A Cautious Man
June 08, 2008
Down Here It’s Just Winners And Losers
I watched Senator Clinton’s speech yesterday with the Cautious Daughter, who has just finished her first year of college. While the Cautious Wife has been very much a Clinton fan (we have been avoiding political discussions in the Cautious Household), my peace-marching daughter did not seem as enamored of her. In watching the speech, she commented that Senator Clinton seemed to have spent a lot of time talking about herself. I replied that I thought her speech was a good blend of looking back at what she had accomplished, and looking forward to electing a Democratic President in November.

I deliberately referred to the Cautious Daughter’s attendance at the peace march last fall, because I think that the Iraq War is a big reason why Senator Clinton is not going to be the nominee. What if she had joined then-Senator Corzine, then-Congresman Menendez, and Senators Kennedy, Boxer, Reid, Feingold, Wellstone, Levin, Leahy, etc. in voting against the Iraq War resolution in 2002? Could Senator Obama have gained any traction in his campaign, if he did not have that significant difference between himself and Senator Clinton? Even with his clearly better organizational efforts in the caucus states, there may not have been a viable Obama campaign. He may not have won Iowa, and therefore the early primaries would have looked completely different.

I think what did in Senator Clinton was compromise – that is, compromising with her own principles. She compromised when she voted for the Iraq War, and later excuses didn’t cure the fact that it enabled President Bush to invade the following Spring, even though the inspectors had in the meantime returned to Iraq. And, she compromised in how she conducted her campaign. She engaged in the divisive talk about religion, criticizing the people of Trinity UCC and going over the top in using Senator Obama’s poor choice of words (the “bitter”, “guns” and “religion” comment). She engaged in the divisive talk about race, stressing how she would win the “hard working” Americans, the “white Americans”. And she compromised in acting like a Republican, embracing the notion that we’re electing a “Commander in Chief”, as if the President was some kind of Generalissimo.

The back page of the New York Times “Week in Review” section has a dozen essays under the title “What Went Wrong. It includes Mark Penn whining that “The Problem Wasn’t the Message — It Was the Money”. In that article, he demonstrates the attitude which was fatal for the Clinton campaign, in my humble opinion: “Even schoolchildren got the message that Mrs. Clinton was ready to be president on Day One. As a result of her campaigning and ads, people saw her as a strong commander in chief, a good steward of the economy and a champion for people who needed one.” He should face facts - they had plenty of money, but they had the wrong strategy, and they presented their candidate in the wrong way.

A news article which is also in the Times today, entitled “The Long Road to a Clinton Exit”, shows how badly they were handling things, and what Mr. Penn really meant with that “on Day One” talk –

Mr. Penn shaped a message that she was “ready to lead” a nation “ready for change,” talking in early meetings about her need to spark a “movement” and dismissing Mr. Obama as a glamorous personality who would not connect with working-class voters the way she could, campaign officials said. “He may be the J.F.K. in the race,” Mr. Penn told Mrs. Clinton last year, according to an insider, “but you are the Bobby.”

Backed by Bill Clinton, Mr. Penn pushed for aggressive attacks on Mr. Obama, something other advisers resisted. At one point, Mr. Penn argued that Mrs. Clinton should find subtle ways to exploit what he called Mr. Obama’s “lack of American roots,” referring to his Kenyan father and his childhood years in Indonesia and even the offshore state of Hawaii, the campaign officials said. Mr. Penn recommended that Mrs. Clinton own the word “American” — she should talk about the “American century” and her “American Strategic Energy Fund,” and so forth. She should add flag symbols to her logo, he suggested.

My mom reminded me earlier today that President Clinton has been known to call someone a “scumbag” – I believe that word applies to Mr. Penn. That portrait of the campaign is consistent with what Congressman Rob Andrews said the other day –

Rep. Rob Andrews, who supported Hillary Clinton throughout the primary season, disclosed he received a phone call shortly before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary from a top member of Clinton's organization and that the caller explicitly discussed a strategy of winning Jewish voters by exploiting tensions between Jews and African-Americans.

"There have been signals coming out of the Clinton campaign that have racial overtones that indeed disturb me," Andrews said at his campaign headquarters in Cherry Hill Tuesday night after he lost his bid for the U.S. Senate nomination. "Frankly, I had a private conversation with a high-ranking person in the campaign ... that used a racial line of argument that I found very disconcerting. It was extremely disconcerting given the rank of this person. It was very disturbing."

As Carl Bernstein wrote, as part of that same “What Went Wrong” collection –

Faced with unanticipated adversity, Hillary and Bill Clinton took the low road too often, and voters noticed. So did the party leadership and superdelegates, who abandoned her and the idea of a Clinton Restoration.

Barack Obama’s candidacy was the Clintons’ worst nightmare. They had dreamed of the day when an African-American could be elected president. But they never anticipated it would happen on their watch and were utterly confounded.

I think the party decided that compromising with darker forces – war, religious intolerance, and racial bigotry – was not a criterion on which the next Democratic President would be nominated.



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