No Thank You, Hillary, I’ll Pass

Am I really the only liberal in the country who hasn’t already thanked, raised money for, supported, door-knocked for, voted for and attended the 2016 inauguration of Hillary Clinton as President?

I love these conventional wisdom commentators who are all saying the Democratic nod for president is Hillary’s if she wants it. Why? How come? Really?

Hillary for blogI’ve gotten emails every day for the last month saying “please sign this card for Hillary thanking her for her amazing superlative selfless saintlike damngood service to the country, the species and the universe.” It’s as if we’re all so greatly indebted to this masterwoman who lowered herself from her corporate board seats to serve poor drooling humanity one more time.

The latest is an email story from The Washington Post announcing a contest –  Help Hillary name her upcoming memoir. I’ve got a name for Hillary’s book that’s fitting — “ME!”

Let me step firmly off this bandwagon.

Carl Bernstein’s excellent and revealing 2007 biography of Clinton showed her to be soulless, a person driven by whatever is best for her. Measured, focus-grouped, a person whose core principles are all about advancing herself.

Has she done a good job a secretary of state? Yes. Has this been good service to the United States and world? Yes. Does she believe in and advocate for important causes, such as the empowerment of women worldwide? Yes. She, like all of us, is a complicated woman, a blend of selfish and selfless.

But what’s at her core? Watching her last week testifying before the Senate, reading — READING — her remarks about how she stood at Andrews Air Base and watched the coffins return from Benghazi and how she put her arms around the daughters and spouses showed her to be — hollow. Reading these remarks? Did she have margin notes — “Choke up just a little here…”?

This is the person who, in the 2008 campaign, when Republicans were attacking Barack Obama for not being American and for being Muslim, responded when asked about his religion — “As far as I know he’s a Christian.” What a profile in courage. The ugly sewer-level whispering about Obama was benefiting Hillary, so she was going to do the least required of her to deal with it. Compare this to what I’ve posted on this blog several times — Colin Powell excoriating his fellow Republicans for not stamping out this disgraceful canard.

Even my oldest brother, who can cherish a grudge like fine wine, says I have to let go and get over this. But I don’t think I will. Character, or its lack, shows through in key places in a person’s life, and I think with Hillary we’ve seen what we’ll get.

I don’t find her a compelling political leader nor a mind with great vision, as I’ve found Obama. She has a good shot at becoming the first female president — but should she be elected because she’s female? What’s the bumper sticker — “Not just any woman”? There are many women leaders in the country who would make better presidents, even if they would have a harder time getting elected.

But could Clinton get elected? I think her lack of character would show, as it did in the 2008 campaign. Against a genuine and passionate and younger Republican — she’d have great trouble.

But apparently I’m the only one who’s not waving a Hillary 2016 flag. I’m not ready for the restoration — I think it’s time to keep moving in the direction Obama is heading us.

– Bruce Benidt

 

 

(Image from NBC News

Of Ignorance, Courage and the Lack of It

Mississippi and Alabama Republican voters, half of them — half! — think President Obama is a Muslim.

We liberals find that appalling. Any flavor of human would, I think, find that horrifying.

But a vaunted liberal helped spread this ignorance. When Hillary Clinton, during her long primary contest with Obama, was asked if Obama is a Christian, she said, “As far as I know he’s a Christian.”

What a calculating, pusillanimous, inhuman answer. It was Clinton’s low point, as far as I was concerned. She chose political advantage over being a decent person. And when leaders don’t stand up, the rest of us have few examples.

Many of us liberals were, rightly I think, sickened by Mitt Romney’s and Rick Sanctimonious’s cowardly refusal to excoriate Rush Limbaugh for his wretched comments about Sandra Fluke. But did Hillary Clinton show any more courage than that when asked about Obama’s religion?

Want to see a man of courage, a decent man, dealing with something like this? Colin Powell, on Meet The Press, during that same 2008 campaign. He says he’s troubled by his party allowing it to be said that Obama is a Muslim. And then he says:

“The correct answer is he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian, he’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no — that’s not America.”

Would that more of our public figures had Powell’s courage and compassion. We might not be such a nation of ignorance.

(BTW, I use this clip — and it’s well worth watching the whole thing — with my clients to show the impact an example provides. Watch Powell tell the story of the Arlington headstone. It illustrates his point so compellingly.)

– Bruce Benidt

Tina Fey Is Sarah Palin

You have to watch the ad to see it (because NBC asserted their copyright to get it pulled from YouTube), but the opening of last night’s Saturday Night Live is hilarious.

Tina Fey is Sarah Palin.

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Mullet-Americans Rally Around Pawlenty

Mullet-Americans are “cautiously optimistic” about rumors that mulleted Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty may soon be named Senator John McCain’s vice presidential running mate.

“It would obviously be historic, and it could really balance the ticket, what with McCain’s embarassing lack of hair below the cervical vertebrae,” said mullet-American activist Billy Rae Cyrus.

Still reeling from the political demise of skullet-American Jesse Ventura and fem-mullet-American Hillary Clinton, mulleteers continue to claim Pawlenty as one of their own, despite allegations that he has recently scaled back on the party side of his do.

