Commentary Magazine


Topic: Clinton camp

She Finally Gets It

Hillary Clinton is in uncharted territory. For the first time in this primary, Barack Obama has taken successive hits without Hillary somehow spoiling her own good luck.

Every previous Obama gaffe was quickly followed by a counterbalancing embarrassment from the Clinton camp that effectively reset the primary at a tie. If Obama’s wife said something offensive, Hillary’s husband popped up a day later to do the same. If Obama made a naïve statement about diplomacy, Hillary made an entitled statement about being treated unfairly. The tit-for-tat unfolded with relentless parity, so that the first thunderclap of Jeremiah Wright’s outrageous sermons was drowned out by the sniper fire of Hillary’s outrageous Bosnia tale.

But starting with her opponent’s ungenerous assessment of blue-collar Americans, Hillary has enjoyed the first string of Obama blunders not broken by her own reciprocal slips. Obama managed to insult the working class, give an abysmal debate performance, take a heavy loss in Pennsylvania, and fall back into the mud with Jeremiah Wright, all without any Clinton self-destruction to ease his pain. Hillary, by getting out of the way of her own good fortune, is now experiencing momentum by default.

And with Obama’s breakdown doing all the work, Hillary has at last grasped the concept of moderation. According to the Trail:

In recent days, Clinton’s jabs at Obama have been gentle and often unnamed, far from her “meet me in Ohio” and “shame on you, Barack Obama” blasts on the eve of the vote in Ohio. She spent the weekend challenging him to debates, but even dropped that this week to criticize Obama for not supporting a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.”

If she can continue to resist the urge to scold or crow, and if she can keep her husband’s seemingly inevitable tantrums to a minimum, Obama’s campaign just might implode completely. At U.S. News & World Report, Bonnie Erbe suggests it’s time for Obama to consider dropping out. That’s not going to happen. But if the purpose of superdelegates is to have Democratic leadership steer the party out of trouble, their moment is now. While all the drama unfolds among them, Hillary should just cool her heels.

Hillary Clinton is in uncharted territory. For the first time in this primary, Barack Obama has taken successive hits without Hillary somehow spoiling her own good luck.

Every previous Obama gaffe was quickly followed by a counterbalancing embarrassment from the Clinton camp that effectively reset the primary at a tie. If Obama’s wife said something offensive, Hillary’s husband popped up a day later to do the same. If Obama made a naïve statement about diplomacy, Hillary made an entitled statement about being treated unfairly. The tit-for-tat unfolded with relentless parity, so that the first thunderclap of Jeremiah Wright’s outrageous sermons was drowned out by the sniper fire of Hillary’s outrageous Bosnia tale.

But starting with her opponent’s ungenerous assessment of blue-collar Americans, Hillary has enjoyed the first string of Obama blunders not broken by her own reciprocal slips. Obama managed to insult the working class, give an abysmal debate performance, take a heavy loss in Pennsylvania, and fall back into the mud with Jeremiah Wright, all without any Clinton self-destruction to ease his pain. Hillary, by getting out of the way of her own good fortune, is now experiencing momentum by default.

And with Obama’s breakdown doing all the work, Hillary has at last grasped the concept of moderation. According to the Trail:

In recent days, Clinton’s jabs at Obama have been gentle and often unnamed, far from her “meet me in Ohio” and “shame on you, Barack Obama” blasts on the eve of the vote in Ohio. She spent the weekend challenging him to debates, but even dropped that this week to criticize Obama for not supporting a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.”

If she can continue to resist the urge to scold or crow, and if she can keep her husband’s seemingly inevitable tantrums to a minimum, Obama’s campaign just might implode completely. At U.S. News & World Report, Bonnie Erbe suggests it’s time for Obama to consider dropping out. That’s not going to happen. But if the purpose of superdelegates is to have Democratic leadership steer the party out of trouble, their moment is now. While all the drama unfolds among them, Hillary should just cool her heels.

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Democrats’ Media Relations

This rather innocuous blog mention of Barack Obama swatting away a reporter’s question gets big play in the national media. Why? Because it fits into a pattern of snippy interchanges with the press and an unwillingness to respond spontaneously to queries.

Meanwhile, in today’s media call, the Clinton team tried to set the bar for Pennsylvania. According to Howard Wolfson and Geoff Garin, since Obama has outspent them 3 to 1 and forked over $7M in TV ads, he must win–or it’s more evidence of his inability to knock Hillary out. They rebuffed media questions, suggesting the bar for “success” was really a double digit win. And as for that latest ad: Wolfson and Garin insisted that it’s “positive” and not a dig at Obama for whining in the debate.

The reporters generally weren’t buying it, nor did they seem to appreciate the Clinton camp’s distinction between Obama’s admission that McCain would be an improvement over President Bush (which the Clinton camp jumped on for being inconsistent with the entire Democratic general election message) and Clinton’s own admission that McCain had passed the commander-in-chief test. So when the McCain camp complains about less than glowing coverage, his staff should perhaps consider that their opponents aren’t exactly getting bouquets from the working press, either.

