Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 25, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE MEME-DRIVEN PRIMARY....Hey, finally someone remembers that primaries in the past haven't exactly been strolls in the park. Here's Ronald Brownstein:

At one New York City debate late in the 1984 race, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart battered each other so relentlessly that Jesse Jackson almost needed to physically separate them. In an especially heated 1992 encounter, Bill Clinton appeared ready to lean over and deck Jerry Brown.

The nominating system, by its nature, encourages such ferocity....

I don't know if this year's primary has really been an awful lot more heated than some in the past, but it sure has been more meme driven. Obama wins Iowa and there's an absolute barrage of coverage saying he's sewn up the nomination. Hillary Clinton shows a flash of emotion and it's on cable TV 24/7. Remarks from both sides (Hillary supposedly dissing Martin Luther King, Obama supposedly swearing fealty to Ronald Reagan) have been blown massively out of proportion by feeding frenzy coverage.

The latest meme, of course, is that a few testy exchanges means that this is the roughest, toughest, meanest primary we've ever seen. Spare me. I always feel old and cranky when I say stuff like this, but we've seen rough, tough, mean primaries before on both sides. Yeah, Hillary and Obama are playing hardball, but get over it folks. Nothing they've done so far is even remotely out of bounds for big league politics.

But even Brownstein can't resist the trap:

What ought to trouble Democrats is that their two leading candidates have reached this point at a time when a great many signs suggest their competition could continue long after the 22-state showdown on February 5 — probably until Texas and Ohio vote on March 4. That means that unless the candidates can climb back off this emotional ledge, they will have plenty of time to damage each other — and the party's prospects next fall. Nasty, brutish, and long is an ominous combination for Democrats.

Yeah, sure. Look, I've been pretty sparing in my predictions, but here's another one: all of this will be long forgotten within a few weeks of the primary's end, whether that's February 5, March 4, or even a little later. If there's anything we've learned from this season's campaigning, it's that attitudes change on a dime these days. Last week's controversy might as well have happened in the Middle Ages. Once the Democrats decide on a winner, it will be kumbaya city for the full half year leading up to the convention. You heard it here first.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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finally someone remembers that primaries in the past haven't exactly been strolls in the park

Gore Vidal calls it the United States of Amnesia.

Posted by: thersites on January 25, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Amen! I am sick and tired of hearing about how Hillary is too "mean." Nothing she has done has come close to being mean. If Obama is taken off stride by Hillary, he will get his Kumbaya Ass kicked all over the place by the GOP in the fall.

Posted by: Teresa on January 25, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

feel old and cranky

I know what you mean. It is like everybody was born yesterday.

And, Slipsok, that is what the Nader voters said, and look how that turned out.

Posted by: Tripp on January 25, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Once the Democrats decide on a winner, it will be kumbaya city for the full half year leading up to the convention. You heard it here first.

No disrespect Kevin, but I think I've heard it before. Lots of Democrats say they like all of the Big Three. I'd personally like to see Obama kick Hillary's butt. But if she get the nomination, I'm not switching to Repub or staying home in November.

Posted by: tomeck on January 25, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

As a committed Obama supporter, I say let them fight. For me, Obama is the closest politician to capture the hope of RFK's vision in my lifetime. But I want him to win, not just give some great speeches and earn a moral victory. What made Bobby truly promising (aside from being a Kennedy of course) was that he was tough, much tougher than either Clinton. He was a realist and a fighter who became an idealist. For all Obama's inspiration, he still needs to prove his toughness. Sometimes the best way to achieve a new kind of politics is to beat the old way into the ground. Politics is rough, especially for the reformers, who face ever greater opposition as they get closer to real change. Come on Barak, you're from Chicago. Don't bring a spoon to a knife fight.

Posted by: NHCt on January 25, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

It's de riguer for democrates to squabble.

If we all lined up behind a single person at the start of the primary then wouldn't we just look like the lock-stepped noodlies (a la Boehner and McConnell) on the other side?

We are in the process of deciding if it would be best for the nation to have an experienced wonk, a feisty lawyer, or innocent orator in the Whitehouse. I think this is good. For it shows that we really are concerned about this country and care about moving forward out of the abyss that we are currently in.

