Friday, April 25, 2008

Clinton, Obama and Negative Campaigning

Just as there is a "Fog of War", the "Fog of Campaigning" can also breed short (and at times false) memories.

Geoff Garin claims that there has been "one campaign...that has been mean-spirited" and "unfair" and that it is "not ours".

Garin, who seems to be a genuine and decent professional who has been dropped to the helm of a listing ship, attempts to right it not by changing the direction of the boat, but by trying to reverse reality around it.

Let's take a look:

Clinton at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Speech:

"I'm not interested in attacking my opponents, I'm interested in attacking the problems of America. And I believe we should be turning up the heat on the Republicans -- they deserve all the heat we can give them."

November, 2007:

New York Times:
"Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, which is now attacking Senator Barack Obama on a daily basis." [New York Times, 11/30/07]

MSNBC: "Another day, another Clinton campaign knock on Obama." [First Read, 11/29/07]

December 2007 (leading to the January 6 Iowa primary, including the notorious use of an essay that he wrote in Kindergarten):

Chicago Tribune: "This Clinton Attack On Obama Could Boomerang." "The Clinton people are citing a kindergarten essay by Obama as evidence against him in a presidential campaign. Good thing he was born before widespread pre-natal ultrasounds. Who knows how they might've used that against him? Clinton's people have thrown similar jabs before at Obama but it hasn't fazed him. So their seems to be a little more fury behind the punches as now that Obama's may have taken the lead in Iowa according to the Des Moines Register's most recent poll." [Chicago Tribune, The Swamp, 12/3/07]

Washington Post: "Losing Ground In Iowa, Clinton Assails Obama." "With a new poll showing her losing ground in the Iowa caucus race, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) mounted a new, more aggressive attack against Sen. Barack Obama." [Washington Post, 12/3/07]

New York Daily News: "Hillary Clinton Attack On Barack Obama Comes After She Loses Iowa Lead." "Hours after a new poll showed her falling behind for the first time in Iowa, Hillary Clinton launched a blistering personal broadside on rival Barack Obama." [New York Daily News, 12/3/07]

New York Times: "An Attack, From the Candidate's Mouth" [New York Times, 12/2/07]

New York Times: "Battered by Poll, Clinton Hits Back" [New York Times, 12/2/07]

Clinton Release: "In kindergarten, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled 'I Want to Become President. 'Iis Darmawan, 63, Senator Obama's kindergarten teacher, remembers him as an exceptionally tall and curly haired child who quickly picked up the local language and had sharp math skills. He wrote an essay titled, 'I Want To Become President,' the teacher said." [AP, 1/25/07]

And what did the voters think?

Which Candidate is the most negative?

Hillary Clinton 21%
John Edwards 9%
Dennis Kucinich 9%
Barack Obama 8%
Joe Biden 3%
Mike Gravel 3%
Christopher Dodd 3%
Bill Richardson 3%
None/Not sure 43%

Source: The Iowa Poll
[Des Moines Register, 12/2/07]

What about after Iowa? She surely must have changed her tactics then...

After Iowa Loss, Clinton Ramps Up Attacks:
January 06, 2008

AP: "Hillary Clinton Comes Out Swinging, Politeness Lost Along With Iowa Caucuses" [AP, 1/6/08]

Los Angeles Times: "Clinton lets arrows fly at Obama"..."Staggered by her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, the New York senator was the aggressor throughout a 90-minute session" [LA Times, 1/6/08]

Washington Post: "Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton tried repeatedly to knock Sen. Barack Obama off his footing during a high-stakes debate here on Saturday night" [Washington Post, 1/6/08]

AP: "Clinton criticizes Obama in NH mailer" [AP, 1/5/08]

Newsday: "Clinton sharpens attack on Obama" [Newsday, 1/5/08]

Reuters: "Obama under attack ahead of New Hampshire debates" [Reuters, 1/5/08]

Newsday: "After weeks of playing nice in Iowa, the Clinton camp sharpened their elbows when the campaign went wheels-down in New Hampshire, readying TV ads targeting Obama that were expected to focus on health care and his legislative record." [Newsday, 1/4/08]

Washington Post: But she and her aides also signaled their intention to now ratchet up the race, aggressively countering Obama in the five days ahead. She is also now planning to draw even sharper distinctions between herself and Obama on the question of change, after watching voters who wanted a new direction select her main rival for the nomination on Thursday night. [Washington Post, 1/4/08]

Well...that must have been just a momentary reaction to January's surprising defeat. She surely didn't continue that strategy...

