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The US Presidential Campaign…It’s turning… not so nice. Good. February 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
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I’m sort of enjoying the current phase of the US Presidential Campaign a bit better. And sadly, this is probably for all the wrong reasons. But, I have some hope that perhaps something good will appear.

The thing is that in the last number of days the campaign has turned, if not exactly nasty, well… certainly not very nice. We had the ‘debate’ the other night between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama where both candidates accused the other of running negative campaigns against them. Difficult to say who suffers most from this. Clinton hardly has a halo worth talking about left, while Obama has become – perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not – increasingly tetchy as the campaign has progressed (although to be fair, he has been a perfect gentlemen in assisting Clinton out of her seat in a not entirely convincing display of old time courtesy). I can’t tell from watching the debates if they actually detest each other as some claim. It might be true but who knows. Of course for those incorrigibles who believe that this is merely the facade of capitalism and that secretly they’re both delighted to be doing the bidding of big pharma or the military industrial complex then their personal feelings are rather redundant. But I’ve seen and been in campaigns of my own and know just how raw such emotions can become even amongst nominal ideological allies. And really, aren’t they so similar in policy terms as to have been produced by what I think Americans call cookie cutters (in both sense of the term)? Indeed to hear them arguing over healthcare is to actually think that Nader for all his faults and flaws (unelectable in any year might be his slogan) might have a point in running. Not that that is a good thing if the Republicans sidle back into the White House with McCain next year.

I’m fairly certain that Clinton’s complaints against the soft soaping Obama has been receiving at the hands of the media was wide of the mark. It might well be true (and certainly few candidates have been as blessed by their friends and admirers) but it sounds awful.

As the Irish Times noted:

In their final debate before next Tuesday’s primaries in Texas and Ohio, Mrs Clinton sought to present herself as a fighter and to portray Mr Obama as a lightweight media darling. Pointing out that she usually got the first questions in debates, allowing Mr Obama to react to her answer, Mrs Clinton referred to a parody on media bias on the comedy TV show Saturday Night Live.

“Maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow,” she said.

In fairness to her, this is a genuine problem of language and its capacity to deal with such as Obama. If the candidate is indeed a ‘lightweight media darling’ then engaging on that terrain, as she did, only seems to diminish her credibility. But what, she could quite justifiably ask, to do?

And ironically it was on a point of policy and principle where Obama was able to land a decisive blow.

Mr Obama’s best moment came in response to Mrs Clinton’s claim that their records on the Iraq war were identical since he became a US senator in 2005. Mr Obama said Mrs Clinton could not escape from the fact that she voted to authorise the use of force against Iraq. “The fact was this was a big strategic blunder. It was not a matter of, ‘Well, here is the initial decision, but since then we’ve voted the same way’,” he said.

“Once we had driven the bus into the ditch, there were only so many ways we could get out. The question is: Who’s making the decision initially to drive the bus into the ditch? And the fact is that Senator Clinton often says that she is ready on day one, but, in fact, she was ready to give in to George Bush on day one on this critical issue.” Towards the end of the debate, Mrs Clinton said she would like to take back her vote for the Iraq war.

That’s a great piece of political cover for Obama (whatever the potential unpleasantness about the future it may conceal). Being right at the start is arguably better than coming to the right conclusion in retrospect.

And Obama was able to push issues onto Clinton. Consider how he dealt with the issue of Louis Farrakhan’s support (incidentally Farrakhan is termed a Muslim, but I always had the impression the NoI was very very far from mainstream Islamic thinking…anyhow perhaps someone could enlighten me).

Mrs Clinton suggested that there was a difference between denouncing the minister’s statements and rejecting his support.

“There’s no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it,” Mr Obama said. “But if the word ‘reject’ Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word “denounce,” then I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.”

It both strengthens his position by underlining his rejection and denunciation (although I’m not sure what good such rejections and denunciations actually do), and it makes her seem petty for pushing him to do so.

But there is a bigger picture.

A new poll showed Mr McCain leading both Democratic contenders in a national match-up, with a two-point edge over Mr Obama and a six-point lead over Mrs Clinton. The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows Mr McCain running ahead of Mr Obama on every issue except healthcare. The Republican has a 13-point advantage on Iraq and a 37-point lead on terrorism.

It’s very early days yet, and I wonder how long or how well that poll lead will sustain itself. But it’s notable how already Obama and McCain are slugging it out (and that 2 point as against 6 point lead will be certain to concentrate minds amongst Democrats, and perhaps provide Republicans grieving the loss of Mitt Romney some solace in these dark days).

John McCain pouring scorn on Barack Obama’s statement that he would consider reinvading the country if al-Qaeda was forming a base there.

“When you examine that statement, it’s pretty remarkable,” Mr McCain told a crowd in Tyler, Texas. “I have some news. Al-Qaeda is in Iraq. It’s called al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Which is sort of clever. But not very. Still it came on the foot of one of Obama’s less fluent lines in the debate where he reserved the right to send US troops into Iraq to deal with insurrection or civil war. Erm… which is sort of similar to today… well, anyway… moving on swiftly.