Posted by: optical weenie on January 25, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

can we please banish kumbaya from pundits' vocabulary?

Posted by: gregor on January 25, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

"I've been pretty sparing in my predictions, but here's another one: all of this will be long forgotten within a few weeks of the primary's end ... attitudes change on a dime these days."

Since we're just speculating here, I'll say I think that this is badly mistaken. I think these analogies to past primaries generalize away exactly the sort of details - the Clinton's come with a history this time! Jerry Brown was no Barack Obama! - that make this prediction wrong.

Count me as one Democrat who, after Hillary wins ugly, will probably basically drop out of the process for this cycle - no more phone calls, no more money, etc. Whether I'll vote for her is a closer call, and something I have the luxury of contemplating since I live in a deep blue state. I won't vote against her, but I don't exactly feel obligated to add to her vote total either.

Posted by: bob on January 25, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Look, I've been pretty sparing in my predictions, but here's another one: all of this will be long forgotten within a few weeks of the primary's end, whether that's February 5, March 4, or even a little later.

By the media -- yes. By supporters of each of the candidates -- yes, but it might take a little bit longer than you say. Not much, but a little. But by the candidates, themselves? Prolly never.

Posted by: junebug on January 25, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

That's not the meme. The meme of the moment, on every progressive blog, is that it's OK that Hillary and Bill are making nasty and dishonest attacks on Obama, because if Obama can't learn to hit back in kind, he deserves to lose because otherwise he'll get creamed by the Republicans in November.

Which I believe to be (1) untrue, and (2) oblivious to a key element of Obama's appeal. Most voters have had a bellyful of Rovian cynicism. If Obama were the kind of politician these armchair analysts are urging him to be, he wouldn't be drawing the crowds that he does, and he'd never have been a serious contender for the nomination in the first place.

Posted by: Patrick on January 25, 2008 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

But Kevin, you forget. Part of playing big league politics is convincing everyone that the other guy is out of bounds.

Posted by: Mark on January 25, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary and Obama are playing hardball, but get over it folks.

But then what will the cable yakkers do to fill their alloted hours?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on January 25, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

This whole thing is almost entirely media created. Last time I looked, for instance, the word "fairy tale" had no racist connotations and questioning your opponent's experience is the oldest campaign trick in the book. But somehow either becomes "racist" when used against a black candidate. Maybe Bush was right when he talked about the "soft bigotry of low expectations." The media had made Obama look weak by going into a tizzy every time he is criticized.

I don't recall anyone writing columns about whether Fred Thompson was an anti-evangelical bigot when he unloaded on Mike Huckabee at the GOP debate in SC. But let Hillary or Obama criticize one another and it is a "race war." Give me a break.

I'm voting for Obama tomorrow in SC, but I will gladly support Hillary or Edwards or the nearest cheese sandwich over any GOP candidate in the fall.

Posted by: Teresa on January 25, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Bob your a lightweight.I don't like Hilary one little bit but if she wins the primary I'll not only vote for her but lineup to help support or do whatever it takes to get her elected. We've had nothing but shit sandwiches shoved down our throats since the republicans have been in control of the govt since the mid nineties. So whatever you percieve her foibles to be they're infinetely smaller then those of the criminals that are in there now.

Posted by: Gandalf on January 25, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Um, Mondale lost.

Clinton probably would have lost in '92 without Perot. He got 43% of the popular vote.

Way to light up the base. Go team go!

Posted by: sleepy on January 25, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: Once the Democrats decide on a winner, it will be kumbaya city for the full half year leading up to the convention.

The bounty of having several good candidates, any of whom would be a good president.

Posted by: anandine on January 25, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Teresa at 1:03 PM nails it. Two white guys criticizing each others' records is just politics. A white woman and a black guy doing the same thing somehow turns into a race-and-gender war. Give me a break.

slipsok's comment shouldn't have been deleted.

Posted by: thersites on January 25, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK


"Clinton probably would have lost in '92 without Perot. He got 43% of the popular vote."

Nope. Clinton did get 43% of the vote, but surveys indicated that the Perot voters would have split about evenly between him and Bush.