The State:
"Clinton camp hits Obama -- Attacks 'painful' for black voters. Many in state offended by criticism of Obama, remarks about King" [1/12/08]

New York Times: "Clinton's Campaign Sees Value In Keeping Former President In Attack Mode" [1/25/08]

Greenville News: Ex-Democratic Official Criticizes Clintons' Attacks On Obama [1/23/08]

First Read: "Clinton Justifies War Vote, Hits Obama" [1/13/08]

Politico: "Hillary Clinton attacks Barack Obama" [1/13/08]

Perhaps it became more substantive and dignified in February:

Feb 25, 2008
2008 Presidential Election
Clinton Circulates Pic of Obama in Somali Garb: Report

For some, Barack Obama's "Hussein" middle name has been something worth picking on. For others, it has been pushing the unsubstantiated rumor (debunked by Snopes) that Obama is or was a "radical Muslim." But this - this is truly low. ..Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams said, "If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed."

CNN: "Clinton Sharpens Attacks On Obama" [CNN, 2/14/08]

Concord Monitor: "Clinton Attack Still Riles Some" [2/4/08]

Guardian Unlimited: "Clinton Goes On Attack As Obama Closes Gap" [2/3/08]


The Politico, Ben Smith, March 2:

"A weird moment of TV, partially captured in the clip above. Clinton denies she thinks Obama's a Muslim, but her denial seems something other than ironclad, and the interviewer goes back at her on the question...

“You said you'd take Senator Obama at his word that he's not…a Muslim. You don't believe that he's…,” Kroft said.

“No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I know,” she said."


MSNBC: April 14: Clinton Attacks Obama On Air

Sun-Sentinal: April 22: Clinton Attacks, Obama Hopes.

And what of the recent words of Mr. Garin himself?

From the April 20 Meet the Press:

MR. AXELROD: ...Did you not put a negative ad on this weekend in Philadelphia? The--100 percent negative ad attacking Senator Obama?

MR. GARIN: No. I don’t believe we did.

MR. AXELROD: Yeah, you did. Go back and check with your people, and it was, it’s an ad on lobbying, and it’s circulating...

MR. GARIN: It’s not. It, it ends up, I believe, with...

MR. AXELROD: No, no, it’s 100 percent negative ad, Geoff. Go back and ask your people. I understand you’re new in the campaign, and I love you, man, you’re a good friend of mine. I know you to be a good, positive person.

MR. GARIN: Right.

MR. AXELROD: But I think that there’s some vestiges of the old regime still in place.

MR. GARIN: Well, look, when, when, when...

(Garin never answers this question--Axelrod later in broadcast: "The—well, first of all, that’s what’s in your negative ad that you didn’t know about in Philadelphia.")

Note: This of course leaves self-inflicted attacks (i.e. sniper fire) aside. Incidentally, while I have known people to err when they are tired (for example to say "sniker" instead of "sniper"), I have never seen anyone invent and repeat an entire episode that did not occur as a result of exhaustion--although, of course, this commonly does occur when people are completely asleep.

Hendrik Hertzberg, in the New Yorker's "Campaign Trail" this past week has noted the tragic and inevitable game here, whereby Obama, who has tried to run a different type of campaign--explicitly principled and positive--has been drawn into defense by the incessant attack.

This attempt to now flip and revise history in this very fundamental manner is something that we have seen in our recent Presidential past--and is something that should give us pause.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Best Way For Obama To Go Negative: Go Positive

The WP, via CNN, reports that there is now a discussion in the Obama camp as to whether he should go negative in Indiana.

Simply going negative would be a critical error, opening Obama to charges that he would be contradicting the very messages that have inspired his efforts and undergirded his campaign. This is a gap that the Clinton team would surely leap through. He would be further drawn into the swirling chaos that the old politics has created--as the Clinton camp would sure wish-- further enveloping and distracting voters from the fundamental messages of his campaign.