This rather innocuous blog mention of Barack Obama swatting away a reporter’s question gets big play in the national media. Why? Because it fits into a pattern of snippy interchanges with the press and an unwillingness to respond spontaneously to queries.

Meanwhile, in today’s media call, the Clinton team tried to set the bar for Pennsylvania. According to Howard Wolfson and Geoff Garin, since Obama has outspent them 3 to 1 and forked over $7M in TV ads, he must win–or it’s more evidence of his inability to knock Hillary out. They rebuffed media questions, suggesting the bar for “success” was really a double digit win. And as for that latest ad: Wolfson and Garin insisted that it’s “positive” and not a dig at Obama for whining in the debate.

The reporters generally weren’t buying it, nor did they seem to appreciate the Clinton camp’s distinction between Obama’s admission that McCain would be an improvement over President Bush (which the Clinton camp jumped on for being inconsistent with the entire Democratic general election message) and Clinton’s own admission that McCain had passed the commander-in-chief test. So when the McCain camp complains about less than glowing coverage, his staff should perhaps consider that their opponents aren’t exactly getting bouquets from the working press, either.

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The Post-Mortem

There are a few strains of post-debate coverage today. Some (including the Philadelphia Inquirer) see the debate as semi-disastrous for Barack Obama and the spin from the Obama camp as self-contradictory. Others, including online reporters and high-octane MSM outlets like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, have picked up on the Bill Ayers and handgun answers.

Then there is the meldown in the Left blogosphere, apparently mortified that Obama had to answer these questions. But some concede that The Great Orator simply did not do his job. So it is to be expected that the Clinton camp is doing a victory dance. They are having a field day reinforcing favorite themes (Obama has a glass jaw, is untested, and can’t take scrutiny).

But, alas, the latter only serves to emphasize the former: the louder Obama’s fans whine, the more obvious it is that their candidate bombed and that tough questions are Obama’s kryptonite. It would be best for the Obama supporters to say it doesn’t matter, they’re all only words, words, words. Oh, wait: maybe not. . .

There are a few strains of post-debate coverage today. Some (including the Philadelphia Inquirer) see the debate as semi-disastrous for Barack Obama and the spin from the Obama camp as self-contradictory. Others, including online reporters and high-octane MSM outlets like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, have picked up on the Bill Ayers and handgun answers.

Then there is the meldown in the Left blogosphere, apparently mortified that Obama had to answer these questions. But some concede that The Great Orator simply did not do his job. So it is to be expected that the Clinton camp is doing a victory dance. They are having a field day reinforcing favorite themes (Obama has a glass jaw, is untested, and can’t take scrutiny).

But, alas, the latter only serves to emphasize the former: the louder Obama’s fans whine, the more obvious it is that their candidate bombed and that tough questions are Obama’s kryptonite. It would be best for the Obama supporters to say it doesn’t matter, they’re all only words, words, words. Oh, wait: maybe not. . .

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Power To The People

It’s not just conservative critics who are suggesting that Barack Obama might do well to get those Michigan and Florida delegates seated one way or another. From his blogger fan club comes this:

Barack Obama should call for the Florida and Michigan delegations to be seated at the convention — not as a concession to the Clinton camp or because of pressure but as an outside-the-box show of strength.The Illinois senator has several things going for him right now: He has what everyone agrees is an insurmountable lead among pledged delegates; he has an imposing lead in total popular vote; and those facts give him this trump: superdelegates — elected officials and party operators — are not going coronate Mrs. Clinton in the face of all those advantages without a wildly compelling reason. . . But there’s one argument that needs be addressed: Democrats don’t want to go into the fall risking offending voters in a state they need for victory (Michigan) and one they desperately want (Florida).

Ignore for a moment the total lack of concern over the fact that disenfranchising more than 2 million voters would fly in the face of the modern Left’s “count every vote” mantra. And put aside the consideration that Obama will not enjoy a single moment’s peace from Hillary Clinton and her supporters until this issue is decided. The core of the argument seems correct: blocking these delegates seems defensive and weak, and seating them would be a sign of confidence. So why doesn’t Obama do it?

The explanation lies in this (and many other) Obama-philes’ assumption that even if those delegates are seated “Obama would still have an insurmountable delegate lead and a formidable popular vote lead.” Well, maybe not. What if Clinton wins Pennsylvania by a bunch, takes Kentucky, West Virginia, and Indiana, and makes it close in North Carolina? That delegate lead could shrink. Not all the way to parity, but enough that when the Florida and Michigan delegates are counted their numbers could make the pledged delegate lead trivial.

So as long as Clinton can make it close, I don’t see Obama insisting that every vote count.

