Let’s Get Real

Today’s Frank Rich column:

Clinton fans don’t see their standard-bearer’s troubles this way. In their view, their highly substantive candidate was unfairly undone by a lightweight showboat who got a free ride from an often misogynist press and from naïve young people who lap up messianic language as if it were Jim Jones’s Kool-Aid. Or as Mrs. Clinton frames it, Senator Obama is all about empty words while she is all about action and hard work.

But it’s the Clinton strategists, not the Obama voters, who drank the Kool-Aid. The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it’s a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate’s message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama’s organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

In the last battleground, Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign was six days behind Mr. Obama in putting up ads and had only four campaign offices to his 11. Even as Mrs. Clinton clings to her latest firewall — the March 4 contests — she is still being outhustled. Last week she told reporters that she “had no idea” that the Texas primary system was “so bizarre” (it’s a primary-caucus hybrid), adding that she had “people trying to understand it as we speak.” Perhaps her people can borrow the road map from Obama’s people. In Vermont, another March 4 contest, The Burlington Free Press reported that there were four Obama offices and no Clinton offices as of five days ago. For what will no doubt be the next firewall after March 4, Pennsylvania on April 22, the Clinton campaign is sufficiently disorganized that it couldn’t file a complete slate of delegates by even an extended ballot deadline.

This is the candidate who keeps telling us she’s so competent that she’ll be ready to govern from Day 1. Mrs. Clinton may be right that Mr. Obama has a thin résumé, but her disheveled campaign keeps reminding us that the biggest item on her thicker résumé is the health care task force that was as botched as her presidential bid.

What has struck me about the Clinton campaign is that the candidate seems to confuse “effort” with “accomplishment.” She tells us she has “fought for” this and that for many years — true enough — but how many of those battles have been won?

Last week there was much hoo-hawing among the Clintonistas about a fellow on MSNBC’s Hardball who could not list any legislative accomplishments of Senator Obama. The Clinton campaign pushed that episode hard, to contrast it with Senator Clinton’s glittering legislative record. But notice, no one actually challenged Senator Clinton to list her legislative accomplishments.

Last week Adam Hanft took a look at Senator Clinton’s legislative record, and found it to be “a track record of legislative failure and futility.”

I headed straight for her campaign website to see what glorious aspects of her vaunted experience I was missing.

Actually, I was missing nothing. There is not one single example of any legislation with her name appended to it. In fact, the page devoted to her Senate biography is a mush-mash, a laundry list of good intentions. When she talks about “sponsoring” and “introducing” and “fighting for” legislation that obviously hasn’t passed, that’s a smokescreen for failure. By introducing all that legislation that never makes it out of committee, she’s guilty of what she accuses Senator Obama of: confusing “hoping” with doing. [emphasis added]

This is what continues to drive me bats about Clinton supporters. They have bought the line that Obama and his supporters are space cadets who don’t appreciate substance. Yet Clinton’s record of accomplishment is nothing but padding, and they don’t notice.

Back to Adam Hanft:

Consider these examples:

• “…{she} worked with her colleagues to secure the funds New York needed to recover and rebuild.”

• “…she fought to provide compensation to the families of the victims.”

• “She is an original sponsor of legislation that expanded health benefit to members of the National Guard and Reserves.”

• “Some of Hillary’ proudest achievements have been her work to ensure the safety of prescription drugs for children, with legislation now included in the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act.” (What in God’s name does that mumbo-jumbo mean?)

Yes, it’s true that for many years, she was in the minority. But if she is the effective legislator she claims to be, she’d be able find co-sponsors across the aisle who share her commitment to specific issues, in the same way that John McCain found his doppelganger, Russ Feingold.

