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.
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? (Hereâ€™s Ben Smithâ€™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 â€œfocused on the inner workings of Clintonâ€™s presidential campaignâ€ and in particular on the â€œcontroversial roleâ€ of Patti Solis Doyle, the campaign manager whom Mrs. Clinton recently replaced.
â€œClinton 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,â€ Green writes in an online article at The Atlantic. â€œThis 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 presidentâ€™s than her supporters might like to admit.â€
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 partyâ€™s nomination. If she winsâ€”as she very well mightâ€”it will be in spite of her original approach. As one former Clinton staffer put it to me last spring: â€œThere was an assumption that if you were a major donor and wanted to be an ambassador, go to state dinners with the queenâ€”unless you were an outright fool, you were going to go with Hillary, whether you liked her or not. The attitude was â€˜Where else are they going to go?â€™â€
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.