“Look, we understand that candidates have to ‘run to the middle’ in the general election,” said actress Florence Henderson. “Even I’ve had to moderate under pressure from the mainstream manes running the major studios. But we know Pawlenty will do the right thing once he gets in the White House.”

Mullet-Americans were once a proud and influential group in the 1980s, led by the likes of Ziggy Stardust, MacGyver, Michael Bolton, and Luke from General Hospital. But more recently, an ugly wave of mulletism pushed them into the margins of society.

“Great Clips has actually refused me service, and the ACLU just laughed about it,” said one mullet-American, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, due to fear for his safety. “It’s very emotional to think that some day I might see someone who looks like me attending obscure funerals and being appointed to toothless commissions.”

To understand the tremendous obstacles Pawlenty faces as he attempts to break through what many say is the highest and hardest glass ceiling, consider the hate speech directed at the mulleted minority: “Hockey hair, ten ninety, helmet hair, coupe Longueuil, haircut o’ death, neckwarmer, shorty longback, the 10-90, the Kentucky waterfall, the bi-level, the faded glory, the Ben Franklin, the Missouri Compromise, the Louisiana Purchase, the Camaro crash helmut, the business cut (business in front, party in the back), the LPGA, the soccer flip, the convertible, the Tennessee top hat, the Mississippi mudflap, the Canadian passport, the New Jersey neckwarmer, the Chattanooga choo choo, and the neck blanket.” In perhaps the ultimate insult to Minnesota’s Governor, the proud mullet is sometimes even referred to as “the Wisconsin waterfall.”

Though fossil records prove that homo sapiens with primative mullets have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years, it was 2001 before the word “mullet” even appeared in dictionaries. The historical implications of a Pawlenty candidacy are not lost on beleaguered ape drape advocates.

“I do get emotional about it,” said Cyrus, whose own hind-heavy tresses have been referred to by mulletist hate groups as The Achy-Breaky Mistakie. “They can call us what they want, but come January, let’s just say there is going to be Pawlenty of hair facing east on the inaugural stage.”

- Loveland

Obama Goes To Black Father’s Day = Nixon Goes to China?

African American men are one of Barack Obama’s strongest constituencies. And yesterday, Father’s Day, he called them out about disproportionately high levels of asbsentee fatherhood among African American men.

This is tough stuff. This is akin to John McCain going to white seniors and lecturing them about the current structure of Social Security and Medicare threatening their grandchildren’s ability to retire in dignity. It’s like Hillary Clinton going to feminist activists and lecturing them about inadvertently fostering a culture of victimhood by occasionally overstating sexism to gain a personal advantage.

Make no mistake, Barack Obama stuck his political neck out here. Guts, or nuts?

There is a phrase used in politics, “only Nixon could have gone to China.” President Richard Nixon was able to politically survive negotiating with Chinese communists because of his staunch anti-communist street cred. Therefore, the reference “only Nixon could go to China” builds off that historical analogy to make the larger point that personal history dictates one’s relative credibility to be a messaging pioneer.

The son of an absentee black father went to an African American church yesterday in the same way Nixon went to China. Others would not have been heard in the same way. Others would have chosen the safer route with their strongest constituency, pandering rather than pushing. Others would not have survived politically.

All of us need to be pushed by our leaders. I need to hear about the need to sacrifice more in taxes to truly “support our troops,” so the fiscal pain for my generation’s wars are not pushed off onto my kids’ generation. I need to hear that my kids should be subject to military service as surely as other people’s kids, so I am not insulated from the pain and sacrifices associated with our foreign policy decisions. I need to hear that I’m not the “self-made” man I sometimes fancy myself to be, and that I need to do more to give back to the next generation in the same way past generations of taxpayer’s gave so much to me.

And I don’t hear enough of that from my leaders.

African American dads are hardly the only ones in America who need less pandering and more pushing. All leaders need to search their souls and ask themselves, “where is my ‘Nixon goes to China’ opportunity to say what really needs to be said?”

- Loveland

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Throw Back the Ring

(My wife, Lisa Dewey Joycechild, has been saying some intriguing things about Hillary Clinton, and I asked her to write her thoughts for the Crowd. -Bruce Benidt)

My 20-year-old Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies & I disagree with three of my friends and their Women’s Studies degrees about who to support for president. It’s been Barack Obama for me ever since I heard him at the 2004 Democratic convention and we ordered bumper stickers from a do-it-yourself website years ago. My three friends–two 51-year-olds and a 40-year-old, all white–are vehement about Hillary Clinton.

We’ll remain friends. And they’ll vote for Barack. But I’ve been surprised by what seems to me like their entrenchment. My 73-year-old mom (white, with a graduate degree) wants Hillary, too, but I get why she wistfully says, “I want to see a woman president in my lifetime.” I don’t get my friends.

I haven’t tried to change their minds and I’ve tried to understand them a little. One friend just kind of ominously insists that “the next president has to have a vagina.” One friend said the depth of her feeling surprises even her; that it feels like something ancient and righteous rising. The other friend said Hillary deflects sexism better than Barack deflects racism. I know why that’s important to my friend but as a big criteria for the presidency, it feels narrow.