Posted by: Lee on January 25, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

For whatever it's worth, MSM is reporting today that Clinton and Obama are calling a truce, with each pulling an ad in SC. I sure don't know whether the truce will last but it appears that Hillary's campaign in particular is having second thoughts, being the first to pull the attack ad.

Posted by: nepeta on January 25, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

The meme of the moment, on every progressive blog, is that it's OK that Hillary and Bill are making nasty and dishonest attacks on Obama

Wow, you and I sure are reading different progressive blogs. On the ones I read, the meme you cite makes a diffident appearance now and then, but the dominant meme by far is just the opposite.

Posted by: Swift Loris on January 25, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Lightweight? Maybe. I consider myself plenty cynical, but even I have my limits.

Don't get me wrong, either, I love me some dirty politics. And I will really enjoy watching the Clintons do this to a Republican, come this summer.

But what they are doing to Obama is unseemly, and above all, gratuitous.

Posted by: bob on January 25, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, 9 of 10 Dems would vote for Hillary in November, or maybe 99 of 100. But that 10th or 100th person is important, and where s/he lives is critical. Look at the map, folks. Lose enough African-Americans or disaffect enough lefties, and how goes Wisconsin (hmmm, Milwaukee, Madison ...)? Or Pennsylvania, where huge Philly turnouts tipped the state to the Dems in 2000 and 2004. Gore and Kerry didn't piss off any of their base. Bill Clinton only needs to piss off a few. And that's why 2008 will be different.

Posted by: lindsay on January 25, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

A libertarian, Ron Paul-supporting friend just watched the CNN Democratic debate and said he liked seeing them fight and bicker.

The fighting impressed him because "it shows passion". So there you go.

Posted by: AF on January 25, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK
But what they are doing to Obama is unseemly, and above all, gratuitous. bob at 1:27 PM
Obama was the first to run a negative ad, and he has made numerous attacks and distortions. However, those don't enter the attention deficit disorder zone of the worthless American media. So be it, but if you think one side is guilty and the other not, you are not paying attention. Posted by: Mike on January 25, 2008 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Having two candidates this close makes this inevitable. And since there is barely any policy space between them, it has to be all about either personality or identity politics. I mostly agree with Kevin, that once the outcome is decided, things will rapidly simmer down. The only problem I have with that is there appears to be a strong likelyhood that it won't be decided until the convention.

Posted by: bigTom on January 25, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Fighting and bickering over policy differences would be quite interesting. Using dishonest personal attacks is quite another thing entirely and although such attacks might show 'passion,' they also show 'character,' or lack thereof.

Posted by: nepeta on January 25, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin is talking about the old discredited politics of Bush-Clinton-Bush-now Clinton? Hillary if she wins, she will send both 41 and 42 as an 'ole world ambassadorial tour' and all is fogotten and pardoned, even 43 and his side -kick Cheney but I think Obama and his supporters are more serious than that. It may be "fun" for Bill Clinton because "he can get away with" it but Obama has a different standard and to borrow Boris Johnson's line, "From day one of my administration I will be accountable and open to scrutiny. The position will never be abused again". Compare that meme with what Hillary wants to do from "I'm ready from day one."...I agree with most of the Obama commenters here.

This is not the tweedledum -tweedledee politics of recent history. Kevin, may be old and cranky, but not old enough to remember the Johnson/Humphrey-McGovern/McCarthy/Bobby Kennedy divides of the Democract party, from 1968-72. The fissures between the Billary wing and the Obama wing remind me of that era and won't go away so easily either.

Posted by: Steve Crickmore on January 25, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

The Kennedys (Jack & Robert) and LBJ viscerally loathed each other. But this didn't stop them from joining forces to beat the Republicans.

I do find it amusing that today Robert Kennedy is viewed today as an idealist. Back in the day he was known for being ruthless and serving as Jack's enforcer. Idealists shouldn't cheat on the wives with Marylin Monroe.

Posted by: fafner1 on January 25, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Idealists shouldn't cheat on the wives with Marylin Monroe.

That was Jack, not Bobby. Anyway, I can think of few better reasons to cheat... um, better stop now.

Posted by: tomeck on January 25, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Kevin. This primary doesn't seem particularly unusual to me. Yeah, there is sniping. There is always sniping. Yeah, people are threatening to boycott the election if their favored candidate doesn't get the nom. That happens every time too. Anyone remember 2004, for example?! Hillary and Obama seem fairly restrained compared to sime tussles from that year.