It’s not just conservative critics who are suggesting that Barack Obama might do well to get those Michigan and Florida delegates seated one way or another. From his blogger fan club comes this:

Barack Obama should call for the Florida and Michigan delegations to be seated at the convention — not as a concession to the Clinton camp or because of pressure but as an outside-the-box show of strength.The Illinois senator has several things going for him right now: He has what everyone agrees is an insurmountable lead among pledged delegates; he has an imposing lead in total popular vote; and those facts give him this trump: superdelegates — elected officials and party operators — are not going coronate Mrs. Clinton in the face of all those advantages without a wildly compelling reason. . . But there’s one argument that needs be addressed: Democrats don’t want to go into the fall risking offending voters in a state they need for victory (Michigan) and one they desperately want (Florida).

Ignore for a moment the total lack of concern over the fact that disenfranchising more than 2 million voters would fly in the face of the modern Left’s “count every vote” mantra. And put aside the consideration that Obama will not enjoy a single moment’s peace from Hillary Clinton and her supporters until this issue is decided. The core of the argument seems correct: blocking these delegates seems defensive and weak, and seating them would be a sign of confidence. So why doesn’t Obama do it?

The explanation lies in this (and many other) Obama-philes’ assumption that even if those delegates are seated “Obama would still have an insurmountable delegate lead and a formidable popular vote lead.” Well, maybe not. What if Clinton wins Pennsylvania by a bunch, takes Kentucky, West Virginia, and Indiana, and makes it close in North Carolina? That delegate lead could shrink. Not all the way to parity, but enough that when the Florida and Michigan delegates are counted their numbers could make the pledged delegate lead trivial.

So as long as Clinton can make it close, I don’t see Obama insisting that every vote count.

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Sectarian Strife–Amongst The Dems

A new poll shows that 20 percent of Barack Obama’s supporters would vote for John McCain if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination. Similarly, 19 percent of Hillary’s supporters would vote for McCain should Obama be running against him. And people thought the GOP was split!

This fracturing in the Democratic Party is yet another result of identity politics. Once people have chosen a candidate solely because of gender or race, there’s no ideological commonality to reconcile different voter blocs within the party. If a Hillary voter’s favorite Hillary policy is that she’s a woman, what need is there of Obama’s healthcare plan? The same dynamic holds on both sides. If an Obama supporter is solely concerned with his candidate’s racial composition, what sway does Hillary’s troop withdrawal hold?

The nasty tenor of the Democratic race is another factor, and here the blame lies squarely with the Clinton camp. From the start, Bill Clinton has missed no opportunity to demean Obama, either by diminishing his credentials or reducing him to a black phenomenon (by, say, comparing his South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson’s). Hillary picked up where Bill left off. She made too much of Obama’s relationship with Tony Rezko, and she shamefully played up any reference to race or cultural exoticism.

This is ugly stuff. At least the Republican crack-up-that-wasn’t was ideological. Rush Limbaugh and company pointed to a handful of policy decisions they felt rendered John McCain unfit. This meant there was room to patch things up. When dealing in degrees of political conservatism, one side can budge, the other can give, a few pledges can be made, and so on. Hillary Clinton can’t turn black and Barack Obama can’t become a woman. Even the most fervent “change”-peddler wouldn’t promise that much. (At least until Pennsylvania.)

A new poll shows that 20 percent of Barack Obama’s supporters would vote for John McCain if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination. Similarly, 19 percent of Hillary’s supporters would vote for McCain should Obama be running against him. And people thought the GOP was split!

This fracturing in the Democratic Party is yet another result of identity politics. Once people have chosen a candidate solely because of gender or race, there’s no ideological commonality to reconcile different voter blocs within the party. If a Hillary voter’s favorite Hillary policy is that she’s a woman, what need is there of Obama’s healthcare plan? The same dynamic holds on both sides. If an Obama supporter is solely concerned with his candidate’s racial composition, what sway does Hillary’s troop withdrawal hold?

The nasty tenor of the Democratic race is another factor, and here the blame lies squarely with the Clinton camp. From the start, Bill Clinton has missed no opportunity to demean Obama, either by diminishing his credentials or reducing him to a black phenomenon (by, say, comparing his South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson’s). Hillary picked up where Bill left off. She made too much of Obama’s relationship with Tony Rezko, and she shamefully played up any reference to race or cultural exoticism.

This is ugly stuff. At least the Republican crack-up-that-wasn’t was ideological. Rush Limbaugh and company pointed to a handful of policy decisions they felt rendered John McCain unfit. This meant there was room to patch things up. When dealing in degrees of political conservatism, one side can budge, the other can give, a few pledges can be made, and so on. Hillary Clinton can’t turn black and Barack Obama can’t become a woman. Even the most fervent “change”-peddler wouldn’t promise that much. (At least until Pennsylvania.)

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A Few Signs Of Fallout

Being tied in North Carolina and falling further behind in Pennsylvania are two small, post-Wright indications that things are not going swimmingly for Barack Obama. The Clinton camp is crowing about improved polling, although does not want to link it to Wright. And a savvy Democrat (h/t Ben Smith) or two noticed that Obama really did not explain what he was doing hanging out with a preacher spouting racist, anti-American venom. If Clinton keeps her lead, wins Pennsylvania by a big margin and comes close in North Carolina she will be crowing that the bottom has fallen out of Obama’s campaign. Should she win North Carolina, the media will be saying the same thing.

