Posted by: David Kiley on March 24, 2008
I have sat in on several conference calls of both campaigns. And what strikes me, more than anything, is the absolute childishness of the two sides. Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson, and to a lesser degree the Obama PR guys David Plouffe and Bill Burton, have dragged the tenor of the campaign to a low, low he-said/she-said level that makes me pine for the civilized days of the Swift Boat Veterans.
Case in point: It was clear to anyone that Bill Clinton in South Carolina compared Obama’s victory there to the failed campaign of Jesse Jackson as an attempt to paint the Obama campaign as “The African American guy who can’t win a general election.” The Clintons reckoned it was what a lot of people were thinking, but few wanted to say. So, he said it to get the conversation rolling. Later, the Clinton campaign was indignant that such a suggestion was made.
Yesterday, Obama’s Iowa co-chair Gordon Fischer blogged what many Democrats have been thinking the last several weeks about Bill Clinton, especially when he suggested that it would be great if the country had two patriotic candidates like Hillary and McCain to choose from and not have to talk about a distracting issue like race.
Fischer: “When Joe McCarthy questioned others’ patriotism, McCarthy (1) actually believed, at least aparently (sic), the questions were genuine, and (2) he did so in order to build up, not tear down, his own party, the GOP. Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping — instead he is hurting — his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica’s blue dress.”
Fischer apologized. But many Democrats have been wanting Obama or his surrogates to chime up that the last thing the U,S. needs is a third Clinton term to rehash old wounds. And talk about distractions? The Clinton sex scandals.
But now, it's out there. Maybe. Maybe the mainstream media will pick up the bait and discuss how the Clinton's complicated relationship sidetracked the country. They certainly followed the Fox News led torrent over Obama's minister. Revisiting the Clinton's marital dramas has been off the table, at least until now.
Howard Wolfson, true to form, issued the following: "This is now the Obama campaign’s primary message to the American people," Communications Director Howard Wolfson said. "Not to build him up, but to tear Senator Clinton down."
Huh? Give me a break. Wolfson is as bad as Eliot Spitzer moralizing about prostitution rings. For weeks, Wolfson has said that Obama is not worthy to be a commander-in-chief, and yet pledges that Clinton will back up Obama all the way if he's the nomineee. That line of strategy from the Clinton campaign has been as personal against Obama as it has been about his brief Senate career. For weeks, the campaign childishly exaggerated, to great effect, comments made by Obama advisors to foreign press.
“It would appear to be that their high-minded rhetoric seems to be falling short,” Deputy Communications Director Phil Singer followed up, before accusing the Obama campaign of "gutter attacks."
Give me a break.
As I have folowed the narrative of the campaign, and the twists, and sat in on the conference calls, the strategy that's been effective against Obama, has been one shared by the Clinton campaign and Fox news. Now, there's an alliance.
Take the two things that were Obama's strength: that he could redefine the way people talk about race in America and his high-mindedness about political debate, and turn both against him.
The endless loop of Wright's sermons started by Fox and picked up by other outlets puts to rest the idea that Obama was not "just the black candidate." For the time being, he's nothing more than the black candidate stuck in the weeds with the impossible task of trying to explain to a largely white country the nuances of what goes on inside a black church. Good luck with that.
And by openly questioning whether Obama is worthy to be a commander-in-chief, the Clinton's stepped over a line that may yet make Clinton a pariah in her own party if McCain becomes President. That forced Obama on the defensive, and his team to get down in the mud with the Clintons. The Clinton campaign maybe correctly assessed that Obama doesn't have the right shoes for the mud game.
And so it goes. I have re-named the conference calls, including the ones in which Generals speak on behalf of their candidates, as "The Children's Hour."
It makes me hope that a lot of voters aren't paying attention yet.
And despite all the jokes about John McCain's age being a factor, he might be able to come in at some point and at least position himself as the grown-up in the room.