The best way for Obama to go negative is to go positive--clearly, strongly, and powerfully contrasting the method of "kitchen sink" politics, where any statement or position--even statements that are diametrically opposed; any claim, no matter how false; and any trivial distraction can be used simply in the effort to win at any cost, with the genuine effort to move the nation into a more substantive and honest politics--and into an Administration that will be grounded in these principles, rather than the very same methods and distortions that we can so easily see having been employed over the past seven years.

He should relentlessly tie the former method to the politics of the past--and to indicate the consequences for the nation that these politics have wrought--in the loss of national stature, Constitutional and moral authority, economic stability, and our most important treasure, the lives of our sons and daughters to a cause borne of such distortions.


"We have had enough of the negative campaigning of the past. We have seen what it has done to us over the past years--the "kitchen sink" politics of distortion and falsehood, of being willing to make any claim--no matter how true, false, inconsistent or contradictory--to put forward one's personal agenda, has threatened to take this great nation down the drain--financially, in terms of our standing in the world; in terms of our most important and basic treasure--the lives of our sons and daughters--the very future of this nation.

Do we want the same result? The same candidates, using the same old tactics, leading to the same outcomes of the all-too-recent past? Those who will do or say anything to be elected--and then will do or say anything afterward to justify their mistakes?

I say: We need a change from the politics of the past. We need someone who will say enough of the politics of the kitchen sink, of trivia and distortion. It's time to drain the sink. It's time for someone who , instead of fighting to divide the nation in pursuit of victory, will fight for you by saying: We will not play the same old games. That's the old politics. That's the politics that led us into Iraq, that left Osama Bin Ladin free, that led to violations of the Constitution that we solemnly pledge to uphold for this nation, and that has led us to be faced each day with the loss of promise that each new American life represents.

We can be seduced by politics of tactics, of fear. We've seen it before. And we've seen what happens after.

Will you join me in putting this era of old politics behind us, into a new future where you, your country, and the needs of your family and your future come first? Where we step beyond the tactics, distortion, and trivia of the moment, that too often have led to a long and difficult future for our nation, into to a time when the genuine needs of our nation and our country matter most?

Change is never easy. But when it is difficult, it is what we most often need. Will you join me in saying "No" to the kitchen sink politics of the past, to putting the era of old politics, of trivia and tactics, sniping and distortion, behind us? In saying "Yes" to a new and honest future, dedicated to the real needs of the American people, and not to the trivial battles that have divided and distracted this country for so long? To the real changes that this country has needed for the past 7 years, rather than to a continuation of the politics of the past? Will you join me? Can you join me? Let me hear it:

Yes we can (etc.)"

This should help to lead voters away from the churning pool of chaos and incitement, the distracting, impulsive song of the Clinton camp that, in its vague insinuations, pulls people to the seeming attraction and safety of the old--and will to help lead them towards an era where we can leave this ill-thought trivia behind for a considered, honest and principled statesmanship.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chelsea Morning

This morning's WP has an excellent piece on Chelsea Clinton's role in her mother's campaign.

I have also been struck by how the 90s images of a younger Chelsea have been replaced by a woman of substance, intellect, humor and grace.

As one can now expect, the article was followed by comments that barely reach above the limen of sheer expulsion to actual thought. Simple crude attacks.

As an Obama supporter, I find the coarse, degrading, adolescent fire aimed at Chelsea repulsive--a true example of human ignorance, of simple glee in childish degradation.

Chelsea is a genuine, articulate and obviously sincere woman who both admires and cares for her mother; she brings warmth, humor and humanity to her efforts. If only these commenters could bring one-tenth of these qualities to their own impulsive emissions--literally smears of thought and emotion. Criticism is of course, part of a political campaign, and she places herself in a position for critique. However, the vitriolic, semi-coherent glee of some attacks are of another order entirely.

This is a fine woman working to help her mother. See yourself clearly for a moment. Stop it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Shorter Wall Street Journal

Today's WSJ:

Sen. Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech on race relations last month seemed to put the controversial remarks of his former pastor behind him. But three weeks later, there is evidence of lingering damage.