To me, it’s simple: Barack’s the future. Or rather, he’s here today bearing the exact skills and perspectives needed to help us through the present and into the future. He’s the only one speaking that kind of language. I think it’s easy to recognize him because the essence of what he’s doing is getting us to lead ourselves.

And that’s the future.

He’s also effortlessly raised millions on the internet and draws tens of thousands of us to hear him speak, as though waiting in line for hours is a mini pilgrimage we’re happy to make. For me, the effortlessness and the tens of thousands are evidence that Barack is galvanizing something. Something that has heretofore looked invisible but is quite real and has been richly ripening. I think it’s our appetite for love and appreciation. And for the recognition that we co-create reality.

We’re famished for the radicalizing possibilities we feel (like, the possibility of true economic democracy) when somebody is able to tap the fact that it’s up to us to create the world and to create reality. Thereby introducing us to how powerful we each are. That’s what Barack does and that’s why he’s unstoppable. It’s because we’re unstoppable–people, human beings, our species–there’s nowhere else for us to go except into our next step in evolution, into the future, together.

Dominance is an evolutionary dead end, says my heroine Caroline Casey (who I got to hear at a conference last month). We need to focus on how not to polarize, on how not to have contempt, on how not to face off with each other–because those things serve “empire.” We need to “conjure the desirable world;” ask about everything we do whether it leaves us more “kinned” or more alienated; realize that if we can dream something up, we can dream it down–that it’s possible, like we’re air filters, to inhale our complicity in tyranny and exhale democracy. Barack animates all that for me. I don’t hear Clinton anywhere near those ideas.

Two weeks ago at my conference, seven world class astrologers on a panel about the U.S. presidential election unanimously chose Barack Obama to win–if, many of them cautioned, the will of the people prevails and the person actually voted for is also declared the winner and inaugurated. One panelist said Hillary’s chart shows a career crisis or collapse. Another said her chart is showing the end of a dream. One said Hillary’s chart may be indicating it’s time to retire from such an out-there public life and go do something “personal,” like Al Gore did after 2000.

Caroline Casey reminded us that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is about who wants the ring of power and who wants to throw it back into nature where it belongs. Even Galadreal is seduced by its tractor beam for a moment, and Hillary’s story represents that part of all of us that can’t quite let go of the ring yet.

Maybe tomorrow night or the next day some kind of dream will die for my friends and my mom who want Hillary. That may be sad. But to me it’s somehow an old-world dream and it needs to die. In the new present, where the ring and its power are returned to nature, everybody matters. “Equality is more radical than switching tyrants,” Caroline says. We conjure (con = with; jure = the law, natural law) the desirable world together. Just like Barack’s inviting us to do.

–Lisa Dewey Joycechild

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Vanity Fair Profile of Clinton (Bill) A Good Read

I don’t know how accurate it is (though it seems exhaustively reported) but Todd Purdum’s profile of the post-presidential Bill Clinton in the July Vanity Fair is an entertaining and thought-provoking read. It examines the – among many issues – the question of why President Clinton – who is one of the best political practitioners I’ve ever observed – could be so off-note so often during his wife’s campaign. Purdum doesn’t reach any conclusions on that point – or others including questions of affairs and suspect business dealings – but he does offer up some interesting theories and has lots of anecdotes.

One of the most interesting things, however, about the piece is its timing, coming as it has at the very end of the primary campaign and past the point where it could possibly change the course of the nomination contest. Did VF restrain itself on that point or did it do so in the face of pressure, presumably from the Clinton camp? I doubt we’ll ever know, but if I’d been in the HRC war room and known this story was being developed I would have fought hard to kill it and failing that (which I would have 99 times out of 100) worked even harder to delay it (more possibility there).

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That Creaking Noise is My Mind Opening

Ouch. I find myself having to give credit to someone I viscerally disagree with.

Koryne Horbal of Columbia Heights is quoted in a story in the Strib today saying “I don’t care” if the petition drive she’s part of — to get feminists to pledge not to vote for Obama if the full delegations of Michigan and Florida aren’t seated — hurts Obama and helps McCain get elected. “Let McCain clean it up for four years, and then we can have Hillary run again,” she said.

Horbal is a Minnesota activist, former Democratic National Committee member and co-founder of the DFL Feminist Caucus. Her position on this apalls me. Is she really willing to risk four more years of ruin to so many things I assume she holds dear and that I know I do — the Supreme Court, peace, America’s role in the world? Will she risk conservative justices overturning Roe vs. Wade? How could she….

Oops. How could I? I’ve become so disgusted by Hillary Clinton’s willingness to do or say anything to get elected that, hmm, I’ve also determined that I could risk four more years of Republican misrule rather than vote for her. She offends deeply held principles of mine — for one, that a leader should have deeply held principles. I am tired of voting for the lesser of two nothings.

Sounds like Koryne. She so deeply feels it’s time for a woman in the White House that she’s not going to give in — she’s going to stand on her convictions. She and I would probably have a flaming argument on issues such as counting Michigan results when Obama wasn’t on the ballot. I remember Horbal from my reporting days as being doctrinaire — and she would find me the same. We could argue about hewing too close to any orthodoxy — feminist or otherwise. I could quote the bumper sticker about Hillary I saw early in the campaign — “Not This Woman.” And we’d go round and round.

