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Hillary has had a terrible week. The alternative is far, far worse.

By Farhan Bokhari, Special to Gulf News,Thinker

This should not be news. But in today's febrile world of Twitter-fed headlines, it bears repeating: There are two old people running for president.

One is a 68-year-old woman whose legs gave way in the late summer heat on Sunday [The Hillary campaign team later revealed that she was suffering from pneumonia]. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has also coughed a few times on camera. Both events have taken on cosmic significance in this otherwise sedate and stately presidential contest.

Four years ago, Hillary fainted and banged her head while sick with a stomach virus. Her doctor detailed last year the handful of pills she takes regularly: For her allergies, thyroid and blood thinning. These facts have driven the conservative media into the kind of hysteria that requires its own medical attention.

If American voters (or journalists) still expect their candidates to be - in the words of a popular musical - young, scrappy and hungry, they have not been paying attention. The primaries have left Americans with two nominees who are rather geriatric, stiff and well-fed.

But as Joe Biden (73 years old) likes to say: Compare me to the alternative.

In this case, the alternative is an overweight 70-year-old man who loves fast food and whose gastroenterologist declared that he would be the healthiest president ever.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's gut-doctor explained in recent interviews that this "healthiest" judgement was compared mostly to people now residing in their graves. "All the rest of them are sick or dead," Dr Harold Bornstein told NBC News.

This is an unkind comparison for the current commander-in-chief, who works out every day and seems not to have an inch of fat on his bones. It is true that United States President Barack Obama gave up basketball a few years ago, so maybe Dr Bornstein knows something we don't. Then again, he also admitted he wrote about Trump's health in five minutes while a Trump limo idled outside his office.

Still, there are no two ways about it. This was Hillary's Worst. Weekend. Ever. (Apart from that whole impeachment saga and the 2008 primaries.) Just as she looked like she was running away to a landslide victory, a combination of a gaffe and a hot wobble has thrown the entire election campaign into disarray.

Of course until now, the gaffes have all emerged from the motor-mouth of Trump. They have been so numerous, and so offensive, they have almost lost their power to shock. But with Hillary's off-the-cuff remarks about the bigotry of Trump's supporters, America has officially reached the point of no return. This deplorable election, featuring a deplorable candidate, is now circling the drain because the only respectable candidate expressed her disdain for racist voters.

Voters hold an unusual amount of respect in any election. Americans may have lost their respect for politicians, sports stars, religious leaders and just about every profession, but voters remain sacrosanct. So Hillary's comments have crossed a line: An unforced error that reveals how flawed a campaigner she is.

"You know, to just be grossly generalistic," she told a Manhattan fundraiser, "you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic - you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up."

And so the "basket of deplorables" has found its place alongside other debris in the gaffe sewer of recent elections, including this stinker from a fundraiser in San Francisco in 2008: "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the midwest, the jobs have gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Bill Clinton administration, and the George W. Bush administration and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not.

"And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy towards people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations."

The speaker of these grossly generalistic insults of the pro-gun culture of Middle America? Obama, of course.

Those comments came to light in April 2008, as Obama was fighting one Hillary for votes in the Pennsylvania primary. "I was taken aback by the demeaning remarks Senator Obama made about people in small-town America," Hillary said at the time. "His remarks are elitist and out of touch."

Hillary's staffers started handing out stickers saying "I'm not bitter" and she went on to win the primary by nine points. She ultimately lost the nomination by a convincing margin.

What of the lasting damage to candidate Obama from this revealing insight into this elitist character? In the general election, Obama won Pennsylvania by ten points. He took Virginia by six points and gun-loving Indiana by one point.

Ah, yes. But what about Mitt Romney's unforgettable gaffe - also at a fundraiser among the super-wealthy - when he condemned not just half of his opponent's supporters, but half of the population of the US?

"There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," he said, "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. These are people who pay no income tax ... and so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Why did the Romney gaffe stick? Because it played into months of multi-million-dollar advertising and messaging from the Obama campaign about Romney's lack of compassion for the middle class. After all those attacks, the gaffe seemed like Romney's confession of the truth.

So where is the comparable anti-Hillary narrative, bolstered by huge ad spends and a consistent communications strategy? (And no, tweets don't count.) The Trump campaign, such as it is, has no major ad spending, and nothing that resembles a strategy in communications, policy or politics. It is singularly ill equipped to profit from this gift of a gaffe.

If any candidate plays into this gaffe-fest, it's Trump himself. Because the real power of a gaffe is that it exposes some unspeakable truth. And the truth is that many Trump supporters are indeed attracted by the "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic" eruptions of the candidate himself.

Trump built his candidacy on questioning the birthplace of the country's first black president. He went on to suggest that the same president harboured sympathies for Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Sure enough, two-thirds of Trump supporters believe Obama is Muslim and 59 per cent think he wasn't born in the US. It's unlikely they hold these views in an adorable way.

Deplorable, on the other hand, might be a great word to describe a candidate who suggests that gun owners should shoot Hillary to stop her proposals on gun safety? That would be the same candidate whose butler posted that someone should shoot Obama and whose supporters regularly chant "kill" when Hillary's name is mentioned.

Hillary isn't missing the other appeal of Trump: The aspirational side of his policy agenda that his supporters are yearning for. There is no other appeal of Trump and no aspirational agenda. That's why the Hillary campaign is digging in for a long fight about Trump's deplorable nature.

Was the comment elitist, tone-deaf and self-defeating? Could it - along with the health scare stories - narrow the Hillary poll lead by a point or two? As Sarah Palin would say, you betcha.

But please spare us the false equivalency. There are worse political crimes than such gaffes. And there are older, unhealthier candidates running for president.

- Guardian News & Media Ltd

Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist, as well as chief digital and marketing officer at Global Citizen, a non-profit organisation dedicated to ending extreme poverty. He is the author of Renegade: The Making of a President, Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House and The Message: The Re-Selling of President Obama.

- Dr Ahmad Mustafa - Farhan Bokhari - Joseph S. Nye, Jr

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 12, 2016
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