Going Forward

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Democratic Party, elections

On a certain well-known blogger-politico listserv recently there was a long and sometimes acrimonious thread on Barack Obama’s alleged “cult of personality.” It was coming from the conceit that Clinton supporters are rational and knowledgeable and Obama supporters are brainwashed culties. Obama supporters, the argument went, don’t understand the Real World and can’t be trusted to support Clinton when Her Inevitable Majesty gets the nomination.

But some of us — a majority, actually — argued that it was the Clintonistas, not the Obamaniacs, who need the reality check. Whether we are honest enough to admit it or not, we’re all thinking with our guts these days. Clinton supporters, IMO, have wrapped their candidate in a mantle of competence and accomplishment that I just plain don’t see. Going back to the way she handled the 1993 health care proposal, and continuing through to her support of the Iraq War resolution, she has a history of having to be colossally wrong before she can get things right.

There are a number of news stories out now that indicate the Clinton campaign has been grossly mismanaged, while Obama’s has been running along like a well-oiled machine. See in particular Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic, here and here, and Michelle Cottle at The New Republic, here. From beginning to end, the Clinton campaign has been a story of mistakes in judgment and mismanagement of resources.

Yet she argues she’d be the better manager of the nation’s business. I say results speak louder than words.

Another argument I’ve seen made against Obama is that, somehow, he’ll be another George Bush because he’s running on personality and charisma rather than on policy proposals. It’s true that his speeches do not tend to be policy wonk laundry lists, as Clinton’s tend to be, but you can find quite a lot of substance if you check out the issues section of his campaign site.

As Matt Yglesias wrote,

One anti-Obama meme that I notice has gotten a lot of support even among people sympathetic to his cause is the notion that he’s somehow shallow or insufficiently well-versed in policy matters. Obviously, I can’t crawl into either candidate’s brain and take a look around, but this idea doesn’t seem to me to be especially well-supported by the evidence. Instead, it seems to draw support from a kind of implicit Law of Conservation of Virtues — the pretty girl can’t be smart, the not-so-good-looking guy must be really nice — that has people notice that Clinton is well-versed in policy but isn’t a charismatic figure, and Obama is charismatic so it “must” be that he’s not well-versed in policy. He’s cool and she’s the nerd.

This suits the media’s taste for parallels and lazy narratives into which events can be squeezed. But there’s really not much basis for it.

In today’s New York Times, Chris Suellentrop writes that the Clintons have an obsession with discretion and loyalty.

Remember that GQ article about Hillary Clinton that the Clinton campaign successfully scuttled by threatening to restrict access to Bill Clinton for another planned piece? (Here’s Ben Smith’s Politico report on the controversy for the forgetful.) The author of the scuttled article was Joshua Green, a senior editor for The Atlantic, who now says it “focused on the inner workings of Clinton’s presidential campaign” and in particular on the “controversial role” of Patti Solis Doyle, the campaign manager whom Mrs. Clinton recently replaced.

“Clinton chose her to manage the presidential campaign for reasons that should now be obvious: above all, Clinton prizes loyalty and discipline, and Solis Doyle demonstrated both traits, if little else,” Green writes in an online article at The Atlantic. “This suggests to me that for all the emphasis Clinton has placed on executive leadership in this campaign, her own approach is a lot closer to the current president’s than her supporters might like to admit.”

Joshua Green argues that Clinton’s campaign from the start was hamstrung by arrogance.

Such arrogance led directly to the idea that Clinton could simply project an air of inevitability and be assured her party’s nomination. If she wins—as she very well might—it will be in spite of her original approach. As one former Clinton staffer put it to me last spring: “There was an assumption that if you were a major donor and wanted to be an ambassador, go to state dinners with the queen—unless you were an outright fool, you were going to go with Hillary, whether you liked her or not. The attitude was ‘Where else are they going to go?’”

The Clintons were slow to take Barack Obama seriously, and they’ve been playing catch up ever since. Green also tells the tale that Senator Clinton has surrounded herself with long-time associates who are more loyal than they are competent. Recent shakeups in her campaign staff probably should have happened months ago.

I’m not suggesting that a President Hillary Clinton would turn out to be George Bush III. But if she were to run her administration the same way she has run her campaign … well, she might fall short of the degree of transparency and accountability most of us want. (See also Pam Spalding.)

After yesterday’s primaries, I understand that it has become mathematically unlikely that Clinton will be the nominee. It’s not over yet, and she could still pull it out, but the odds are growing against it.

So, can we trust the Clinton supporters to rally behind Obama, if he’s the nominee?

