Let’s face it – the Democratic debate in Myrtle Beach SC had all the hallmarks of a school yard fight. No matter you spin it- Mr. Obama is up against one slick machine and is boxed into a difficult situation.
During the campaign, Senator Obama attempted to rise above the political shenanigans that have been part and parcel of politics since the early 1990’s and in which both the Democratic and Republican parties have engaged. But President and Mrs. Clinton are determined to bring him into politics as usual. It is imperative for Mr. Obama to set the record straight and to call attention to the inaccuracies in statements about him by the President and Mrs. Clinton but in doing so he ends up looking like “just another politician”; an absolutely brilliant political strategy- pure Clinton.
President Clinton is brilliant about using words that give one impression while not technically “saying” it. Remember the famous “It depends on what your definition of is, is”? He admitted as much today when he boasted that he knows how to parse his words and that he has said nothing that is technically inaccurate. That’s true, but everyone with half a brain knows that perception is everything and truth tends to often be an afterthought in politics.
I voted for President Clinton twice and campaigned vigorously for him in the 1992 campaign and overall I was happy with his presidency. He seems to have amnesia about his role in welfare reform and the fact that he was dismally unsuccessful in his attempt at healthcare reform and allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, but he did preside over a good economy and brought down the deficit. I guess folks might say that he was the very model of a model major “Reaganite”- dismantling welfare and focusing on the economy. But that’s a subject for another time.
One can politically dissect everything said and make a case on either Mr. Obama’s or Mrs. Clinton’s side. But Mr. Obama made a big mistake when he attacked Mrs. Clinton about her membership on the Wal-Mart board. He played right into the Clintons hands and opened himself up for a one two punch. He should not have gone there. Remember the Clintons are rather adept politicians and he gave Mrs. Clinton the perfect opening to drudge up Mr. Obama’s relationship with Resco which he had addressed years ago and admitted regret. Mr. Obama’s record working on behalf of inner city poor as a community organizer in Chicago is indisputable and although Mr. Obama gave Mrs. Clinton an opening that would make any astute politician salivate, it was patently unfair to portray Mr. Obama as more attuned to a Chicago “slum” lord than to the inner city poor he worked with every day as a community organizer even if her statement was technically not untrue.
Mr. Obama did make a point that sometimes he doesn’t know if he is running against Bill or Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton responded that both of them have spouses who are zealous advocates for their respective campaigns. Technically again- Mrs. Clinton is correct. However, Michelle Obama has not engaged in the sort of politics in which President Clinton has engaged and even if she had, there is a huge difference; she is not a former President. President Clinton has uses his bully pulpit as a former President to be Senator Clinton’s pit bull. His status as a former President gives him a unique platform. A number of Democratic bigwigs have asked the former President to dial it down, but it doesn’t look like he has any plans on doing so anytime soon.
I hate to say something favorable about the Bushes, but former President George H.W. Bush stayed out of the attacks during his son’s presidential campaign against Senator John McCain in 2000. It is rather frustrating when the media give President Clinton a free ride about his role in his wife’s campaign when they say it is a unique campaign because we are charting new territory when a former President is the spouse of a presidential candidate. Well maybe technically, but wouldn’t the relationship between a former President who is the father of a presidential candidate be pretty similar and therefore not completely uncharted territory.
Mr. Clinton is not acting like a senior statesman and as someone who has defended Clinton zealously to anti-Clinton friends and relatives I am embarrassed by his actions. Not only is this not an appropriate role for a former president and senior statesman but it might make some – especially in the “I hate the Clinton” crowd make a fair case that Hillary’s candidacy is actually a 3rd term for Bill. His actions have made him look like he wants to get back to the White House too much and it gives easy fodder for the Republicans in the general election should Mrs. Clinton be the Democratic nominee.
In it’s endorsement of Senator Obama, Columbia South Carolina’s prestigious newspaper “The State” said:
“The one most significant difference between them can be found in how they would approach the presidency – and how the nation might respond.
Hillary Clinton has been a policy wonk most of her life, a trait she has carried into the U.S. Senate. As her debate performances have shown, she has intelligence and a deep understanding of many issues. Her efforts in New York focused first on learning her adopted state’s issues in detail, and pursuing legislation that would not necessarily grab headlines.
But we also have a good idea what a Clinton presidency would look like. The restoration of the Clintons to the White House would trigger a new wave of all-out political warfare. That is not all Bill and Hillary’s fault – but it exists, whomever you blame, and cannot be ignored. Hillary Clinton doesn’t pretend that it won’t happen; she simply vows to persevere, in the hope that her side can win. Indeed, the Clintons’ joint career in public life seems oriented toward securing victory and personal vindication.
Senator Obama’s campaign is an argument for a more unifying style of leadership. In a time of great partisanship, he is careful to talk about winning over independents and even Republicans. He is harsh on the failures of the current administration – and most of that critique well-deserved. But he doesn’t use his considerable rhetorical gifts to demonize Republicans. He’s not neglecting his core values; he defends his progressive vision with vigorous integrity. But for him, American unity – transcending party – is a core value in itself.”
The only person who came out of the Democratic debate in South Carolina unsullied was Senator Edwards- the candidate I originally supported. I changed my support from Senator Edwards to Senator Obama precisely because I felt Senator Obama could move us out of politics as usual- the same reason he won the endorsement of “The State”. I still believe that he can take us there and that he can be the transformational leader that the nation needs. I believe that Mr. Obama can create a coalition of Democrats, Independents and “Obama” Republicans the way President Reagan did for the Republicans with his “Reagan Democrats” and appeal to Independents.
Mr. Obama has been pulled into a school yard spat by the Clintons but he must return to his message of hope, unity and transformation and stop being pulled into politics as usual no matter how adept his opponent and her former-President husband are at enticing him into it. Mr. Obama must find a way to return to the audacity of hope and not engage the mendacity of politics that have been too much the norm over the past decades.