Obama responded by, taunting the Arizona senator over his promise to follow Osama bin Laden “to the gates of Hell” to bring the al-Qaeda leader to justice. “All he has done is to follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq,” Mr Obama said.

Interesting. But I wonder how that line of attack will work against McCain. Expect more… much much more of this over the next half year or so.

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Comments»

1. Eagle - February 28, 2008

Obama is falling into a trap if he’s engaging with McCain on Iraq. If Iraq keeps heading upwards as a not-so-bad story for America, then McCain wins the Iraq debate – easily. And, if he wins the Iraq debate, Obama needs to clean his clock on all the non-national security issues, which he might possibly be able to do. He has to ignore Iraq/etc.

And, if Iraq turns south again, McCain’s toast and Obama doesn’t have to do anything to win other than avoid being caught breaking the law or some such.

Obama needs to ignore Iraq/national security as much as possible.

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2. WorldbyStorm - February 29, 2008

Hmmm… [strokes chin thoughtfully]… you would offer that advice, wouldn’t you? ;)

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3. PamDirac - February 29, 2008

The Democrats have tried running national campaigns where they focused on domestic issues and let the Republicans claim the national security turf. It doesn’t work. I do not believe Obama or Clinton will make that mistake this time. We will hear less about the war in the general election than we are during this Democratic primary season, perhaps, but the subject will be right up there.

Clinton is correct about the foot massage Obama is getting from the media – they really can’t wait for her to fail – but neither she nor her campaign people should be pointing it out publicly. It looks too desperate (as they probably are). Maybe they think of it as working the refs, but it sure doesn’t look good.

I think it’s been a great campaign. I don’t expect anything like this to happen again in my lifetime and it’s been fun to watch. I’m sure the candidates don’t like it, but that’s hardly our problem. Huge voter turnout everywhere, and a lot of states that for once are having primaries that actually mean something.

***I can’t tell from watching the debates if they actually detest each other as some claim. It might be true but who knows***

They couldn’t possibly dislike each other as much as the Kennedys disliked Johnson and vice versa, and look where Johnson turned up.

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4. Wednesday - February 29, 2008

incidentally Farrakhan is termed a Muslim, but I always had the impression the NoI was very very far from mainstream Islamic thinking…

It is and a lot of traditional Muslims in America completely reject the NoI as un-Islamic. Having said that, I’m not sure why Farrakhan shouldn’t be termed a Muslim if he deems himself a Muslim. The Christians and Jews have their bizarre little sects too after all.

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5. sonofstan - February 29, 2008

I don’t know – pace PamDirac – if Clinton entirely wrong to lay into Obama and his media canonisation; it might play badly with the same media and with the young, who want all taint of nasty politics left out of this campaign, but for Clinton’s constituency – poorer, older, more working class – it will be less shocking than to Obama’s virginal acolytes of change, and they might -like WBS (and me) – enjoy it…..

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6. WorldbyStorm - February 29, 2008

Absolutely. No harm either on a political level if chunks of Clinton’s support do eventuallly migrate to Obama that he should know where they’re coming from and who he has to keep on board. Still, that’s probably overly optimistic of me…

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7. Eagle - February 29, 2008

The Democrats have tried running national campaigns where they focused on domestic issues and let the Republicans claim the national security turf. It doesn’t work.

When? My clear memory of 1992 is that Bush ran on his success in the Gulf War, which led to his defeat because he seemed oblivious to the economic troubles he presided over. This year the economy is heading towards much harder times than in ’92.

It’s going to be the key issue, which is why it’s paramount for McCain that everyone keep talking about Iraq. McCain will win that debate if the news out of Iraq keeps trending upwards.

Obama should say as little as possible about Iraq while he spars with McCain and focus on what he proposes to rescue the economy. {So far, it sounds to me like protectionism is his primary plank. That may actually work with the voters this year.}

Regardless he gets no benefit focusing on Iraq in his debate with McCain because if Iraq heads towards the toilet again, McCain is finished.

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8. Ed Hayes - February 29, 2008

My usual lazy way of directing you to views I kind of agree with….

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080317/wypijewski

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9. Ed Hayes - February 29, 2008

Actually to views on the side of America that just gets snowed under all the froth that even the ‘serious’ media go for. I met and knew people like those described in the article and its a side of the US that is just downplayed all the time.

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10. PamDirac - March 1, 2008

**When?***

The examples that I had in mind are the Democratic disaster of 2002, which I concede wasn’t national, and Kerry’s Presidential campaign. In both instances there were influential consultants and pollsters counseling Dems to keep to their perceived strengths and focus on domestic issues, and in the Monday morning quarterbacking that followed the defeats I recall reading a fair amount of comment on the matter. Offhand I also recall Joe Biden saying late last year that Kerry and Gore had lost because they had failed to present themselves credibly as national security candidates. There’s room for disagreement, of course, on what happened in the instances cited above, but the Democrats know this is an ongoing problem and I don’t think they will run away from it and/or try to change the subject. Obama’s opposition to the war has been his chief selling point during the primary season and he’s been playing catchup on the economy (but then, so have all the candidates). Sure, Clinton or Obama will pound the table about the bad economic times. But I can’t imagine either one will cede such a crucial bit of territory to the GOP.

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