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I'm Ok, You're Really (Really, Really) Ok

It’s been theorized (by Mickey Kaus and Maureen Dowd, among others) that Hillary Clinton is the beneficiary of misfortune and some of its attendant states: enfeeblement, debasement, etc.

This is a resonant theory (and a morally complex one, in terms of its concurrent embrace-of-victimhood critique; my colleague Noam Scheiber recently made the point that voters don’t quite want Hillary to win or lose). But it also tells us something about Barack Obama’s success thus far.

The second point first: Obama understands that for him to advance, the electorate must feel relevant. His rhetoric is about addressing voters directly, making them feel potent and vital, awake and alive.

For Hillary, it’s a very different story ... or is it? The fact is that voter self-empowerment is at the heart of things, for both candidates. Voters (and pundits) respond to Hillary’s pathos because it gives them the chance to sanctify her, to resurrect her--and to make themselves feel empowered in the process.

There’s a puissant--to say nothing of pathological--psychological dynamic at work here. Put simply, voters feel empowered when they can empower.

This is why Hillary succeeds when she seems cast down or out, as she is now.

In fact, she’s very much on the ropes, but if there’s a way back into the ring, it lies in ignoring Obama (and Bill, for that matter) and paying more attention to the voters--specifically their need to be needed.

Hillary’s advisers don’t seem to know which tack to take--the "martyr" strategy, which has sometimes worked to her favor, or the “discredit” strategy, which has been pursued and continues to be floated (though with diminishing returns).

Really, though, each tactic--modesty or assault--seems ill-fated on its own. An amalgamation seems to be what’s called for, one that draws on both themes. Hillary’s strategy, then, should be one of flattery, of a sort. She should address the electorate directly--and thus factor equality into the voter equation: “She’s talking with me, not to me.”

Obama, again, has grasped this. He makes voters comfortable with their ideals. More importantly, he seems to intuitively understand that voters aren’t so much hungry for hope and change as for attention and inclusion (admittedly its own kind of change).

If Hillary has a chance, it’s not as a consensus-builder but as an esteem-builder.