Posted by: Emma Anne on January 25, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Primary contests are divisive by their very nature but whether they affect what happens in the fall depends on the people involved. In 1952, Taft and Eisenhower bashed each other up through convention, but ultimatley Taft swallowed his pride and endorsed Ike who went on to win in a landslide. Kennedy-Johnson the same thing. Conversely Taft-Roosevelt in 1912, Rockefeller-Goldwater in 1964, Humphrey-McCarthy in 1968, the Democratic regulars vs. McGovern in 1972, Reagan-Ford 1976, Kennedy-Carter 1980, and Bush-Buchanan and Buchanan-Dole in 1992 and 1996 were primary contests that ultimately damaged the eventual winner. Again it comes down to whether the runner-up is a good loser or a bad loser.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on January 25, 2008 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

I see my comment was removed, and all I said was that I was one Democrat who would never vote for Hillary, since she's dishonest. Hmm, interesting to see the Clinton reach goes as far as censoring comments on this blog...

[No, yours got snared when I was removing link spam. Sorry. --Mod]

Posted by: Slipsok on January 25, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

The latest meme, of course, is that a few testy exchanges means that this is the roughest, toughest, meanest primary we've ever seen. Spare me.

—Kevin Drum

This is the most dishonest and dishonorable misrepresentation I have ever read on this blog.

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 25, 2008 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Hell, 180 years ago, Andrew Jackson and his wife were called bigamists and worse. The complaints about today's campaigns are weak brew.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 25, 2008 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

Hooray for gregor -- and anyone else of the same mind I might have skipped since. Man, am I sick of "kumbaya." Dump it Kevin -- and you're once of the worst offenders.

Posted by: urban legend on January 25, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Don't count on the kumbaya, dude. If the Clintons win the primary, I am staying home. I can't stand them.

Posted by: Frank on January 25, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Don't count on the kumbaya, dude. If the Clintons win the primary, I am staying home. I can't stand them.

And it's all about you. There are no larger issues, no down-ticket races, no other reasons to vote. So long as you get to indulge in petulance and spite, that's all that matters, huh?

Posted by: So sick of the petulance I could puke on January 25, 2008 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm going to vomit if I read the word "kumbaya" once more this season.

Posted by: Ryan on January 25, 2008 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Fair enough. I withdraw my paranoid remarks. About this blog, not the Clintons.

Posted by: Slipsok on January 25, 2008 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

tomeck: That was Jack, not Bobby. Anyway, I can think of few better reasons to cheat... um, better stop now.

bobby couldn't think of many better reasons either. it was jack and bobby.

Posted by: as it unfolds on January 25, 2008 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin doesn't quite get this, I think. I'm even older and crankier than Kevin, but I can certainly see important differences between '08 and Kevin's examples. This is not an ordinary election, and neither Obama nor Clinton is an ordinary candidate.

Obama's appeal is rooted in the broad dissatisfaction of the electorate with both the direction of the country, and the apparently dysfunctional state of political leadership. Obama is running on hope, as the anti-cynic. He's trying to create another "third way", defined not by splitting the differences but by creating an identification between progressive goals and deep rooted American cultural biases and values. The casually cynical nature of the attacks mounted by the Clintons, however common historically, is magnified greatly in the minds of Obama supporters because it threatens their hope for a truly different kind of political leadership.

And of course, these attacks are not mounted by ambitious, striving newcomers, but by the former presidental team, the standard bearers of the party. There has been simmering resentment among Democratic Party elites for a long time over the Clinton's naked political opportunism, lack of loyalty, and even blatant dishonesty, and the events of the last two weeks seem to have done much to resurrect that "meme" within editorial pages and blogs. The number of endorsements Obama has received from the Democratic establishment, despite his obvious risks as a general election candidate, suggests that there is more at stake than just who has the best chance to be a Democratic president.

I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to agree with Peggy Noonan that the Clintons are tearing the Democratic party apart - but they're sure causing me to rue some of the more impassioned defenses I made of them back in the day.