Being tied in North Carolina and falling further behind in Pennsylvania are two small, post-Wright indications that things are not going swimmingly for Barack Obama. The Clinton camp is crowing about improved polling, although does not want to link it to Wright. And a savvy Democrat (h/t Ben Smith) or two noticed that Obama really did not explain what he was doing hanging out with a preacher spouting racist, anti-American venom. If Clinton keeps her lead, wins Pennsylvania by a big margin and comes close in North Carolina she will be crowing that the bottom has fallen out of Obama’s campaign. Should she win North Carolina, the media will be saying the same thing.

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You Thought Hanging Chads Were A Mess

Unlike Michigan, which is inching toward a resolution of its delegate quandary, Florida is in a bit of a (dare I say it) quagmire. A mail-in re-vote has proved to be a nonstarter, an in-person re-vote is said to be too costly, and Senator Bill Nelson’s backup plan to award half of Florida’s delegates in proportion to the votes cast in January( i.e. Hillary Clinton wins but picks up 19 rather than 38 delegates) has been rejected by the Clinton camp. It is obvious why the latter is unacceptable for Clinton, especially post-Wright controversy: Clinton needs not just delegates, but new victories to demonstrate Barack Obama’s support is melting down.

In the old days, a savvy party chairman would step in and knock heads, but Howard Dean is no Bob Strauss (a point Ruth Marcus made on This Week). Dean’s shown little interest in intervening. And his suggestion that this can all be worked out by the DNC credentials committee would mean the nomination might be left undecided until August, with a gigantic rules fight dominating the Democratic Convention and the summer news.

So for Clinton either a full re-vote (perhaps funded by donors favorable to her campaign) or a quagmire leaves her alive to fight another day. For now the latter seems more likely.

Unlike Michigan, which is inching toward a resolution of its delegate quandary, Florida is in a bit of a (dare I say it) quagmire. A mail-in re-vote has proved to be a nonstarter, an in-person re-vote is said to be too costly, and Senator Bill Nelson’s backup plan to award half of Florida’s delegates in proportion to the votes cast in January( i.e. Hillary Clinton wins but picks up 19 rather than 38 delegates) has been rejected by the Clinton camp. It is obvious why the latter is unacceptable for Clinton, especially post-Wright controversy: Clinton needs not just delegates, but new victories to demonstrate Barack Obama’s support is melting down.

In the old days, a savvy party chairman would step in and knock heads, but Howard Dean is no Bob Strauss (a point Ruth Marcus made on This Week). Dean’s shown little interest in intervening. And his suggestion that this can all be worked out by the DNC credentials committee would mean the nomination might be left undecided until August, with a gigantic rules fight dominating the Democratic Convention and the summer news.

So for Clinton either a full re-vote (perhaps funded by donors favorable to her campaign) or a quagmire leaves her alive to fight another day. For now the latter seems more likely.

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What Do They Do Now?

Some intellectually honest liberals are starting to realize that the Reverend Wright problem is a significant one for Barack Obama. From The New Republic:

It’s also clear that the question of whether Obama was present for those particular sermons now in the news isn’t really the issue. Wright’s oft-iterated political worldview, which apparently includes the belief that the US created AIDS to keep the Third World in poverty, should be quite apparent to anyone who knows him as well as Obama does. . .This is really bad news for Obama, both in the primary and if he makes it to the general. He’s worked successfully to escape the image of the “angry black man,” and here he is linked to that image in the most emotionally searing way.

From Gerald Posner at Huffington Post(h/t Instapundit):

If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright’s post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there – by 9/11 they were there more than a decade – and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright’s views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright’s vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly. Barack – a sitting Illinois State Senator – would have been one of the first to hear about it. . . .

But Barack now claims he never heard about any of this until after he began his run for the presidency, in February, 20007.And even if Barack is correct – and I desperately want to believe him – then it still does not explain why, when he learned in 2007 of Wright’s fringe comments about 9/11 and other subjects, the campaign did not then disassociate itself from the Reverend. Wright was not removed from the campaign’s Spiritual Advisory Committee until two days ago, and it appears likely that nothing would have been done had this story not broken nationally.

Well, where does this leave the Democrats now? Had this happened in January the party would have different and better options. But here we are in March with a 100 plus delegate lead for Obama.

Possible but not likely: This all blows over in a day or so, none of this impacts Obama’s appeal among white voters, he sails to the nomination, and this is a non-issue in the general election since most voters don’t see that there’s much of anything wrong with what Reverend Wright said. Yeah, right. (This scenario becomes more likely only if the writers go back on strike for the rest of the year, and SNL and the late night talk shows shut down.)

Possible but more likely: Obama hangs on to his lead, but a revived Hillary Clinton (now emboldened that the Democratic establishment will abandon Obama) takes her fight to the bitter end. Obama eventually wins the nomination after a bloody fight. The 527′s run hundreds of ads in the general election with Obama’s picture and the text of Wright’s sermons.

