Wingnut Paper Hits Obama & Clinton updated
Interesting Sunday shows today, with the Obama – Clinton diplomacy debate getting
a full airing and then some. But on “Meet the Press”, at least the talking heads managed to acknowledge John Edwards is still in the race. But the main focus remains on the Obama – Clinton foreign policy smackdown. Of course we all knew it wouldn’t be long before
the wingnuts got involved. The New York Post comes out swinging against
both Democratic frontrunners. To them, both candidates are positively cracked.
Indeed, Obama’s apparent willingness to rush into sitdowns with America-bashing
tyrants like Mahmoud Ahmadenijad and Chavez makes us wonder if he knows just
what it is a president does for a living.
For his part, Obama quickly backtracked: “I didn’t say these guys were
going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon,” he said.
And then he hurled what for Democrats is the ultimate insult: Clinton’s position,
he said, is just like President Bush’s.
Which is nonsense, of course.
But here’s where it gets complicated.
Even while ridiculing Obama’s position, Clinton repeatedly has ripped the
president for saying “he will not talk with bad people.” Indeed,
she complained, “you don’t make peace with your friends – you have to
do the hard work of dealing with people you don’t agree with.”
She’s even admonished Bush for refusing to deal directly with the leaders
Even though, as president, her own husband never spoke directly with the
leaders of any of those five countries either – and for good reason.
Clearly, both candidates need to do a little more homework if they have any
hope of being taken seriously on the foreign-policy front.
Nice try, but, uh no.
It’s clear that one of the largest holes in the Post’s analysis is
the particular question that was asked. Paraphrasing it, the candidates were
asked if they’d meet with despots and dictators, among others, in the first
year of his or her presidency. Obama’s immediate “I would” was
met with Clinton’s, to again paraphrase, not so fast, followed up by a slap:
“I thought that was very irresponsible and frankly naive to say you
would commit to meeting with Chavez and Castro or others within the first year.”
That clearly ticked off camp Obama, which countered by calling Clinton “Bush-Cheney
The video above (h/t Marc Abinder)
not only illustrates the extent to which Obama’s smear was off base, but how
clearly so many people, especially Hillary haters, not to mention Obama cheerleaders,
just don’t get what this brouhaha is about.
It’s about a presidential candidate handing your adversary a rhetorical line
with which they can mercilessly club us all to death. It’s about making mistakes
that stick. The “I would” isn’t fatal, but even considering Obama’s
statement the day prior it’s at the least very undisciplined messaging, which we all have witnessed can be devastating in a general election.
Edwards has been hurt by a slow response to campaign challenges as well, letting
most take root way too long before hitting back. First came the blogger
brouhaha; he was slow to attack the haircut kerfuffle; but Edwards still hasn’t explained in depth his philosophy on why the “global
war on terror” is a “bumper sticker,” preferring instead
to try and get other candidates to play on his turf, which is domestic issues. That’s because it turned out to be a loser for him, no matter how true. To bring in another candidate, Senator Biden would never make such an “I would” statement without
explaining it, or make a statement about the “global war on terror”
being a “bumper sticker” (without explaing it). As an aside,
I’ve contacted his campaign to get a response on the Obama – Clinton debate, because he’s the most experienced
in foreign policy matters, and I’ll let you know if they answer. As for Clinton, she emphatically refused to be identified with Edwards’ attack on the Republicans’ main talking point, GWOT, not just as a matter of philosophy, but because she knows what her adversaries can do with such sound bites. In the game of debates and 60-second forums, it may be brave to initiate deep policy discussions, but it’s also perilous when they can be reduced to a tv commercial that can make you sound soft. Perception, after all, is reality, especially in election politics. However, it’s
clear that since the “bumper sticker” remark Edwards has retreated
to domestic issues where he has proven effectiveness. But getting back to Obama
and Clinton, it’s not that they’re that different in their diplomatic philosophies.
It’s that their approach to campaigning, expressing the Democratic message,
as well as promoting Democratic policies are very different. It’s about the
messaging and that loose lips sink campaigns. Just ask John Kerry.
“I think that I have the capacity to get people to recognize themselves
in each other. I think that I have the ability to make people get beyond some
of the divisions that plague our society and to focus on common sense and
reason and that’s been in short supply over the last several years. I’m not
an ideologue, never have been. Even during my younger days when I was tempted
by, you know, sort of more radical or left wing politics, there was a part
of me that always was a little bit conservative in that sense; that believes
that you make progress by sitting down listening to people, recognizing everybody’s
concerns, seeing other people’s points of views and then making decisions.”
– Barack Obama
(on ABC’s “This Week”)
The above statement reveals it best. Obama, by his own admission, is “not
an ideologue.” Both Clinton Edwards are and it shows, which is what elections are about. Winning so you can implement your ideological policies because you believe in them wholeheartedly. Obama’s campaign guru fills their philosophy out further.
Axelrod’s is a less grand, postideological approach, and his campaigns
are rooted less in issues than in the particulars of his candidate’s
life. For him, running campaigns hitched to personality rather than ideology
is a way of reclaiming fleeting authenticity.
Thus Obama touts Reagan (an ideologue, which camp Obama seems to ignore) and sees no problem with this,
then ups the ante; while Clinton, Edwards, Biden, nor Richardson or Dodd
(I imagine) would ever think of calling a fellow nominee “Bush-Cheney lite.”
Besides the fact that this is the worst way to come at a fellow Democrat, there’s
just no credibility to the charge. It’s also not Obama’s first irresponsible
jab at camp Clinton. All this harkens back to Obama using a wingnut talking
point on Iraq: “I think that nobody wants to play chicken with our
troops on the ground” (also
backing Joe Lieberman). Ideology matters, especially
when you tar your own party with a wingnut brush.
Again, it’s about messaging that matters and understanding what you’re saying
and how your adversary can use it against all Democrats. But it also
gets down to fundamental truths.
has it exactly right:
In other words, Obama wants to focus on how Clinton originally positioned
herself (rather than what she meant) because Obama clearly believes he and
Clinton approach foreign policy from a fundamentally different place even
if, in this particular situation, they agree on the remedy. The onus on Obama
is to show, clearly, how both his approach and his operationalization would
The fact remains, Obama
and Clinton have the exact same votes on Iraq, minus her nay vote on Casey.
Oh, and if you want to get specific about what top tier candidate acted first to pull the trigger on Iraq, it was John Edwards, who voted against the
$87 billion appropriations when he was still in the Senate, while Senator Clinton voted for it.
It’s not a two person race. It would be helpful if people and pundits quit treating it
as if it were.