But here she is, saying “You have to do what you have to do.” And, from the other side, so am I. I admire people who stand on principle. Come November, one of us is likely to do harm to some of the things we believe in, in service to other things we believe in.

Things aren’t black and white, are they?

–Bruce Benidt

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If She Knew Then What She Knows Now…

Back in January, when Hillary was having Bill measure drapes for the White House (their old drapes were at the dry cleaners, or in Ken Starr’s basement), she went along with penalizing Michigan for jumping ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire in the primary calendar. So did Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chair, who, as Democratic National Committee chair, had threatened to strip Michigan of half its delegates if it butted in line. So did Harold Ickes, her campaign attack dog, who, as a DNC member, voted to strip Michigan of all its delegates after the state went ahead with its earlier primary.

And after Obama and most of the other Democrats withdrew from the Michigan primary — but not Hillary — she said on a New Hampshire Public Radio program that the Michigan vote wouldn’t matter. “It’s clear, this election they’re having is not going to count for anything,” she said. To her credit, she did say that was too bad, and that there should be some way for Michigan to not be left out in the cold altogether.

If she knew then what she knows now — that Michigan would matter, and that she’d be clinging to every vote, legal or otherwise — she’d have fought for Michigan to count at the time. Because she’s a fighter, donchaknow. Hillary believed George Bush’s baloney about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and voted to authorize war. It was pollitically expedient for her to do that, to show she’s tough on defense and terrorism. It became politically expedient for her later to say, “If I knew then what I know now,” she wouldn’t have voted to authorize war.

She’s learned from Bush, who continues to mouth The Big Lie that Iraq was connected to 9/11. Hillary’s Big Lie is that she’s ahead in the popular vote because Michigan — where Obama wasn’t on the ballot — counts. What astounding opportunism and hypocrisy.

How can she sleep at night? Comfortably, apparently — like a vampire in its coffin.

She claims to be ready to lead. But leaders don’t say one thing on Tuesday and the opposite on Wednesday. Leaders have a core. A moral compass. Where most people have a core, Sen. Clinton has a dark gnawing hunger. And that hunger will consume anything it gets close to. Even the senator’s soul.

(I’ve refrained from writing anything about Clinton for awhile, figuring we all were tired of my diatribes. I’ve contented myself with a daily mooning of Sen. Clinton’s image on TV, in the privacy of my home, hotel rooms, and the occasional party. But we won’t have Sen. Clinton to kick around much longer, so I unleash my inner polemicist here again.)

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Yes She Can?

So what’s your favorite media pundit metaphor for the Democratic presidential nomination stalemate?

A kid who keeps changing the rules of the game so it can’t end? A murder suicide? The Energizer Bunny? The world’s most expensive fantasy camp? Dead man walking (i.e. dead but doesn’t know it yet)? Baghdad Bob returns?

Or do you prefer that your metaphor come from Hollywood rather than the pundits?

Whether you view Senator Clinton’s persistence as heroic or delusional, I must say it is truly remarkable.

- Loveland

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Bush Backing Barack?

President Bush’s speech criticizing Senator Obama in front of the Israeli Knesset yesterday knocked Senator Clinton completely out of the news cycle when she desperately needs to be dominating it.

The President’s focus on Obama, rather than Clinton, made it feel as if the Democratic nomination race was over, at a time when Clinton desperately needs to show that race aint over yet.

The resulting Bush-Obama debate put Obama on a presidential plane.

The food fight put Obama in the enviable position of publicly battling W, bringing a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” vibe to the remaining Democratic primaries.

The Bush attack largely eclipsed Senator McCain’s much hyped “vision speech.”

And the Bush-McCain tag team act further linked Obama’s General Election opponent with the most unpopular President in a quarter century.

Could it be that W has joined the Obama cult too?

- Loveland

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Clinton: “Inevitable” to “Independent?”

I wondered when I might see the first reference to it and I saw it this morning.

Polling data from Rassmussen Reports released today:

“… if Clinton does not win the Democratic Party nomination, 29% of Democrats say she should run an Independent campaign for the White House.”

And only 38 percent of Democrats (not just Clinton supporters, mind you, Democrats) think she should drop out of the race. I think that first figure is surprisingly high and the second suprisingly low at this stage of the game. 

Most look to Clinton’s now-failed inevitability positioning as something of a miscalculation, but a million years ago (July) my ever-prescient friend Austin rightly and clinically characterized it as one of her only options to somehow surmount the 50 percent negatives problem.

But what if you don’t need 50 percent to win? Like in a three-way race? Like 1912, when 41.8 percent did the trick for Woodrow Wilson against Roosevelt and Taft?

Massive, goofy longshot, sure. But do you suppose within campaign circles there’s at least a little “I’m not sayin’ but I’m just sayin’” talk going on about that other “I” word?

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SNL Captures the Dems’ Distress

Saturday Night Live is often at its best when it makes us a bit uncomfortable and Amy Poehler’s hilarious riff Saturday night on the current focus of Democratic worry is a classic in this genre.  In a single 5-minute skit, she gives voice to the fears that we all tap-dance around in an effort to remain politically correct.