Posted by: PortlandDem on January 25, 2008 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK


Excellent, excellent comment. You catch the essence of what I've been trying to say here for weeks. Thank you.

Posted by: nepeta on January 25, 2008 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

This has been a part of my observation all along. What is going on now is actually fairly mild by modern standards, and yet I see from the Obama camp repeated claims of "Rovian tactics" and now even Lee Atwater's name has been thrown at Bill Clinton. I'm sorry, but as I said before such comparisons go beyond rhetoric right into naked hyperbole/fiction from where I sit, and I am very well versed in what Rovian politics looks like as well as Atwater's, especially since I knew who Atwater was before the infamous Will Horton ad ever came out. Obama's side is acting like it is above the fray and that it is all the Clinton's fault for bringing the "tone" down yet from what I have watched over the last several months is fairly equal hard hitting politics from both sides, although Obama's has been getting far less scrutiny, because after all he is the "post-partisan" candidate while the Clintons are the vile machine masterminds that don't do anything without having plotted it out first. That btw is one of the most powerful media memes of all of them out there across the board, and what I don't see is any discussion in the press about how the Obama camp may be or is using that to their advantage in terms of blaming the other side for starting all the nasty stuff all the time. Is it slick, yes, but it requires a media willing to go along, which against the Clintons is no problem given the clear hatred of them throughout the MSM and especially the political punditry class, but post Clinton in the general is a whole other matter altogether.

I have been asked why I am far more focused on Obama than Clinton or anyone else on the Dem side given I don't have a stake in the outcome of the primary (beyond wanting to see a Dem win in Nov, that I will claim a stake to given the repercussions to my nation between the GOP and Dem in that office) and this is why. I am far from convinced that Obama can maintain the appearance of being a different kind of politician through to November and would be even if the Clinton's were not a factor at all. This complaint by some Obama supporters about how the Clinton's forced him to have to be partisan is remarkably idiotic to me quite frankly; do they think the GOP would be willing to allow Obama to appear above the fray? I hardly think so, and to think that Obama is somehow entitled to any less of a roughening up in the primary process than any other candidate running strikes me as elitist and could easily be portrayed as racist. I don't see the Clinton's asking for such treatment from their rivals for the nomination, I do see them wanting Obama to get more scrutiny which while also serves the purpose of deflecting focus from her to him also is a standard political tactic with no racial/elitist overtones inherent to it. The appearance of these things is no less damaging than the reality and can become the reality all too easily in politics, something anyone who takes politics seriously cannot afford to forget when they analyze the environment.

Obama is the greatest unknown of the three remaining Dem candidates, and if not the frontrunner is only a hair behind and so deserves the same scrutiny as any frontrunner. Obama claims to have been misrepresented by the Clinton's (and to be fair Bill Clinton did in the initial Reagan attacks spin/interpret them somewhat, but I also remember watching the MLK/LBJ comments and the "fairy tale" comment especially be equally distorted and worse made to appear racist when that clearly was stretching/spinning/distorting it more than a little, and where were the Obama supporters about the unfairness and deceitful nature of those misleading attacks, hmmmm? I have been focusing on Obama because of the three remaining candidates he is the less substantial and solid in feel, and this is not by a minor amount either. Both Clinton and Edwards feel far more substantial to me in both tone and in terms of policy substance specifics, and given how hardball the politics in America is, given the prevalence of memes in the political punditry class and how easily what appears to be Obama's strengths can be used against him to show him as dangerously naive, even opportunistic in running now based on the reaction to a speech in 2004, the same year he was running for his first Senate term federally it is better for him to face this fire now than later. To complain and try to pretend your side isn't as responsible for the state of affairs is disingenuous to me, and the fact that I see the Obama campaign running with this strikes me as the politics of partisanship as usual despite the rhetoric. That this appears so hard for so many of his supporters to even consider the possibility of is partly why I have said there is a feel of the cult of personality more than a movement where Obama is concerned.