Also possible: Obama’s poll numbers begin to tank, Clinton wins all the remaining primaries except North Carolina, the superdelegates throw in their lot with her and a lot of really angry Obama supporters make a very big stink about racial politics.

Everyone can choose their favorite scenario, but you can bet the damage is significant when even the Clinton camp figures it’s better to leave well enough alone.

Some intellectually honest liberals are starting to realize that the Reverend Wright problem is a significant one for Barack Obama. From The New Republic:

It’s also clear that the question of whether Obama was present for those particular sermons now in the news isn’t really the issue. Wright’s oft-iterated political worldview, which apparently includes the belief that the US created AIDS to keep the Third World in poverty, should be quite apparent to anyone who knows him as well as Obama does. . .This is really bad news for Obama, both in the primary and if he makes it to the general. He’s worked successfully to escape the image of the “angry black man,” and here he is linked to that image in the most emotionally searing way.

From Gerald Posner at Huffington Post(h/t Instapundit):

If the parishioners of Trinity United Church were not buzzing about Reverend Wright’s post 9/11 comments, then it could only seem to be because those comments were not out of character with what he preached from the pulpit many times before. In that case, I have to wonder if it is really possible for the Obamas to have been parishioners there – by 9/11 they were there more than a decade – and not to have known very clearly how radical Wright’s views were. If, on the other hand, parishioners were shocked by Wright’s vitriol only days after more than 3,000 Americans had been killed by terrorists, they would have talked about it incessantly. Barack – a sitting Illinois State Senator – would have been one of the first to hear about it. . . .

But Barack now claims he never heard about any of this until after he began his run for the presidency, in February, 20007.And even if Barack is correct – and I desperately want to believe him – then it still does not explain why, when he learned in 2007 of Wright’s fringe comments about 9/11 and other subjects, the campaign did not then disassociate itself from the Reverend. Wright was not removed from the campaign’s Spiritual Advisory Committee until two days ago, and it appears likely that nothing would have been done had this story not broken nationally.

Well, where does this leave the Democrats now? Had this happened in January the party would have different and better options. But here we are in March with a 100 plus delegate lead for Obama.

Possible but not likely: This all blows over in a day or so, none of this impacts Obama’s appeal among white voters, he sails to the nomination, and this is a non-issue in the general election since most voters don’t see that there’s much of anything wrong with what Reverend Wright said. Yeah, right. (This scenario becomes more likely only if the writers go back on strike for the rest of the year, and SNL and the late night talk shows shut down.)

Possible but more likely: Obama hangs on to his lead, but a revived Hillary Clinton (now emboldened that the Democratic establishment will abandon Obama) takes her fight to the bitter end. Obama eventually wins the nomination after a bloody fight. The 527′s run hundreds of ads in the general election with Obama’s picture and the text of Wright’s sermons.

Also possible: Obama’s poll numbers begin to tank, Clinton wins all the remaining primaries except North Carolina, the superdelegates throw in their lot with her and a lot of really angry Obama supporters make a very big stink about racial politics.

Everyone can choose their favorite scenario, but you can bet the damage is significant when even the Clinton camp figures it’s better to leave well enough alone.

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Re: Wrong on Wright

After a day of feigning that Rev. Wright’s comments were in essence no big deal or taken out of context, the Obama camp, late on a Friday afternoon, has put out a statement condemning Wright’s inflammatory language and contending such language was never used in Obama’s presence.

This is yet another instance in which Obama seems unwilling or unable to face the media personally when challenged on a tough issue. You may recall his “your eight questions are up” attitude when confronted with Tony Rezko questions. Does he think he will escape having to face reporters and answer questions personally?

And was he really not aware of Rev. Wright’s views and language? Even if he was never present during any offending sermons, it seems somewhat less than believable that Obama, before the last few days, was in the dark about his “mentor’s” views and never read news accounts describing his fiery language. You can bet the Clinton camp will be working the weekend on this one.

After a day of feigning that Rev. Wright’s comments were in essence no big deal or taken out of context, the Obama camp, late on a Friday afternoon, has put out a statement condemning Wright’s inflammatory language and contending such language was never used in Obama’s presence.

This is yet another instance in which Obama seems unwilling or unable to face the media personally when challenged on a tough issue. You may recall his “your eight questions are up” attitude when confronted with Tony Rezko questions. Does he think he will escape having to face reporters and answer questions personally?

And was he really not aware of Rev. Wright’s views and language? Even if he was never present during any offending sermons, it seems somewhat less than believable that Obama, before the last few days, was in the dark about his “mentor’s” views and never read news accounts describing his fiery language. You can bet the Clinton camp will be working the weekend on this one.

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Blame Canada

The flap over what Obama economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, said to Canadian officials about Obama’s newfound fondness for protectionism just worsened. The Obama camp repeatedly denied any comments were made indicating that the Canadians should not worry about Obama’s talk of backing out of NAFTA. (What were they telling them, then–go ahead and start worrying?) A memo from the Canadian official documenting the call included this:

Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.

