I have been trying to keep this from morphing into a political blog, but there’s plenty of content and goings on out there to prompt a major relapse into political junkiedom for the time being. I tune it all out when I want to, as when I let myself be totally oblivious to the Gore-Bush recount news when it was happening and didn’t know about Saddam Hussein’s capture for over a week.
Obama’s Super Tuesday strategy is designed to keep the campaign going for the long haul and lower expectations for his ability to make up what was just last summer a 30 point deficit in California. A long campaign can give Democrats a longer look at what they’re choices are and digest the tactics used to win early primaries. Much prognosticating has gone on about the Edwards effect, but my sense is he takes votes away from Hillary in Red States and Obama in Blue States.
For one thing I’m glad John Kerry has spoken up today against Hillary’s attacks, because his use of the term ‘swift boating’ puts the nature of the campaign into proper focus, bringing together the themes of Honesty and Change and highlighting the similarities between the methods of W’s and Hillary’s campaigns.
In South Carolina in 2000, John McCain had just won New Hampshire and found himself the subject of a whisper campaign from Karl Rove that had he'd ‘fathered an illegitimate black child,’ referring to his daughter Brigit, adopted from Bangladesh. South Carolina in 2008, Obama is facing an email campaign that he swears his oaths on the Koran and doesn’t take the Pledge of Allegiance, requiring him to respond to the allegations. In New Hampshire, Hillary sent out a mailer saying Obama was ‘unwilling to take a stand on choice’ right before the primary despite Obama 100% rating from Planned Parenthood.
Ken Waldman has had interesting things to say about all this:
“So many of the ingredients of a typical GOP campaign are there, in addition to fear. We have the efforts to make it harder for the opponent’s voters to get to the polls (the Nevada lawsuit seeking to shut down at-large caucus sites in Las Vegas, to which the Clinton campaign gave its tacit support). We have, depending on how you interpret the events of the last couple of weeks, the exploitation of racial divisions and suspicions (including multiple Clinton surrogates criticizing Obama for his admitted teenage drug use). And most of all, we have an utterly shameless dishonesty.”
Someone in the Hillary camp has gone to school on how to campaign Rove-style, scripting a plan to turn whites against Obama to use in case of emergency, and it’s pretty obvious who that was: chief strategist Mark Penn, who talked about Obama’s cocaine admission on a talk show that was supposed to be about campaign attacks. Penn was brought into the Clinton camp by Hillary in 1994 concurrent with Dick Morris to script what continues to be her political style: co-opt the positions of the Republicans and make it a race about ‘V-chips and school uniforms.’
Mark Penn’ PR firm has advised Blackwater on its testimony to Congress, having garnered their business with a resume that includes representing, as Ari Berman writes, “everyone from the Argentine military junta to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which thousands were killed when toxic fumes were released by one of its plants, to Royal Dutch Shell, which has been accused of colluding with the Nigerian government in committing major human rights violations.” It was through Charlie Black, the Republican head of the lobbying wing, that the firm has had close ties to Rove himself, which no doubt helped them get the Blackwater contract in addition to that of Iraqi warmonger Ahmad Chalabi. Berman notes that Penn’s client list has affected Hillary’s policies as with her reluctance to oppose the Indian Point nuclear reactor that’s had nine unplanned shutdowns since 2005, and that Penn has already conducted Rove-style push polling utilizing fabrications about Obama on the topic of abortion.
What happens if Hillary’s race baiting and smear campaigns snatch the nomination from the claws of defeat is that then the political tactics of Rove will make way for the policy positions of Rove. She’s been the beneficiary of her Democratic opponents’ unwillingness to lay her record on the line, but predictably she couldn’t leave well enough alone because the Rove playbook is all Hillary and Penn know. The Republicans will get to finally dig in on the Marc Rich pardon if they get Hillary, who is no competition for McCain for independent votes. Hillary’s attacks seem to have scraped two or three points off Obama’s general election numbers, but Obama can win them back if and when the party’s wrecking ball returns to her legislative duties.