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Wrong Race, But Right Race

One of the many interesting story lines of the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary is whether race and gender are net positives or negatives, politically speaking.

A Kentucky survey of likely Democratic primary voters published over the weekend added some interesting fuel for this debate. The poll found that both race and gender are net negatives, but race looks to be the much more limiting political handicap.

Senator Clinton’s gender was a 3 point net political negative, with 14% saying her gender makes her less electable, and 11% saying it makes her more electable. That three point difference is within the survey’s 4.5% margin of error.

By contrast, Senator Obama’s race was found to be a 17 point net political negative, with a whopping 21% saying his race makes him less electable and just 4% saying it makes him more electable.

Caveats: If you use these data to think about the General Election, remember that this is Kentucky, not the whole country, and the survey sample doesn’t include Republicans or Independents.

Also, it may be that the strong Clinton corps in Kentucky — she’s leading by 27% — is echoing the contention that Clinton is the much more electable General Election candidate. Senator Clinton is publicly selling that argument, and some of her supporters may be parroting it here.

But if this finding is anywhere near correct, it’s remarkable that Senator Obama has made it this far. While the news media tend to imply that the “historic” parts of the Obama and Clinton candidacies give them wings that allow them to soar above the others, their race and gender may be more weights than wings. And Senator Obama’s leg irons appear to be much heavier than Senator Clinton’s.

In a typical presidential election year, the race handicap would probably be insurmountable. But because the fundamentals are so strong for Democrat presidential contenders in this unusual year, with a slumping economy, controversial war and unpopular incumbent President, Obama may have a shot.

The 2008 race may present a narrow window where an African American could actually win the presidency. But if Obama does win, it looks to be despite his skin color, not because of it.

- Loveland

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Non-verbal Trumps the Verbal — Bill Down, Hillary Up

While Hillary Clinton gave her victory speech in Indiana, Bill was over her right shoulder looking grim. She was saying she was going on, that her Indiana victory broke the tie between Pennsylvania and North Carolina, that she was going to win the White House.

But when verbal and non-verbal messages are in conflict — we always believe the non-verbal. You can say all you want in words, but we watch what your body and your face say. And Bill’s face said it’s over. She’s toast. Dead woman walking, as Charlie Quimby said on his great blog, Across the Great Divide.

A couple of times Bill perked up — once when his wife called on supporters to send money, because he’s seen his speech earnings slip away to campaign consultants. But he could smell the rot, and it showed on his face.

– Bruce Benidt irs form 2106 kind

Clinton and O’Reilly: Unexpectedly Worthwhile

I’ll admit it. I tuned in for what seemed to be the vast entertainment potential.

But then Sen. Clinton and Bill O’Reilly, the spoilsports, turned in one of the more substantive and useful exchanges of the campaign last night, in my view. A relatively freewheeling, candid, semi-wonky back-and-forth (witness their Percentage-Off on federal income tax rates, of all things). It reflected well on both sides, Clinton’s in particular. She was at ease, agile, in command of her positioning, and, well, charming. 

Sure. O’Reilly’s a showman, a provocateur, yes, and that was in evidence. Clinton’s responses had their usual share of wearisome, talking point recitation. And maybe the Senator is starting to show the resigned candor that politicians tend to adopt when they start to realize it’s probably not going to happen for them.

But contrast what O’Reilly’s style elicited versus the grave, weighty sobriety of the 50 zillion proper debates we’ve seen. Regardless of what one thinks of Clinton’s positions, this interview served as a better channel to understanding several of them than most. I felt I got a better sense of what a Hillary Clinton presidency might look like last night than in all of the debates combined.

May wonders never cease.

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“Come Together. Right Now. Over Me.”

This re-punctuated Beatles lyric pretty much sums up the wishes of any number of Democrats who find the whole nomination process at little too Hobbesian – nasty, brutish, and – in this instance – long. What we Dems need, the thinking goes, is “this thing settled” before we so damage the eventual nominee that he or she isn’t able to mount a challenge to Senator John “I’m Tanned and Rested” McCain.

I ain’t buying it.

We – the politically junkies, the media, the blogosphere and the pundit corps – are all knotted up in the minutia of Obama’s latest gaffe or Hillary’s latest nastiness but all of it is simply an intermission before the start of Act II, the working title of which appears to be “The Republicans Get Spanked – Again – for Eight Years of Incompetence.”

“Wishful thinking,” you say? Here’s why I think not.

The latest Gallup poll indicates President Bush is the most unpopular president in 70 years of polling. I don’t care how far and fast Republicans – including Senator John “He’s My President” John McCain – try to run from that stink (and frankly, how far can he run without alienating his base many of whom – remarkably – still support The Decider?), their record of eight years of supporting that incompetence is all over them like shit mist.

A record 29 incumbent Republican House members are voluntarily leaving office this cycle. Think they might know something we don’t?

A staggering 81 percent of Americans think the country is off track. I’m thinking the logic of those voters isn’t going to be “four more years.”