David Knowles wrote in January that in 2007, Senator Clinton introduced 100 pieces of legislation. Of those, six were enacted. These are:

1. support for the goals and ideals of “National Purple Heart Recognition Day”
2. a concurrent resolution recognizing the 75th anniversary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart
3. a bill to recognize the goals of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
4. a bill to urge a international organization to allow access to Holocaust archives
5. a resolution calling for Hamas and Hezbollah to release Israeli soldiers held captive
6. recognition of the uncommon valor of Wesley Autrey, the man who jumped on to the subway tracks and saved a man’s life

Obama’s legislative record is similarly light. The plain fact is that both Clinton and Obama are junior senators, and their legislative accomplishments, or lack thereof, reflect that. Yet Clinton supporters continue to insist that their candidate is the one with experience and accomplishment who knows how to get things done. And Obama supporters are just caught up in a cult of personality.

On top of which, some Clinton supporters are still arguing that she would be the stronger candidate in the general election, even as her campaign for the nomination flounders.

Right. Um, who’s getting real, dears?

Update: Read Jeff Fecke.

25 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real

  1. How do you feel about the fact that Obama has not called for a single meeting of the subcommittee on European Countries that he chairs in light of the events this week in Serbia? Just asking.

  2. hettiemae — about the same way I feel about the subcommittee meetings Clinton did not call because she doesn’t chair anything.

    Give it up, hettiemae. You don’t have an argument.

  3. Two things…

    First, the senator who couldn’t list any Obama legislative accomplishments, his thoughts are at http://www.kirkwatson.com/media/whats-new/2008/02/20/msnbc-and-me/ .

    Second, while it’s somewhat true that Obama’s US Senate accomplishments are a bit thin, his Ilinois Senate accomplishments are substantial, and say a lot about his ability to get things done, sometimes against heavy political resistance. Illinois is one of the most populous, wealthy, and diverse states in the nation, so I think that experience absolutely does translate.


  4. It is probably worth noting that while the dossier is light, Lugar/Obama is a step in the right direction on arms control and containing loose nukes and Coburn/Obama is a step in the right direction on government transparency. It would never strike me to ask either one of them for time, much less find ways to successfully take admittedly small steps in the right direction.

    What it shows is not the “bi-partisanship” of McCain/Lieberman which is merely a new partisanship in which one adopts a moderate Republican view and vilifies anyone who disagrees with it as an irrational extremist. Rather, it is authentically finding interesting ways to appeal to those who disagree with you about a lot by finding something that needs doing and about which you can agree and then creating a path to actually get something done. It is true that his short time in the Senate has not been earth changing, but it does give one a sense of how he works and that gives one a sense of (dare I say it) hope.

  5. 5. a resolution calling for Hamas and Hezbollah to release Israeli soldiers held captive

    Serving the people of the United States, or an auxiliary member to the Knesset?

  6. But Obama has some interesting legislation that passed a totally Republican congress, the chief one of which was a nuclear non-proliferation agreement, Lugar-Obama. Check it out. Really effective, difficult to get passed, and outclasses anything Clinton has done in the Senate.

  7. If you extend these arguments back about 60 years, was Harry Truman, a Kansas City machine politician, all that ready to take office when FDR died? What legislative experience did General Ike have in preparation for a two-term presidency? Were JFK’s congressional accomplishments that extensive?

    You could maybe argue that LBJ’s congressional acomplishments may have made him one of the most qualified presidents in US history.

    Didn’t Nixon make a national name for himself by aligning with Senator Joe McCarthy? Not exactly what I would call groundwork for becoming a good president.

    Gerald Ford was practically snatched out of nowhere, Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer, and Reagan a B-movie actor. Bush the First came out of a few race-baiting terms as a Texas Congressman and a secretive stint in the CIA.

    And Molly Ivins warned in 1999 and 2000 that George W. Bush was an alarmingly partisan, limited and perfunctory governor of Texas. She was spot on with that one.

  8. Tom W — Do you want to know how hysterical you sound? Probably not.

    Obama will be more centrist than I would like, but then so will Clinton. As I see it, we’ve got a choice between a politician who might betray our values (based on reading between the lines of his speeches) and a politician with a long track record of selling out our values (based on her record). Exactly why I’m supposed to be afraid of the first one and be OK with the second is, frankly, baffling.

  9. “Hysterical”?