"It has not been defused," says David Parker, a North Carolina Democratic Party official and unpledged superdelegate. He says his worries about Republicans questioning Sen. Obama's patriotism prompted him to raise the issue of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.'s remarks in conversations with both the Obama and Clinton campaigns.

Shorter WSJ: We're afraid the damage is passing, but we'll do our best to try to keep it going.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mark Down

...but not out:

After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as Chief Strategist of the Clinton Campaign; Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign. Geoff Garin and Howard Wolfson will coordinate the campaign's strategic message team going forward.

Clinton campaign statement, via the Nation.

Gamechanger: It's About the War

From ABC News' Political Radar:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is actively courting the Vice Presidential nomination, according to Republican Strategist Dan Senor. “Condi Rice has been actively, actually in recent weeks, campaigning for this,” Senor said this morning on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

If true, while unsurprising, given her recent statements of late, which clearly pointed towards such a move, nonetheless a potential gamechanger. Independents and moderate Republicans inspired by Obama will now be fair game for inspirational rhetoric about Rice. and her personal story as an African American woman who has risen to her current position from humble origins, against the odds. Democrats will parry that it's about the man--not the position--and a fractious debate will begin.

To cut through it, Dems will need to refocus the debate upon the war, and Rice's role in decision-making as National Security Adviser, where she was generally regarded as unable to act effectively in the face of Rumsfeld's and Cheney's demands, and was only able to survive by attaching herself directly to Bush--as a surrogate rather than an adviser. She attached herself to Bush then--and should be attached to Bush now.

If she was rolled over by her colleagues, the argument should go, how will she be able to lead in the face of today's conflicts and demands ?

Why Clinton Embellishes

We have three examples from recent days of Clinton's modifications of the truth.

Why do they matter? One might say that many politicians are prone to factual distortions.

What is of particular importance is not only that Clinton distorts the truth, but when she does--and why.

Clinton, as many who know her well and have studied her life closely have indicated, from Dee Dee Myers to Carl Bernstein, has a fundamental difficulty in revealing herself. She is seen by even those who are closest to her as perpetually standing behind a guise, ever prepared for the attack, a characteristic regarded as at times poignant, and at other times Nixonian in its manifestations.

We know from biographies of Clinton, including Bernstein's astute and perceptive "A Woman in Charge" that Clinton's suffered from a harsh and judgmental father, and that this relationship had a deep and significant shaping influence.

On the one hand, it prepared her (indeed, over-prepared her) for quick response, for an all-too-ready response to attack. Yet it also created, beneath the increasingly agile guises and forms of protection, a more fundamental experience of self--that despite the greatest efforts, the most agile displays, of never being quite good enough to measure up to his judgment.

This left her, as it leaves many in such circumstances, with a rueful admiration of and attachment to a seeming strength and sureness that she could never have; and underneath the formidably developed masks of intellect and defensive pretense, a fundamental fear of, in her true self, uncovered, falling short. Many have noted this quality in Clinton, and have drawn it back to this familial source.

As a consequence, beneath the feigned hardness, the feigned casualness, and beneath the years of powerfully developed yet defensively driven skills, there is a tragic, deep and, for a President, highly consequential flaw--one that is most likely to be relevant in those "3 a.m. moments" that she has so readily and repeatedly invoked.

One cannot respond with balance and wisdom from a guise. One's own judgment is critically affected by what one feels they must display (and truly cannot), and by what they believe that they must hide.

From such a position, the "other"--be it a colleague, opponent, or one's view of the "public" at large, is critically distorted. The other is not regarded as a fellow equal, with whom we are shouldering difficult tasks together, in order to determine a better future, but a threatening judge, to be managed and feared; whose response must be calculated to be met with the proper guise--one which must be quickly changed--or covered--if there is a danger that, beneath the mask, one will be found out.

What Clinton shares with other talented, tragic figures is a mistrust of humanity's judgment, and, as a result, an inability to meet them with the full, uncovered gaze of a developed and accepted self. The truth, within such an uncertain experience of self and the judgment of others, is often felt to be not enough.

This is what Obama, in this revolutionary moment, to a greater extent, has. This is what people are connecting with. And, in 3 a.m. moments, this is what we need.