Goolsbee’s denials were classic non-denials: he claimed the statement was not an exact quote and that it was a “ham-handed” way of charachterizing his comments. But there is no flat-out denial from Goolsbee on the substance of the remarks. This plays into the “say one thing and do another” charge that Hillary Clinton has been raising. It may be too little and too late, but I expected Clinton to drive a truck through this opening. And sure enough, a press release from the Clinton camp just hit my in-box:

I don’t think people should come to Ohio and you both give speeches that are very critical of NAFTA and you send out misleading and false information about my positions regarding NAFTA and then we find out that your chief economic advisor has gone to a foreign government and basically done the old wink-wink, don’t pay any attention this is just political rhetoric.

The flap over what Obama economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, said to Canadian officials about Obama’s newfound fondness for protectionism just worsened. The Obama camp repeatedly denied any comments were made indicating that the Canadians should not worry about Obama’s talk of backing out of NAFTA. (What were they telling them, then–go ahead and start worrying?) A memo from the Canadian official documenting the call included this:

Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.

Goolsbee’s denials were classic non-denials: he claimed the statement was not an exact quote and that it was a “ham-handed” way of charachterizing his comments. But there is no flat-out denial from Goolsbee on the substance of the remarks. This plays into the “say one thing and do another” charge that Hillary Clinton has been raising. It may be too little and too late, but I expected Clinton to drive a truck through this opening. And sure enough, a press release from the Clinton camp just hit my in-box:

I don’t think people should come to Ohio and you both give speeches that are very critical of NAFTA and you send out misleading and false information about my positions regarding NAFTA and then we find out that your chief economic advisor has gone to a foreign government and basically done the old wink-wink, don’t pay any attention this is just political rhetoric.

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The Last Shot

Hillary Clinton has a week to save her campaign, if it is salvageable. (According to the latest polls, her national numbers have plummeted and her Texas lead is gone.) Yesterday’s Drudge costume story feeding frenzy was another example of what Jon Stewart has described as the “six-year-old soccer style” of media coverage: there goes the ball, now everyone swarm. (I will assume for the moment that the Clinton camp has not gone utterly insane and that a low level staffer forwarded the photo to someone who forwarded it to the master of self-promotion, Matt Drudge.) The result was that Clinton’s set-up speech (the message being Barack Obama is weak and inexperienced) for the debate was lost in the shuffle.

So what does she do now? Another debate filled with “Oh, there really is very little difference on this issue between me and Barack” will get her nowhere. Maybe that is where she is content to go. But then why give the speech and raise the issue of Obama’s unreadiness to be commander-in-chief? My guess is that she is going to give it one last shot to throw him off his game and give voters second thoughts about the man who wants to start “penciling in the leaders of Iran or North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba on the presidential calendar without preconditions.”

Hillary Clinton has a week to save her campaign, if it is salvageable. (According to the latest polls, her national numbers have plummeted and her Texas lead is gone.) Yesterday’s Drudge costume story feeding frenzy was another example of what Jon Stewart has described as the “six-year-old soccer style” of media coverage: there goes the ball, now everyone swarm. (I will assume for the moment that the Clinton camp has not gone utterly insane and that a low level staffer forwarded the photo to someone who forwarded it to the master of self-promotion, Matt Drudge.) The result was that Clinton’s set-up speech (the message being Barack Obama is weak and inexperienced) for the debate was lost in the shuffle.

So what does she do now? Another debate filled with “Oh, there really is very little difference on this issue between me and Barack” will get her nowhere. Maybe that is where she is content to go. But then why give the speech and raise the issue of Obama’s unreadiness to be commander-in-chief? My guess is that she is going to give it one last shot to throw him off his game and give voters second thoughts about the man who wants to start “penciling in the leaders of Iran or North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba on the presidential calendar without preconditions.”

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The Clinton Failure of Imagination

Examiner.com reports that yesterday Bill Clilnton tried to convince a room of 600 Virginia college students that Barack Obama’s candidacy is nothing but “smoke and mirrors.” Sounds more like Obama’s high school years to me, but the more important detail is that while the Clintons have been unable to make this charge (Obama’s lack of substance) work for them, they still continue to hammer it home.

Bill Clinton has literally lost his voice decrying the “fairytale” aspects of Obama’s campaign and it’s merely made the former President look bitter. As Obama’s numbers climbed, Team Clinton never found a new narrative to work with. College-age voters seem least concerned with the make-believe nature of Obama’s pitch. The fact that on this primary day, Bill is trying to convince students of Obama’s lack of substance speaks to a sizable failure of imagination in the Clinton camp. Many Obama voters have signalled that they’re okay with fantasy. Hillary should spend more time offering them a better one.

Examiner.com reports that yesterday Bill Clilnton tried to convince a room of 600 Virginia college students that Barack Obama’s candidacy is nothing but “smoke and mirrors.” Sounds more like Obama’s high school years to me, but the more important detail is that while the Clintons have been unable to make this charge (Obama’s lack of substance) work for them, they still continue to hammer it home.