    Wow – that’s a tough one, MahaB! Of course, I’ll support Obama in the fall and I think he’s pretty much got it wrapped up. I do think Clinton would have been a much stronger progressive on domestic issues, and she’s been my candidate – realize it’s probably a lost cause.

    You know I disagree with the framing of that choice – but such is the landscape, feelings run high. Lots of people have to settle for their 3rd or 4th choices in these things – the rank sexism that’s washed over Clinton is the only thing that really leaves a lasting stain.

    But I always though Barack would move right, and now he’s doing it.

  10. Hmmm…I’m not so sure, really. Obama’s the kind of candidate everyone projects their own beliefs on – it’s why Andrew Sullivan and other moderate conservatives love him, lots of liberals love him, why some DLC folks are now moving his way, and why the Edwards backers jumped to him. It’s a masterful campaign, but there can be no doubt (at least to me) that he’s gearing up to owning the center against McCain.

  11. I just read Tom W’s link. Did I miss something that requires a special Clintonista decoder ring? Obama reiterates that he is a liberal, and then lists several of his intentions that defy political labels. I see nothing to even remotely suggest “rightward” movement in that piece.

  12. While still a Hillary supporter (at this point, merely out of loyalty to the candidate) I must say that I’ve been ‘awakened’ to the definite drawbacks of a Hillary presidency and the advantages of an Obama one. One thought that’s been wafting through my head all week?…the Muslim world’s reaction to us electing a president with the middle name of “Hussein.”….it will do more to quell Muslim anti-American hostility in an a single moment than about a billion frigging Karen Hugheses! (though I’m sure the poor dear did try her best)

  13. Obama’s the kind of candidate everyone projects their own beliefs on

    Obama does have a history, you know. He wasn’t hatched out of an egg last week. As my nephew Ian says in comment #3, his record in the Illinois Senate — not only what he accomplished but the kind of legislation he stuck his neck out for — really does speak volumes of good things about him. And his record going back to whenever is quite progressive, IMO somewhat more so that Clinton’s.

    Now, because people don’t bother to find out about him, and because news media is worthless, and because the Clinton campaign is selling the false dichotomy that because someone is eloquent he must be an empty suit, people do project all manner of things upon him, some of which doesn’t have anything to do with who he is. However, this is not his fault.

    I DON’T think he’s a perfect vessel for my progressive hopes. Although they’re about the same on issues about 90 percent of the time, where Obama and Clinton differ on economic issues, including health care, I tend to prefer Clinton’s positions.

    The problem with Clinton’s positions is that she really doesn’t get shit done. My fear, based on her record, is that if she’s elected everything she promised will be watered down, and what we’ll end up with will be a few moderately progressive tweaks to conservative policies. That’s been her pattern for a very long time.

  14. Joan16 — It’s insane out there. This past week I had a frustrating encounter with someone who was certain a vote for Obama amounted to giving away women’s reproductive rights. Obama has a 100 percent approval rating from NARAL, as does Clinton. But this individual had taken some offhand (and unrelated) remark of Obama’s and twisted it around in her head to mean that he would allow fundamentalists to write abortion laws, and she could not be talked out of this.

    I realize there are a lot of obnoxious Obama supporters too, but for once I wish the Clinton supporters — who pride themselves on being realistic and pragmatic — would get a clue how irrational they sound sometimes.

  15. When Hillary says “experience” she really means her experience in the White House, not the Senate.

    When Bill Clinton ran years ago, before the two of them were well known, many were saying we’d be getting a “two-fer” – two bright progressive people, not just a wifey who baked cookies – in fact there was a flap about this very thing.

    Indeed, I have moderate Republican family members who are rooting for the Clintons this time around, for this very reason – a two for one deal, and the supposed vast experience my GOP family members perceive therein.

    And so comparisons with any other candidates aren’t quite apples to apples – Michele Obama’s resume can’t stand up to Bill Clinton’s.

    Regardless, your overall point is well taken – even with her White House experience, she managed to bollox up health care reform, as well as mis-running this campaign. She does seem to fail spectacularly, as you point out, and needs to be called out on this.