As I posted last night, there’s a new Pew Research poll out that shows twice as many Obama supporters have a favorable, rather than an unfavorable, impression of Clinton (62% vs. 31%). By the same two-to-one margin (60%-30%), Clinton supporters express favorable opinions of Obama. So this idea that Obama supporters would not support Clinton is just plain hysteria on the part of those rational and sensible Clinton supporters.

At this point I don’t mind if the nomination campaign goes on a bit longer. Let the chips fall where the chips are gonna fall. The longer there are two Dem contenders, the less time the wingnuts will have to organize a swift boat campaign against the nominee. I will support the Dem nominee, whoever wins. But, yeah, I’m rooting for Obama.

Update: See Buzzflash, “Obama and Clinton: Hillary’s Campaign Had No Plan ‘B’“:

First, the Clinton campaign hierarchy consists of insiders from the ’90s who have not adapted to changing campaign tactics. They ran with an “inevitability Rose Garden” strategy and had no plan “B.” Since February 5, when Hillary had said it would all be “wrapped up,” they have been frantically improvising. Obama risked his campaign on a consistent and unwavering message; the Clinton campaign has tried on several of them, discarding them when they didn’t have resonance.

In short, the Obama narrative ended up beating — as of now — the Clinton narrative. As more people are exposed to the Obama narrative — whether you are turned on by it or not — more people have backed him. The Clinton narrative has been choppy and ad hoc since Super Tuesday, and has paid a price for it.

Secondly, one of the major themes of the Clinton campaign has been that the New York Senator is “battle-tested” and better prepared to take on McCain and the right wing attacks. But that has been turned on its head by the fact that a junior Senator from Illinois has ended up putting the Clinton campaign on the ropes. It’s hard to argue that you can demolish John McCain when you can’t decisively defeat an opponent who came from nowhere, with no national name recognition, in your own party’s primary.

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. DoubleCinco  •  Feb 13, 2008 @10:33 am

    In re: the Clinton gang’s cult assertion (all of us actually, but especially authoritarians and the followers of authoritarians)–from Wikipedia:

    Projective Identification refers to a psychological process in which one person projects a thought, belief or emotion to a second person. What is projected is most often an intolerable, painful, or dangerous idea or belief about the self that the first person cannot accept (i.e. “I have behaved wrongly” or “I have a sexual feeling towards ….” ).

  2. Steve M.  •  Feb 13, 2008 @11:01 am

    Re “no Plan B”: Also see this New York Observer article.

  3. bruce  •  Feb 13, 2008 @11:24 am

    I believe people have seen that Obama’s campaign has been consistent and well-run; not that they care about the campaign management, but he has been able to focus his message on the things he’s trying to say, not being distracted by the b.s. of funding shortfalls or management problems. Those who say he’s not offered any substance have not listened to his 50-minute stump speech, filled with details on tax cuts, tuition credits, cap and trade, etc. Yglesias is right that the media can’t absorb a narrative that goes beyond yin and yang…

    Hillary IS far too insular, defensive, and opaque about…everything. If that sounds an awful lot like GW Bush, think about how that will play out in her presidency. Do people really want another president who is incapable of admitting mistakes or even accepting a negative result? (witness the way she ignored last night’s results completely).

    I’d vote for Hillary in a heartbeat in the general, but Obama is by far my preferred choice.

  4. Swami  •  Feb 13, 2008 @12:22 pm

    I’m not an Obama cultie..For me, I just see Obama as my strongest hope to heal our nation and feel like I matter. Bush and his administration has so alienated me from my government that it has effected my love for America. There is no candidate out there aside from Obama who speaks to my need. Maybe I am an emotional sap, but when Obama speaks of “Scooter Libby justice”, I am able to see that concept far beyond Scooter Libby and his up coming pardon..I see it as the embodiment in part of the separation between me and my country. The arrogance, the deceit,the lies, the condescension, the insult to my intelligence, and the aspersions to my patriotism and love of country for wanting accountability.

    A simple truth is that you can’t correct a problem until you acknowledge there is a problem.. that’s the first step and Obama has taken it.

  5. Lynne  •  Feb 13, 2008 @12:30 pm

    “At this point I don’t mind if the nomination campaign goes on a bit longer. Let the chips fall where the chips are gonna fall. The longer there are two Dem contenders, the less time the wingnuts will have to organize a swift boat campaign against the nominee. I will support the Dem nominee, whoever wins. But, yeah, I’m rooting for Obama. ”

    I am as yet undecided but agree with you totally in this.

  6. joanr16  •  Feb 13, 2008 @1:10 pm

    I suspect Hillary & company had no “Plan B” because they believed she is owed the presidency. Owed– because she put up with Bill’s humiliating shenanigans; because she tried so hard to get us universal health care; because she was the smartest and most activist First Lady since Eleanor R., and we just didn’t appreciate her enough.

