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August 8, 2007

YKos Break Out: Hillary Lets Down Her Guard .. Sort Of

Hillary-Breakout-A

Edwards-Breakout-A

One way to look back at YearlyKos ’07 is as a candidate authenticity test.  (I wish I had a business class upgrade for every time one of the presidential contenders finished a comment with: "Sorry, but that’s what I believe.")

More than anything, what characterizes the Kos community is a structure of egalitarianism and a near absence of social presumption toward one another.  The values most emanating from that structure are informality, openness and the explicit understanding that members  — for better or worse — need always lay it on the line.

Coming into this setting, it was easy to tell which candidates and campaigns were more or less adaptable to that oxygen. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend two of the candidate "breakout" sessions (one over my allotment), but the difference between the Hillary and the Edward gathering illustrates what I mean.

In the relaxed "hail fellow fare thee well" atmosphere of the overall
conference, it was strange watching Hillary’s entourage, almost all
clad in suits-and-ties, scurrying about and whispering seriously among
themselves, looking thoroughly important at the front of the room.
Also, there were so many of them (at least in comparison to the
competition), it seemed like the handlers had handlers.

Edwards-Breakout-2-1

(Edwards Chief Blogger, Tracy Russo)

Although both candidates were introduced by a campaign blogger,
the Clinton campaign did a curious thing. It sat their bloggers at a
table on the stage (top photo, left to right: the incomparable Peter
Daou, internet communications director, formerly of Daou Report; Judd
Legum, formerly of ThinkProgress and now campaign research director;
and Communications Director, Howard Wolfson).  The fact they emulated
the look of a YearlyKos panel but never spoke a word felt particular
curious, as if Team Clinton felt the inclination to put bloggers on a
pedestal, or show cred by putting their distinguished own on display.

Whether campaigns explicitly realized it or not, the symbolic
test here was how much the candidate (as if air-dropped into the middle
of a family reunion) could approximate the sense of parity in the
larger proceedings, a quality reflected in almost every single panel
over the three days between "outside" speakers and the netroot body.

With the phrase "equal footing" in mind, I was suprised that
Hillary — who has done many "townhall" style events — barely came out
from behind the podium.  On the other hand, Edwards had ’em packed in
at ground level, his meeting room reconfigured as a theatre in the
round.

After making an opening statement, then expressing the desire
to "have a conversation," Hillary all told took 6 or 7 questions, her
first answer (on education) running almost thirteen minutes long.  At
the end, because so many people were waiting to ask questions (the main
point of these smaller sessions), she offered the audience they could
write in to the campaign website and her bloggers would respond.

In the Edwards forum, on the other hand, he offered a couple of
remarks, then moved directly to questions.  He got in about fifteen,
along the way giving explanation, without apology, for his support of
the death penalty and his opposition to gay marriage.  At the end,
because there were still so many hands up, he offered a promise: anyone
who went to his website and indicated they had attended the session
would hear back from him personally.

Perhaps Hillary came to the McCormick Center at least partially
infused with the "Kos vibe," and actually wanted to let her guard
down.  Several times on Saturday, Hillary telegraphed that she was in
different waters here, hinting in quips about "speaking straight" or
being more herself.  At the end of the break out session, for example,
expressing the desire to answer more questions, she got people laughing
by explaining how she, instead, had to "go to the green room to get
ready [for the candidate forum] … for some reasonwhatever that means."
Earlier, in a nod to "blogdom," she said: "I appreciate what you’re
doing." Then paused, getting a rise out of the assembly by adding: …
Well, not everything you’re doing."

In the forum/debate, the straight talk was plainly on display as
Hillary quickly and unequivocally answered "no" to whether she would be
willing to visit all 50 states, leaving the others to quickly survey on
another with hands half-raised.  More specifically, however, you could
see it in the highlight of the conference, when she offered a flat out
yes to whether she intended to continue taking contributions from
lobbyists.

Perhaps more acknowledging however, was Hil’s utterance after
attacked the assumption that lobbyist money could somehow have an
effect on a seasoned politician like herself.  To a rising crescendo of
laughter, Hillary called out: “Well, it gives us a real sense of reality, my being here.  Doesn’t it!”

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