Bill Clinton has literally lost his voice decrying the “fairytale” aspects of Obama’s campaign and it’s merely made the former President look bitter. As Obama’s numbers climbed, Team Clinton never found a new narrative to work with. College-age voters seem least concerned with the make-believe nature of Obama’s pitch. The fact that on this primary day, Bill is trying to convince students of Obama’s lack of substance speaks to a sizable failure of imagination in the Clinton camp. Many Obama voters have signalled that they’re okay with fantasy. Hillary should spend more time offering them a better one.

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Of Campaigns and Crises

In at least one important sense, Barack Obama really does represent a new breed of politician, and Hillary Clinton an old one: campaigning.

While Hillary has focused on a time-tested divide-and-conquer battle plan, Obama is holding a nationwide group hug. In debates, Hillary cites facts and figures to support her healthcare and immigration propositions, whereas Obama tends to deflect challenges with personal stories and sweeping judgments. Hillary’s invitation to have “conversations” with the electorate, though broadcast on the Internet, feels as predictably manipulative as a Lifetime movie; Obama’s most notable videos aren’t even his own, but rather the work of creative supporters spread organically in true viral fashion. If the medium is the message, Obama is running a practically post-modern campaign.

The ease with which Obama has moved into each successive phase of the primary season has freed him up to spot and douse fires before they gain attention. Whether it’s the fictional Islamist charge or the Rezko “scandal” or his (truly scandalous) drivers-license-for-illegals position, forward momentum pulls him through scot-free. The Clinton camp is so hooked on following their game plan that no one sees the speed-bumps coming or even senses them once the car has stopped. By the time she reined her husband in, for example, it was clear to the rest of us that he’d done formidable damage. So it’s no surprise that Hillary’s campaign crisis came to her as. . . a surprise.

Now, Obama may have already beaten Hillary to the next punch: Iraq. If she couldn’t recognize a crisis among her own people, it’s doubtful she sees the one in Mesopotamia. I’m referring to the crisis suffered by our enemy. Documents recently seized by U.S. forces in Iraq find al Qaeda officials in a fit over their losses at the hands of Iraqi Sunnis and U.S. forces. Interestingly, in a CBS interview with Steve Kroft, Obama seems to be backing off the timetable approach to troop withdrawal:

Kroft: And you pull out according to that time table, regardless of the situation? Even if there’s serious sectarian violence?.

Obama: No, I always reserve as commander in chief, the right to assess the situation.

Meanwhile, Hillary is stuck trying to satisfy pre-surge anxiety by (insincerely) offering up proposed presidential declarations demanding an end to the war. By the time she realizes she’s read the public wrongly on this one, it may very well be too late.

In at least one important sense, Barack Obama really does represent a new breed of politician, and Hillary Clinton an old one: campaigning.

While Hillary has focused on a time-tested divide-and-conquer battle plan, Obama is holding a nationwide group hug. In debates, Hillary cites facts and figures to support her healthcare and immigration propositions, whereas Obama tends to deflect challenges with personal stories and sweeping judgments. Hillary’s invitation to have “conversations” with the electorate, though broadcast on the Internet, feels as predictably manipulative as a Lifetime movie; Obama’s most notable videos aren’t even his own, but rather the work of creative supporters spread organically in true viral fashion. If the medium is the message, Obama is running a practically post-modern campaign.

The ease with which Obama has moved into each successive phase of the primary season has freed him up to spot and douse fires before they gain attention. Whether it’s the fictional Islamist charge or the Rezko “scandal” or his (truly scandalous) drivers-license-for-illegals position, forward momentum pulls him through scot-free. The Clinton camp is so hooked on following their game plan that no one sees the speed-bumps coming or even senses them once the car has stopped. By the time she reined her husband in, for example, it was clear to the rest of us that he’d done formidable damage. So it’s no surprise that Hillary’s campaign crisis came to her as. . . a surprise.

Now, Obama may have already beaten Hillary to the next punch: Iraq. If she couldn’t recognize a crisis among her own people, it’s doubtful she sees the one in Mesopotamia. I’m referring to the crisis suffered by our enemy. Documents recently seized by U.S. forces in Iraq find al Qaeda officials in a fit over their losses at the hands of Iraqi Sunnis and U.S. forces. Interestingly, in a CBS interview with Steve Kroft, Obama seems to be backing off the timetable approach to troop withdrawal:

Kroft: And you pull out according to that time table, regardless of the situation? Even if there’s serious sectarian violence?.

Obama: No, I always reserve as commander in chief, the right to assess the situation.

Meanwhile, Hillary is stuck trying to satisfy pre-surge anxiety by (insincerely) offering up proposed presidential declarations demanding an end to the war. By the time she realizes she’s read the public wrongly on this one, it may very well be too late.

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Mr. Obama Regrets

Twice in the first half hour of the Democratic debate in Nevada, Barack Obama has used the word “regret” about controversial incidents in the past couple of weeks — first, regretting his campaign suggested remarks by the Clinton camp were racist, and second, regretting he said Hillary Clinton was only likable enough. Kind of nice. Ever notice politicians never apologize? Maybe they should.