    Of course, all that stuff dates back to the 1990s. But we’ve had eight years of hell since the 1990s ended. Hillary’s sense of entitlement to the presidency seems absurd now, and her politics old and stale.

  7. Bonnie  •  Feb 13, 2008 @1:53 pm

    “the Clinton campaign has been that the New York Senator is “battle-tested” and better prepared to take on McCain and the right wing attacks”

    I think that is possibly a true statement; however, the campaign was not prepared to take on a candidate with substance, charm, intelligence, and civility.

    I agree with the above that the longer we have two candidates fighting it out, the better to keep that rightwing sleaze machine with the inevitable assist from the M$M for going for the juggular of one candidate. I, too, will vote for whomever wins the nomination; but, I am still pulling for John Edwards.

  8. uncledad  •  Feb 13, 2008 @2:23 pm

    The fact that Hillary has fallen behind in this primary (given all the political and tactical advantage she had initially) suggests to me that she will lose the general if she is the nominee. As maha suggests if she can’t manage a primary fight how will she win in the general? The more she is out on the stump the less people like her. The more she talks the less people listen. To me the unifying message to liberals and moderates that will win this election is ending the misadventure in Iraq. Hillary has no credibility on this subject given her vote to give BuShco the green light in the first place.

  9. lucidity  •  Feb 13, 2008 @3:00 pm

    It’s easy here in Political Junkie Land to think that all voters make their decisions based on candidates’ positions and records like we do. But most voters don’t vote with their heads; they vote with their emotions, and they vote for the candidate they find most likeable. Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Bush Jr. all came across as likeable, even charismatic. Dukakis, Dole, Gore, and Kerry did not. Both Obama and Clinton are smart and would make fine presidents. But Obama’s “cult of personality” is a bonus, not a defect. If voters can be swayed by a rock-star personality, I say let’s give ’em a rock star.

  10. felicity  •  Feb 13, 2008 @4:16 pm

    Hillary’s ‘substance’ speeches, her laundry-list of all she will make happen when in office, more than suggests that, if elected, we’re in for another four years of a president who is entitled to rule supreme to hell with the other branches of government? Or, her substance is merely campaign rhetoric here today, gone tomorrow.

    Obama’s avoidance of ‘laundry-list’ speeches hopefully indicates that he acknowledges and accepts that his power is limited by the Constitution.

  11. Dave  •  Feb 13, 2008 @5:07 pm

    I was an early X-Files fan, and 6 months into that first season, the local paper referred to us fans as a cult. I wrote to the paper that I’d never been in a cult before, and wondered whether I needed to get a special haircut…

    Whups, gotta run. I have an appointment with my barber.

  12. Lucy  •  Feb 13, 2008 @6:11 pm

    All I would say at this point is , don’t count Hillary out yet,,,, seems there is a great desire to always write her obit.
    Also I do not see a desire or willingness on the part of Obama supporters to throw their support in with Hillary SHOULD she indeed BECOME the nominee in the way that I see Hillary supporters say will vote for him and support him… this is what I see all over the web , along with the usual Clinton bashing …..

  13. maha  •  Feb 13, 2008 @6:49 pm

    Lucy — read this post. Especially the part about the Pew research poll. The “Obama supporters won’t support Hillary” meme is a smear being perpetrated by hysterical Clinton supporters. The poll shows that equal numbers of Obama and Clinton supporters have a positive impression of the other candidate.

    I agree that Clinton can’t be counted out yet. If she comes back strong in Texas and Ohio, which is possible, then she’s back in striking distance.

  14. Craig  •  Feb 13, 2008 @7:11 pm

    A very good post on Obama and Hillary!

    Until he dropped out, I supported John Edwards. There was never any question that I would support whoever the winner was, whether it was Edwards, Obama or Clinton. But I hadn’t voted in the California primary yet and decided on Obama primarily because I sense he just may have some coattails in November and there’s simply no way the Democrats are going to do much unless they get more support in Congress. The Senate is paralyzed and we need someone who may be able to change the equation.

    The cultist argument is a bit lame if I’ve been for Obama for almost two weeks. I can live with Hillary’s sharp elbows, but I wish there had been more focus on fixing her campaign months ago.

    Hillary’s campaign has puzzled me for over a year. Actually I thought Hillary was becoming a better speaker but her performance in Texas last night was back to her old form. (Given McCain’s dull style, Hillary would still have done well against him.)

    The biggest puzzle for me is why Hillary never fully sorted out what Bill Clinton’s role would be in the campaign. That should have been resolved a year ago. And I’m surprised that Bill and Hillary haven’t been keeping up with the times. Both are like old generals fighting the new war with the tactics that won an earlier war. I’m not questioning their brilliance but I’m puzzled that they’ve failed to understand the changing times.