The memes of the media for the Dems historically have been very negative no matter who gets put up. The advantage of the Clinton ones is that they are old and tired and it will be a harder sell to dig up new stuff that will be believed outside of the already Clinton equals evil camp. This is not to say she won't be hurt by some of the attacks, I just think she has the best resilience potential of all of them, Obama the weakest and Edwards in the middle. My point about Rezko the other day was not that I think he did anything criminal nor that it will turn out that way but the perception that he should have known better, especially if he is such a paragon of virtue (which is how he is being sold even if not in such explicit terms) will have a much nastier tarnish than it would on a politician running as a more traditional politician because that is expected even if disapproved of, but the paragon candidate cannot afford that. We have no idea what else can be turned up with similar potential, and that is discounting the stuff that will be manufactured out of whole cloth by the really nasty operators. The Clinton's know how to work memes better than any other Dem I've seen in action, that alone commends them as the best ones to fight the GOP machine, which is where my critiques are coming from. On policy matters from my perspective there is so little differentiating the Dems that it makes no real difference, so I don't focus there, I stick to what I do understand the best, the mechanics of politics itself.

I hope that at least some of the people here have been finding some useful material in my offerings, and I am glad to see no one has been taking it personally yet from what I've seen, either to themselves or in regards to their candidate. I just think that the stakes are too high this time around not to bulletproof the eventual candidate as much as possible, and the only way to really do that is by shooting at them first and seeing what happens. The idea that this must be avoided to keep Obama viable for the general with his above the fray post partisanship approach is simply silly, politics never works like that, not in America not anywhere I know of. Indeed the idea that doing this in the primary may make the winner unelectable strikes me as more dangerous because of the way it can let weaknesses go hidden until it is too late, and all politicians have their weaknesses, and how important they are will always vary to the environment of the times so what might work in one election could kill you in another simply because of the change in the political context and nothing else. I just wish I saw more substance to go with Obama, I really did want to believe he could cause profound change but the more I see of him the more I can't, I see a far too ethereal campaign to survive and too much betting that the attack politics won't work this year because of how tired the electorate is of them. Well, if that last were true wouldn't the Clintons have suffered far more than they appear to have (contingent on SC of course, if they take a pasting there that changes things, but to date it doesn't seem to be hurting them, indeed it appears it may be helping them which shows it would help the GOP candidate in the fall, and they would go to places no Dem candidate would ever dare go let's not forget) to date? The numbers so far have not shown Obama's broad appeal outside of Iowa, and while that was an impressive win it was also the only one with that broad appeal showing in the demographic breakdowns apparently. Bottom line is, Obama can't just talk about being able to do politics differently, he has to show that he can do it on his own even if/when the other side doesn't want to (which let's face it will be the default GOP position to a candidate Obama for President and even with a President Obama, don't kid yourself), he must show he can still do so then or else how can he truly be able to change anything, and that seems to be where he is coming up short.

Well, on that note this is likely my sole contribution tonight, no doubt to the delight of many...:)

Posted by: Scotian on January 25, 2008 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

While we're on the subject of memes, one meme that seems to have gone remarkably unchallenged is the "Tough Hillary" meme. The meme goes, approximately, Hillary/Billary know how to fight tough political battles with the vicious Rebublicans/Lobbyists/Evil Corporate types, while the naive pup Obama will get rolled every time he tries to use Kumbaya on the evildoers.

A pretty strong argument. The Clintons were pretty damn tough in facing down those free market, personable responsibility, law and order, fundamentalist religious, opponents. Check out their principled, effective opposition to NAFTA, Welfare Reform, 10,000 police on the street, and Defense of Marriage Act. Um, wait ... OK, so maybe not good examples, but they did allow Newt Gingrich to achieve his full nerdy stupidity when he shut down the government for a couple of weeks. A victory for toughness! Something to hope for in the next 8 years!

There is, as any good general from Petraeus on backwards will tell you, a big difference between winning the battle and winning the war. Particularly when the war is primarily about winning hearts and minds.

Posted by: PortlandDem on January 26, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

It's particularly interesting to see that the Clinton campaign now wants to change the DNC delegate rules for Michigan and Florida, obviously because both of those states would advance her delegate count - she was the only Dem candidate who didn't get around to removing her name from the MI primary ballot. Mostly I'm just awed by the sheer chutzpah of this move and the obvious attempt at changing the rules in the middle of the game, as if no one would pick up on her advantage. Just darn amazing. Anyone who has ever played a game with a smart three-year-old knows all about that tactic.