Consider the state of the economy. Consumer confidence last month hit a five-year low and is expected to decline further this month. Oil prices came within pennies yesterday of $120 a barrel and the average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. is north of $3.60 (north of $3.90 in California). Unemployment jumped from 4.8 percent to 5.1 percent in March. Foreclosures are up 57 percent year-over-year. Bankruptcy filings increased 38 percent in 2007 versus the prior year and many feel we were just warming up for 2008.

These are not happy facts for anyone, particularly the people involved, so please feel free to ass-kick any Democrat who appears to be gloating over this litany of pain. That said, when the economy is faltering and people feel vulnerable and scared on the financial front, the party in power generally takes it in the shorts. We haven’t felt this vulnerable since the days of Hoover.

And then there’s the other little issues of the day – the war, national security, the environment, energy, health care, balancing the budget – where Democrats are consistently outpolling Republicans as the party people trust more to manage these issues – even the traditional GOP strongholds of national security and fiscal restraint.

In fact, the gap in party identification these days is as large as it’s been in decades with self-identified Dems (and leaners) outpulling GOP friends and family by a 51-37 margin (this shift has been so profound that Democrats actually outnumber Republicans in red states as a group). That’s doubly worrisome for the GOP when you consider how activated the Dems seem to be this cycle – in state after state Democratic enrollment and participation has surged while the GOP ranks – even when the race was still contested – have been a bit limp. Even the shock troops of Karl Rove’s much-heralded, soon-ridiculed permanent realignment – the evangelical voters who backed President Bush 62-38 in 2004 – seen to be a bit dispirited and divided. A recent survey suggests that if the election were held today, the split would be 40-28 for the Democrats.

And, to put a cherry on it, both Senators Obama and Clinton are outpolling Senator McCain even before either has turned any real attention to him and while in the midst of trying to brain one another:

I hope the Republicans enjoy their spring holiday while it lasts because my gut tells me they’re in for a long, cold fall election season.

- Austin

PS – In the course of researching this post, I came across an article by Alan Abramowitz in the New Republic that makes many of the same arguments I do except more eloquently and with more originality. If you’ve gotten to this point and are having another one of those, “What the hell is he trying to say?” moments I inadvertently create, check him out for a better translation.

PPS – I also found a very detailed and fact-based analysis of the electoral prospects in both the House and Senate on Congressional Quarterly’s site that is well worth a read. irs attorney kind

First, Do No Harm

The foundation of the Hippocratic Oath states that physicians will “never do harm to anyone.” Political consultants should take a similar “first, do no harm” oath.

Witness the harm that Obama’s political consultants did to their candidate by writing a script that says “I don’t take money from oil companies,” instead of stating that he doesn’t accept contributions from political action committees (PACs) representing the oil industry, or avoiding the claim altogether.

Obama has close to a million and a half contributors, more than any candidate in American history. That pretty much means he takes money from every industry in the nation. So, why overstate your case, when it doesn’t need to be overstated?

Obama’s initial corner cutting ad left him wide open to this rebuttal, and no ad should ever do that. First, do no harm. Why does the hottest political candidate in the country have the lamest advertising team? And why didn’t the candidate himself edit the script to make it accurate and bullet-proof?

- Loveland

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Disarming or Arming Humor?

Humor can be a terrific PR tool for disarming a controversy. Artfully done, it can show the world that you don’t take yourself too seriously and possess humility. It is mea culpa lite, still bringing closure with half the defensiveness of a direct apology. And it can make subsequent criticism seem humorless.

Last night on Jay Leno’s show, Senator Clinton used this time honored tactic in an attempt to disarm criticism of her inaccurate memory of being under fire on an airstrip in Bosnia during a foreign policy trip.

This controversy actually seemed to have died off on it’s own prior to the Leno appearance. This is a very good thing for the Senator. The more you think about her error, the more inexplicable it seems. We all forget things, but being shot at tends to be a pretty memorable event. Still, her opponent wasn’t hitting her on it, and the story didn’t have a lot of legs.

Given all of that, is this use of humor disarming, or arming? (Note: Only the first minute of this clip is relevant.)

- Loveland

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“I’m a Fighter” — Such a Tattered, Tired Paradigm

One word comes ringing clearly now when I think how the Democrats, my party, are about to hand yet another oh-so-winnable election to the Republicans.

Fight. I’m a fighter. I’ll keep fighting. And that’s so not what we need in a president now.

It’s not that Hillary should drop out. It’s that she should stop fighting Obama — trying to tear him down — and instead make the case for why she should be president. She won’t quit, and shouldn’t. But she needs to quit trashing the house.

I think all candidates should start their campaigns by shooting any consultant who comes within a block of them. It’s the consultants who tell you you have to differentiate your brand from the other guy’s. That you have to show you’re tough. That you have to fight back. What about just being yourself and seeing if anyone will vote for you?

Hillary’s only road to the nomination now is to tear Obama down, the pundits and consultants say. Horseshit. If she wants to win superdelegates and delegates, she should tell her story, show us what she’d do as president, lift her eyes to the horizon and let us know what she sees, let us know what she hears from us.

But what’s her greatest qualification? “I’m a fighter.” That’s so old, so tired, so 20th Century. We don’t need a fighter. Look what good fighting is doing us in Iraq. We need leaders who can pull people together, pull fighting parties together, understand and call out what connects us, help us get to a place that’s as good as possible for everyone. That’s what Obama was doing before he started fighting back in response to Hillary’s punches.

