fortunes of my family, but because it really was the national narrative. We were the children of the generation that beat Hitler. We were headed to the moon. We were also divided by lines of race, religion, sex and wealth — but we were fighting those lines.

So, OK, at least half-full. We were optimistic, or at least we believed in possibilities.

The Democrats have a one-word answer to the national sense that our cup today is, sadly, half-empty: Hillary.

People smile when they say it. The idea of a woman who has paid her dues and then some and is so clearly qualified for the job finally getting that job is definitely a half-full cup.

It will have to do for now. Hillary Clinton may be no better at targeting ISIS or attracting good jobs, but the very idea of her in the offing somehow makes the cloud of disappointment surrounding President Barack Obama more tolerable.

The Republican answer offers nothing to smile about. They stand and out-scream one another while blaming Obama.

But does anyone really believe them? Sure, there’s disappointment, but it’s not as if anybody has been out there offering better for the past six years.

And, to be honest, one of the things that so poignantly distinguishes our national mood today from the one I grew up with is the sense that so many of the most important problems are out of our control as Americans, frankly — out of our control as human beings who value the lives of other human beings, none of which has much to do with Obama.

Of course, the Republicans go on to paint Hillary as the wicked witch in whose hands we would be in great danger because she kept emails private. Seriously. Too small.

You may or may not like Hillary Clinton, but do you really think the world would be in safer hands with Ted Cruz? Who on that stage could survive the red phone ad? Who should?

The problem with campaign season is that it is entirely the wrong season for malaise. This is when we are looking for the chicken in the pot. This is when the politicians outdo one another to promise us whatever it is they think it will take, especially in caucus states, where you’re dealing with activists who tend to be very particular about their lists of particulars.

But the answer to our malaise almost surely does not lie with political leaders or election politics. Carter was right about that.

The appearance of the glass, in our civic life, as in all things, is as much a matter of choice and attitude as it is of objective fact. Very few glasses are entirely full or empty.

And then there is our response, which is really what matters: Walk away, leave it to the screamers, damn the whole thing, or actually find some small piece of it you can change or shape or just understand, and then own a tiny share of the problem.

Things look different when you own even a small piece of them.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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