Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Warning: This Is A Horserace Post

My apologies for not posting anything new these past couple weeks. As with most of you, I’ve been following the “horserace.” Typically, I prefer to let others do horserace posts and focus on policy issues or insights about our society. Besides, there are plenty of quality horserace-oriented bloggers if that’s what you’re into as well as the punditocracy. But the stakes in the Clinton/Obama horserace are enormous and progressives are understandably preoccupied with it.

Two contrasting perspectives on the campaign today come from the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne and one of my favorite bloggers, Booman. Dionne writes,
“For all Democrats, the worst thing that has happened since January is the tarnishing of the Clinton brand. Clinton haters: Don't laugh. The truth is that when this whole thing began, the vast majority of Democrats -- including Obama supporters -- and a fair number of independents had largely positive views of Bill Clinton's record and Hillary Clinton's merits.”
In response Booman writes,
“To my way of thinking, the health and future of the Democratic Party (and, therefore, the nation) actually depends on the Clinton legacy being discredited and their brand tarnished. It's nice, and valuable, for a party to have a president in the somewhat recent past that they can point to as a positive example. For the Republicans, the cult of Ronald Reagan is more than an example; it is a recruitment strength and an ideological rallying cry. But Ronald Reagan didn't get impeached. Ronald Reagan didn't preside over huge congressional losses for his party. Ronald Reagan's presidency was validated by the election of his vice-president as a successor, not rejected in favor of a chimpanzee.

But more to the point, Obama keeps saying that he wants 'to change the mindset that got us into the war' in Iraq. A prerequisite for that, is that Democrats revise their opinion of Clinton's foreign policy. The Clintons spent the 1990's feeding us trumped up intelligence about the dangers of Saddam Hussein as a way to maintain domestic and international support for the sanctions, for an aborted coup attempt in 1996, for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, and for the bombing of Iraq at various points throughout the decade. The Bushies then took that falsified intelligence and used it to justify the invasion and five-year occupation of Iraq. ‘"Even the Clinton administration thought he had WMD.’

Domestic affairs are a more mixed bag. Clinton did cut through some ossified liberal dogma, but the overall effect of his New Democrat policies was to complete the destruction of the party in the South, badly weaken the party in the Plains states and Interior West, and freeze the Democratic momentum in the suburbs. The Clinton presidency was partly successful because of a booming economy and relative peace, but we should never forget that he squandered the peace dividend and kept the country on a permanent war-budget footing.”
Booman is also one of many bloggers and growing chorus of Democrats agitating for Clinton to end her campaign. I definitely agree with Booman’s assessment of the Clinton brand and their culpability on foreign policy. Furthermore, I agree with progressive bloggers such as Booman that the Clinton campaign has been a graceless and joyless exercise of bottom feeding.

Clinton’s rhetorical grenades and race baiting grates Obama supporters. Her negative tone is especially off putting because Clinton doesn’t have a realistic shot at the nomination anyway. Hell, at one point Clinton even claimed McCain was qualified to be commander and chief and implied that Obama wasn't. Is she a Democrat or John McCain’s running mate?

Nonetheless, I hope Clinton continues in the race. In my opinion, Democrats are overly skittish about blowback this November from the drama of the primaries. This has been healthy for the Democratic Party’s eventual nominee. Obama needed to weather some adversity and be tested by a win at all costs opponent.

As the cliché goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and Obama’s national standing is fine. I’m not troubled by the tightness between Obama and McCain right now. Once he becomes the official standard bearer Obama will be in a very strong position to compete with McCain for independent voters. Most independents don’t want to elect a third Republican term.

In the meantime, the Clinton-Obama race has contributed to needed party building in every region. That is an essential component to Howard Dean’s fifty-state strategy which the Obama campaign organization has embraced while the Clintonites play with an outdated and static map. Even better, Obama has been compelled to campaign for older downscale working class voters because of the upcoming Pennsylvania primary. This is a constituency he’ll need to persuade this November anyway. So, as an Obama supporter I have no problem with the contest continuing. Competition and rigorous debate is good.

My problem is that the debate has not been rigorous enough about high stakes issues such as global warming, addressing national poverty and standing up for civil liberties. Instead both candidates are wrapped up in their intense personal drama. It seems Obama wants to elevate the conversation as he did with his response to the Reverend Wright controversy. But neither the media, wealthy corporatist Democratic Party donors or Senator Clinton herself believe an elevated debate is in their interest. Too often the Obama campaign has taken Clinton's bottom feeding bait.

At this point Senator Obama should ignore Senator Clinton and not allow her campaign to debase his message. It’s counter-intuitive to ignore a rival candidate’s rhetorical bombast. But Senator Clinton has crossed the George W. Bush credibility threshold in recent days. Everything she says is viewed through the prism of suspicion and disbelief. Hence, her critique of Obama is no longer effective. Obama therefore has the luxury to tweak his general election message and avoid further alienating Clinton’s supporters.

Clinton can best serve her own legacy, the party and nation if she aims for a higher tone, pushes Obama on issues such as healthcare as she has throughout the campaign and the metastasizing credit crisis. Unfortunately, she's chosen bottom feeding over honor.

Can you just imagine what position Clinton would be in today if she had seized the moment following the Reverent Wright controversy in a positive way? Obama was struggling before delivering his tour de force and Clinton had an opportunity to fill the void. But she was cautious and let the moment pass. Then following Clinton’s own controversy about her so-called dangerous mission in Bosnia, she opted to exploit white resentment and fear. Sadly, those ends justify the means tactics is a window into the kind of president she would be. Thankfully though, Clinton has strengthened and enhanced Obama's candidacy in spite of her cynicism.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I am a conservative as the name of my blog suggests. I love the civil war between Obama and Clinton. I don't like either candidate for various reasons, but I actually am beginning to feel sorry for Obama. Obama bottom feeds too. He loves to tout McCain for his 100 year comment taking it completely out of context, and he knows it.

I have written two recent pieces on the economy.


and on Barack Obama and his church


I am very familiar with the concept of liberation theology