The problem isn’t that Hillary is still running. It’s that she has such an old-style-politics view of the world. She sees everything as a fight. And the reason Obama is ahead in this race is that, most of the time, he’s been calling us to something higher, something different. He consistently takes today’s small corner of an issue and broadens our view to help us see a wider context and greater possibilities. While Hillary, head down, just keeps punching.

– Bruce Benidt investment calculator kind

Most Effective Message Point of the Primaries: Clinton’s “35 Years”

Sometimes, after the dust settles on a project, PR people look around and think, “Wow. I thought we were going to be hit a lot harder on [INSERT PERCEIVED WEAKNESS] than we were. But it really didn’t come up much. Cool.”

When the tell-all books get written about the Clinton campaign (and I’m already looking forward to them), I’m guessing we’ll hear at least a few Clinton strategists say they expected to get more heat on the relentlessly hammered “35 years of experience” point, but it never came.

Back in January, my friend Benidt observed here that

“Barack Obama — and the media — have given Hillary Clinton a pass on the issue of experience. Hillary talks about being ready on day one to be president — especially important in a time of terrorism when a new president will be tested, she says. Clinton is a second-term senator. Obama is a first-term senator. Yet Obama is the one about whom it’s always asked, “Does he have enough experience to be president?” As if Hillary, ipso facto, does have.”

Spot on. But weeks later, late in the primary game, and prompted perhaps by the Clintons pushing the envelope on the experience message with the 3 A.M. ad,  the Clinton experience inquiry is starting. In a trickle.

Witness yesterday’s Time story, the beginning of what the magazine calls “a series that will take a closer look at the claims candidates make.” They’re starting with Clinton, analyzing her claims of provision of health care to six million kids, helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland, and brokering border deals to help Kosovo refugees. My read of Time’s analysis has her batting about .250 on claim vs. reality, but you can make that judgement yourself.

Pretty late in the game now for that to matter much, though. It may not be enough to get her to win the thing, but “35 Years” did its job in establishing Clinton’s experience as a general given. Whether that’s down to skillful messaging, uninspired reporting, or blunders from the opposition (or luck), credit the Clinton campaign with one of the most successful bits of messaging from anyone’s campaign so far. They’ve been able to call out Obama on experience while largely avoiding serious scrutiny themselves. Whether or not the campaign could articulate Clinton’s experience skillfully, they haven’t really had to. It’s worked splendidly.

That’s just for the primary, mind you. The general election would be another story.

– Hornseth invoice software kind

Obama campaign laughs off Clinton’s punches

A recent e-mail from the Clinton campaign was reissued by the Obama campaign after a heavy, sarcastic annotation. I suggest you read the whole thing, but here’s a taste. Text from the original Clinton message is first, Obama’s response is bold and in brackets:

“After setbacks in Ohio and Texas, Barack Obama needs to demonstrate that he can win the state of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is the last state with more than 15 electoral votes on the primary calendar and Barack Obama has lost six of the seven other largest states so far — every state except his home state of Illinois.”

[If you define "setback" as netting enough delegates out of our 20-plus-point wins in Mississippi and Wyoming to completely erase any delegate advantage the Clinton campaign earned out of March 4th, then yeah, we feel pretty setback.]

And so it continues. It’s actually quite well done, but it’s not flawless.

But the Obama campaign has just announced that it is turning its attention away from Pennsylvania.

[Huh?]

In the last two weeks, Barack Obama has lost ground among men, women, Democrats, independents and Republicans — all of which point to a candidacy past its prime.

["A candidacy past its prime." These guys kill me.]

Are those the best responses they could come up with? To me, in a response that was mostly very effective, very meaningful, these two seem particularly limp. Maybe I suddenly expect too much.

The link above takes you to an NPR news page with the full e-mail. Most commenters loved the Obama response, including “L,” who wrote:

Ooh, touchdown, team Obama.

I can’t wait until after Pennsylvania, when the Clinton campaign starts discussing the vital strategic importance of West Virginia and Kentucky. Ha ha.

But those who didn’t enjoy the Obama retort focused less on the meat and more on the tone. “RB” writes:

Perhaps its generational? I think these answers are snotty and trite and don’t make any significant meaningful contribution to any debate. Is this really how you want your President to speak?

Well, RB, at least it’s straightforward English; getting that from a politician is like getting leftover Guinness in the bottom of my pint glass. Second, one could argue that “snotty and trite” is what’s warranted by what I’d call grasping-at-straws bullshit. By my count, a third of the original Clinton paragraphs are so loaded with hair-splitting percentages and complicated statistical references, all making an effort to show that Obama is losing momentum and can’t possibly win in a general election. This, of course, all comes on the heels of “he’s not ready to be president, but I’d be glad to have him as my running mate” garbage.