Twice in the first half hour of the Democratic debate in Nevada, Barack Obama has used the word “regret” about controversial incidents in the past couple of weeks — first, regretting his campaign suggested remarks by the Clinton camp were racist, and second, regretting he said Hillary Clinton was only likable enough. Kind of nice. Ever notice politicians never apologize? Maybe they should.

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Hillary and Obama Go Nuclear

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, two doves posing as hawks, are fighting a phony war. Who is winning?

Obama, on the defensive on account of his muddled idea last week of meeting foreign dictators without preconditions, precipitated the latest skirmish by calling for the possible use of U.S. troops to clean out terrorist enclaves in Waziristan. But then, in response to a question, he ruled out use of the most powerful weapon in the American arsenal.

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Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, two doves posing as hawks, are fighting a phony war. Who is winning?

Obama, on the defensive on account of his muddled idea last week of meeting foreign dictators without preconditions, precipitated the latest skirmish by calling for the possible use of U.S. troops to clean out terrorist enclaves in Waziristan. But then, in response to a question, he ruled out use of the most powerful weapon in the American arsenal.

Here are his exact words, courtesy of the New York Times:

“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” he said, pausing before he added, “involving civilians.”

But then he quickly said: “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”

Later in an interview on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama, of Illinois, sought to clarify the remark about nuclear weapons, saying he was asked whether he would “use nuclear weapons to pursue al Qaeda.”

“I said no one is talking about nuclear weapons,” Mr. Obama said. “I found it was a little bit of an off-the-wall question.”

Hillary Clinton, hawk talons extended, immediately pounced, saying “I think that Presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. Presidents, since the cold war, have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace. And I don’t believe that any President should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.”

Hillary has won this round so far, on both style and substance. Even if there are no plausible scenarios in which nuclear weapons might be used in Pakistan, American policy should remain ambiguous, as it has been since the dawn of the nuclear era.

Not that there haven’t been injurious exceptions. Ironically, some of the most serious ones come from the Clinton camp, and from Bill Clinton himself.

Appearing on Meet the Press in 1994, Clinton’s second Secretary of Defense, William Perry, said that he could not “envision any circumstances in which the use of nuclear weapons would be a reasonable or prudent military action” in a Korean conflict.

This was a damaging departure from longstanding U.S. policy. The United States signed a Mutual Defense Treaty with South Korea in 1953, and it has long been interpreted to include “continuation of the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.”

If Perry’s statement did not embolden North Korea, by in effect folding up the nuclear umbrella, it almost certainly caused considerable anxiety in South Korea. And the harm here is clear, for what is vitally important but little understood is that the stated American willingness to use nuclear weapons in defense of our allies is the lynchpin of our nuclear non-proliferation policy.

Countries that rely on America for protection—like South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, to take the critical Asian ones—have less reason to develop nuclear weapons of their own in direct proportion to their confidence that the U.S. will honor its promises to go to the max in their defense.

Also of relevance in understanding the Hillary-Obama phony war, because Hillary Clinton’s chief foreign-policy adviser is her husband, and because most of what she knows about foreign policy she learned during his two terms in office, is Bill Clinton’s own misformulated forays into nuclear doctrine.

Appearing on the Charlie Rose Show in June 2004, Clinton scored the Bush administration for alleged revisions in the American nuclear posture: “We have never said we would use nuclear weapons first; now we’re out there trying to develop small-scale nuclear weapons for battlefield use. . . . It’s a very troubling development to me.”

The only truly troubling development here is the ignorance displayed by a former President of the United States. Ever since the formation of the NATO Alliance, the United States has indeed stated its willingness to use nuclear weapons first in defense of our allies.

The policy of the Clinton administration itself was to threaten to use nuclear weapons first in retaliation for a biological or chemical attack (as well as a nuclear one) on our allies. Here is the congressional testimony of Walter Slocombe, Clinton’s Under Secretary of Defense, in 2000: “we have made clear that any use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States or our forces or our allies would meet with a prompt and overwhelming response from which no weapon in the American military arsenal would be excluded.” John Deutch, in 1994 serving as a Deputy Secretary of Defense, put it more simply in the Clinton administration’s much discussed Nuclear Posture Review: “We have not adopted a no-first-use pledge.”

Also contrary to Bill Clinton, the United States has had “small-scale nuclear weapons for battlefield use” beginning in the 1950’s and they became a major part of our arsenal by the 1960’s. Like previous annual Pentagon reports on the American defense posture, the one that appeared in Clinton’s final year in office stated unequivocally that “the United States must maintain survivable strategic forces of sufficient size and diversity–as well as . . . theater nuclear weapons . . . to deter potentially hostile foreign leaders with access to weapons of mass destruction.

Although one cannot hang Hillary for the sins of Bill, this little history is worth recalling as we watch the continuing phony war between the two neo-tough Democratic contenders.

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