    Hillary always impressed me as someone who could read the music but who couldn’t dance or improvise, a real tin ear for politics, unlike her husband, who is truly gifted in this area. It’s edifying that another gifted politician, Barack Obama is running rings around her, and has destroyed her smug claim to inevitability.

  16. Ever since the Prairie View A&M story last Tuesday, I’ve been reading BurntOrangeReport. Excellent site in Austin. Scroll back into last week for various insights into turnout, their bizarre Primary/caucus hybrid and delegate predictions.

    Also found there, this snippet of Hillary calling for the seating of FLA & MI delegates. There is no time/date stamp on the video, so I figured this has to before the debate. No No, the very next morning. Now we know what she meant when she said the “automatic” delegate issue would sort itself out.

    I am an ex-Clintonista now. No pride left in the moniker. This underhanded approach of, “I only agreed not to campaign there” nonsense gives a body memory “ick”. To bad she not listening to Alter, who’s calling for a classy graceful path to the door by getting out before March 4th.

  17. Wait, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with seating the delegates under all conditions or agreements, but Barack was not on the ballot in Michigan.

  18. Hillary was defeated on health care because of the special interests , and AMA , who all stood to lose money and because most people were NOT hurting for health care at that time as they are now.
    Hillary is more of a liberal than Obama , she wants EVERYONE to have health care, hence the term universal .
    The Clintons are respected and even loved in the rest of the world,
    Its looking like Obama will be the nominee, and hopefully all will rally around him,,,as I will although it will be with a heavy heart because I think he is not the person America NEEDS at this time, maybe later…….

  19. Hillary was defeated on health care because of the special interests , and AMA

    That was part of it, but she also pissed off a lot of people who might have helped her because of the autocratic, secretive way she put together the 1993 proposal. She really doesn’t have a good track record of being able to get a lot of people on board with a project. And the proposal was a mess.

    I think her current ideas (which she pretty much lifted from John Edwards) are preferable to Obama’s but neither is what I want or truly universal. I don’t think either plan would work to provide everyone with decent health care in the most cost-efficient way possible.

    Bill Clinton is respected and loved around the world; I don’t know about Hillary Clinton. But news stories say that Obama has considerable support around the world.

  20. There is a recent event that’s symptomatic of the Clinton meltdown that seems to have been overlooked by everyone except the voters. Last month she loaned her campaign 5 million. I seriously doubt Obama could do that. I don’t even have 1 million in my checking account.Or $100,00 , or $10,000 or.. never mind.

    Now that looks like shallow class politics. Do I resent the Clintons because they are rich. No. But they are decades removed from associating with the class of folks who are hurting. From what I read, the press corp who follows her campaign resents the manner in which ALL access to the candidate is shielded and staged. Her campaign was built around a media machine and the advertising was perfect. Too perfect. Artificial. So she looked like a packaged product, and Obama was strikingly real.

    Now I may be projecting, but here’s the bottom line. Obama plans to include and use his army AFTER the election. He talks about open hearings on TV for the health care debate that will follow his election. By implication, he’s going to hold some feet to the fire and use the voters who elected him as shock troops in the war against special interests. By way of contrast, I feel like the gates would shut on us after Senator Clinton moved in the White House. The events would all be carefully staged. We would be told that we will be told what we need to know – when we need to know it.

    Clinton handled everything in the campaign perfectly. But she neglected the voter.This year, the voters are not buying ‘Big Mac’ candidates. Not this year.

  21. Accomplishments aside, the incompetent and wingnuttish way Hillary has conducted herself and her campaign is reason enough for anyone to not give her their vote. She has shown her cards in this campaign, (hiring Mark Penn: the sweating, fatter, democratic version of Karl Rove), (throwing good money after bad), (Surrendering a huge lead to a relative unknown), (playing the race card), etc. Maha, as one of your earlier posts explained, the mere fact that she can’t run a successful campaign against a fellow democrat suggests she would get creamed in the general, especially the way she’s been acting the last few days. She’s toast! Good riddance!

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