Posted by: nepeta on January 26, 2008 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

Even needling Obama about his drug use is hardly unprecedented. Haven't we been doing that to W for years?

Posted by: bob h on January 26, 2008 at 6:39 AM | PERMALINK


Your premise that Obama supporters believe their candidate to be "pure" and "above the fray" is a fiction perpetuated by even generally credible commentators (and you know who you are frankly0). If you think that Obama's ambition to create a new progressive majority necessarily forecloses realpolitik in the minds of Obama supporters (the dreaded "kumbaya syndrome") you would be wrong.

It has been conceded ad nauseum that the US media is a travesty that hates the Clintons and prefers Obama. Yet the Rezko story has been all over the papers. You also recirculate the shopworn notion that Obama is a lightweight who would quail before the mighty Republican Mean Machine and worse is "less substantial" than the other frontrunners: Both Clinton and Edwards feel far more substantial to me in both tone and in terms of policy substance specifics. Interesting. Have you read Obama's books? Have you visited his website? Have you read the remarks of constituents and political observers in Illinois? Have you read any of the countless profiles and reportage that might disturb your perception that Obama is but pixie dust and roses? (Why, there was one just this week by George Packer in The New Yorker.)

In addition, the evidence supports the contention that the Clintons are willing to distort and outright lie about Obama. The Nancy Keenan YouTube I posted that you complained about so wearily reiterates that fact. The Clintons are clearly peeved that Obama interfered with their plans to lock up the nomination early ("How dare he?!" as one Clinton campaign worker notoriously fumed). Speaking of the Clintons plural, you may be interested in Gary Wills's op-ed in the Times this morning. Do we really want two presidents? After all, two are more substantial than one.

Posted by: Lucy on January 26, 2008 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

I could agree that these tactics are useful if someone, anyone could describe an instance in which Clinton employed these tactics to pursue just one major Democratic intiative or policy. Has she ever used these tactics against Bush? Has she ever used these tactics against a Republican Senator? A Republican nominee for anything? A Republican spending bill in the past? FISA? Anything besides an election? Anything that has not helped her personally? Anything just because principle dictates the liberal viewpoint must prevail?

Posted by: drosz on January 26, 2008 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

I dislike messianic politicians, whether Democrat or Republican. The best quote I've heard against idealism comes from an obscure British sci-fi show. Avon says, "He's an idealist. He can't afford to think." I'm not quite as cynical, but I'm wary of people who view a candidate as without flaw or without merit.

Posted by: Kolchak on January 26, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK


Great response to another pretty good post. As an Illinoisan, I have been deeply annoyed by the media portrayal of Obama as some kind of St. Francis encountering the meat-packing industry. His rise in Chicago politics gives the lie to that conceit. Once he grasps the prize, he is a user --- but in a nice way. He is someone who played poker late into the night with Springfield Republicans, who in turn would later vote for his bill to require videotaping of police interrogations. He did not then discard his Republican friends, as a short-sighted Clinton would have done. He just continued to disarm, in the service of his own ambition, and, yes, all that policy stuff that he was trying to foist on the people of Illinois. Those of us who became his supporters were not impressed by his purity, but by his moves.

Posted by: lindsay on January 26, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

In a sense the Hillary and Barack wars are overblown, but Bill did say that Obama would win SC because, like, black people live there. That happened, and it sure seems like they're trying to get his ethnicity into the discussion. Also, it's kind of breathtaking that HRC surrogates would attack Obama over his teen drug use, given Bill's unforgettably lame "I didn't inhale" defense back in the day.

Three things scare me: The first is that I spend so much time reading blog comments. The second is, while I do so, I'm seeing tons of commenters swear that they will vote Republican over Hillary. And the third is that these Obama Zombies are butt nuts. I would lean toward Obama, just given the Clintons' track record of right-wing capitulation in the 90s, but frankly I don't see that much difference between HRC and BHO. Obama supporters, however, seem to think he's infallible. Truly. Don't. Get it.

Posted by: pointerthumbpinky on January 26, 2008 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

As an Illinoisan, I have been deeply annoyed by the media portrayal of Obama as some kind of St. Francis encountering the meat-packing industry.

Thanks, lindsay, but you win!

Posted by: Lucy on January 26, 2008 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK



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