    If Hillary somehow pulls out a nomination, a candidate from the 1990s will still be far superior to a candidate like George W. Bush who’s a throwback to the early 20th century (Have we become a colonial power again?).

  15. Doug Hughes  •  Feb 13, 2008 @7:33 pm

    I can support either Clinton or Obama in the General, though I favor Obama. However I will be outraged if either candidate takes the nomination by changing the rules with FL or MI, or back-room deals with superdelegates in defiance of the popular vote and state count. Again, I will support the candidate who wins honestly, not the one who is the most sneaky. That statement is candiate-neutral, but if the shoe fits….

    My obsevation on the campaing plan for Hillary was to blow away the competition with money. The amount of money she raised early was obscene, and it seemed to fit the category of gifts to the queen. She is way out front with contributions at the max $4,600, and that allowed her to rack up a war chest, but she can’t go back to those people – they are maxed out. Now she is looking at the hole in her foot where the bullet went thru. She may not have time to retool the campaign to appead to rank-and-file dems for contributions. Obama, on the other hand has never relied on the big-money doners, so he can out-spend her for the duration.

    From what I read, neither Clinton nor Obama will reach the magic number, 2025, if they keep splitting states proportionately. So unless one or the other breaks out (unlikely) this will be settled by party bosses. Either candidate is fine, but cutting a deal opposite the popular vote would be a disaster! Can anyone describe that in pictures – comic book style – clear enough for Howard Dean to and his cronies at DNC to understand.

  16. joanr16  •  Feb 13, 2008 @9:26 pm

    Also I do not see a desire or willingness on the part of Obama supporters to throw their support in with Hillary….

    On the contrary, at the Nebraska caucuses last Saturday, I personally saw only civility and mutual respect between the two groups. We both know who the “enemy” is… John McCain.

  17. Lucy  •  Feb 14, 2008 @1:23 am

    Doug hughes speaks about ” changing the rules ” but as I understand it the superdelegates can vote for whoever they want , that is their role, so when you say ” cutting a deal opposite the popular vote ” … what does that mean? Ted Kennedy ‘s state went with Hillary , but Kennedy is backing Obama ( I think he is a superdelegate ) so there is potential for a lot of interparty conflict. One thing I agree , the rules must not be changed in mid stream .

  18. Mike the Mad Biologist  •  Feb 14, 2008 @11:49 am

    Having voted for Obama, I still think there is a cult of personality surrounding him–or more accurately, a cult of self-projection that is very disconcerting. On the other hand, at one point, opinion polls suggested that Clinton was the most likely to end the war, so it goes both ways.

    For me, I find the… irrational exuberance a little disconcerting. I’ve seen this movie before.

  19. Doug Hughes  •  Feb 14, 2008 @9:13 pm

    Lucy –

    I live in FL; my vote for Edwards did not count, was not going to count and I knew that when I cast it. That’s OK because going INTO the game bowing to the decision of the DNC, the candidates agreed MI & FL would not count, and the candidates agreed not to campaign there. For Obama, this meant he could not campaign to overcome Clinton advantage of name-recognition, but it did not matter because the vote would not affect the delegate count. In MI, everyone except Clinton took their name off the ballot. Now the vote is in; Clinton won (surprise, surprise) and Clinton and her surrogates suddenly find the disenfranisement of voters intolerable.

    I do expect candidates to campaign hard; I find efforts to cheat loathsome.

    At this point, with plenty of states left to be heard from, Obama leads in the delegate count, state count, popular vote, pledged delegates.. He is the leader in every category EXCEPT superdelegates. About half the superdelegates are waiting. Quite likely they will setttle the election. I am not asking superdelegates who have committed to change their vote. Bill is a superdelegate, and I expect him to vote for Hillary. Ted Kennedy has committed to Obama. But when/if we get to the convention, I expect/demand that the superdelegates who are uncommitted must NOT overturn the popular vote because the Clintons are better connected inside the beltway.

    I CAN accept that if Hillary turns it around – and is ahead in the popular vote (excluding Mi & FL), the superdelegates should recognize her as the candidate of the party, and I will get behind it.

  20. hettiemae  •  Feb 16, 2008 @3:43 pm

    Do you Obamabots ever wonder about Obama’s relationship to an indicted man whom Obama helped get $14 million when he was a state senator? If you are tired of the Clinton scandals why would you want to start fresh with someone who may really get indicted? What has Obama accomplished since he’s been in the Senate? One thing he hasn’t done is call a single meeting of the committee that he chairs. I don’t understand the adoration of him, and I will not vote for him if he is the nominee. I can’t stand the scandals that I know would erupt before his term is over.



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