Political Strategy In an Election Year

Who is the best Democrat strategist? By far, Hillary Clinton. Sun Tzu teaches not to engage in battles that you can't win. Looking at the current position of President Bush, she has correctly concluded that no Democrat candidate could beat him this year. However, she also knows that things can change at any time. So she is constantly positioning herself so that--if the president makes a mistake, leaving himself open to successful attack--she, not one of the other candidates, can win the nomination. She is not running, but she is constantly inserting herself in the race. Before the Iowa caucuses, she announces a health care program. Expect similar announcements before other major campaign stages. She has and will make herself central to any highly publicized fund-raising event. I even suspect that she has encouraged Wesley Clark to join the race to keep Dean from running away with it early on. Bill Clinton advises all the candidates, assuring something like a balance of power among them. Meanwhile, she carefully avoids taking specific stands on most controversial issues, following Sun Tzu's advice to take no position before you enter the field of battle. Her subtle moves make the announced candidates like Dean and Clark seem clumsy and confused.

Notice that President Bush, another brilliant strategist, is also waging a strategic campaign by not campaigning. Like Hillary, he is offering a constant stream of announcements into the news cycle at key times. Before the first caucus and Democratic primary, we have his announcement on immigration and then on a mission to Mars. This Mars focus is especially well-timed because the Rover Mission will keep it in the news for months. Perfectly executing Sun Tzu's concept of vision, he has taken something that has already happened (notice he waited until the landing was a success) and foreseen its effect on the future. And using his position as president, his announcement command much more focus than Hillary's. Unlike Hillary, however, he is taking positions (he is, after all, already in battle), but he is expanding the battlefield in unexpected directions, forcing everyone else to talk about his issues. Notice how he never lets others sent the discussion agenda, even when directly attacked, as he recently was by his former Treasury Secretary O'Neill was seemingly duped into cooperating on a hatchet piece.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Al Gore, making a speech in New York about global warming during a record-setting cold spell. Really glad this guy isn't running things. As scary as Hillary can be, she has a great brain.