So is this “snotty and trite” tone really how I want my president to talk? Perhaps not ideally, and certainly not often. But if the original e-mail is any indication of how a President Hillary Clinton would talk, then damn it, I’m not buying what she’s selling. adp easypay kind

Thin Beer…Good Tactic

As a contrast with Loveland’s post below of Senator McCain getting snippy with his press corps, I offer up Senator Clinton’s trip to the back of the plane, beer in hand, for a similar press availability:

Please don’t think for a second that this was anything other than a deliberate set piece created by the campaign to show that Ms. Clinton remained relaxed and confident a day before her last chance to stay in the race (the video was shot last Monday, the day before the Ohio and Texas primaries), but the important observation is that the set piece worked. While she doesn’t look entirely natural quaffing a cold one, she does come across as calm, comfortable and in control, a contrast to the conventional wisdom of the day that she was “resigned to losing” the nomination battle and/or in a “grim, last-ditch fight.”

B+ for campaign performance art.

- Austin professional tax software kind

oBOMBa?

The Obama presidential campaign seems to be concluding that they lost in Ohio, and kinda sorta in Texas, because negative works. So, they can’t be patsies anymore, and must also go nuclear!

I’d argue this is the real lesson of Ohio: Obama lost because they responded to negative, and susequently let Senator Clinton frame the debate on her issues. In the process, they surrendered the approach that had won them 26 of 37 primaries. The Audacity of Hope became the Paucity of Hope.

Yes, Clinton’s “kitchen sink” strategy worked, for her. Yes, working the media like a basketball coach works refs with claims of victimhood worked, for her.

But Obama has a completely different campaign to run than Clinton, and the old lessons don’t work here. The Obama staff are like old generals going back to the arsenals they’ve used in past wars. But they don’t seem to understand how different this candidate’s appeal is.

If Obama’s campaign goes nuclear, they risk surrendering Obama’s unique base appeal. You can’t go negative with a candidate whose central premise is a break from the negative. You can’t go whiney and victimy with a candidate whose central premise is optimism and hope. You can’t make a case against an opponent’s tired, failed and divisive approach by taking the same approach.

- Loveland

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Wanted: Spokesperson for Obama ’08; Foreign Policy Experience Preferred

I suspect there’s a job opening in the Obama campaign this morning for a foreign policy advisor to replace Susan Rice, the spokesperson for the campaign who yesterday told MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson:

“Clinton hasn’t had to answer the phone at three o’clock in the morning and yet she attacked Barack Obama for not being ready. They’re both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call.”

Oops.

OK, being a spokesperson isn’t a dangerous job in the real sense of the word. Nobody’s shooting at you (usually, in this country) and even the objects that occasionally get thrown at the lectern are soft (mostly). Nor is it hard in the way that coal mining or surgery is and it’s not stressful like lots of jobs with life-or-death consequences. But…it is a high-wire act where one misstatement can mean the end of a career and – as Senator Obama (or Governor Patrick?) says – words do matter. I feel for Ms. Rice. small business finance kind

Hillary Slips Off Her Meds, Teaches Us Crisis Communication Lessons

Hillary Clinton is in crisis. As her ship of state sinks below the waves, she shows us some lessons in crisis communication:

1. What you say today must stand the test of time. Be careful that neither current facts nor future developments can disprove what you’re saying today. Clinton lectured Obama at the Texas debate Thursday — If your campaign is about words, the words should be your own. Lifting whole sections of a speech is change you can Xerox, she said. It took only minutes for the networks and cable stations to start showing Hillary had lifted her emotional ending to Thursday’s debate almost word for word from Bill Clinton and John Edwards. Live by somebody else’s words, die by somebody else’s words. Which brings us to the next lesson:

2. Be honest with yourselves. You can just see it — the night before the debate, some eager panting consultant says, “Hillary, hit him with this, ‘That’s not change you can believe in, that’s change you can Xerox.’” And did anybody in that room say, “Hmm, are we lifting anything?” When you’re a true believer, and your organization or candidate is under attack and taking water, you might feel ready to do or say anything it takes. Take a breath, and see what the words you propose really mean, and what they invite. And whether they’re true.

3. Don’t lose your cool.There’s a difference between passionate and desperate, between firm and flailing, between confident and crazed. Hillary on Saturday said “Shame on you” to Barack Obama over his challenge to her positions on trade agreements. And she has a small point to make — the Obama flier said Hillary called NAFTA a “boon,” when that word was a reporter’s word characterizing her position. But, listening to too many advisors calling up her dark side, Hillary went nuclear. “Let’s have a debate on your tactics and your behavior in this campaign,” she said, with venom, and said the Obama flier was “straight out of Karl Rove’s playbook.” Later she compared Obama to George W Bush. Both promised change, she said, and look how W has worked out — “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” She’s coming across (to me, and I’m biased against her now) as hissing and spitting. She doesn’t seem confident, she seems like a kid who thinks if you’re saying something that isn’t true, just scream and cry a little and it might all work out. In a crisis, if you’re accused of something that’s not true, be strong, make your case firmly, make it with passion and even some anger if appropriate, but don’t go over the edge. And be careful that you’re not righteously slamming your opposition for things you’re also doing.

Bad crisis communication shatters an organization’s or a person’s reputation. Hillary is not looking strong, she’s looking desperate — and that might be the last impression she leaves. I said this morning, watching the clips of her slashing at Obama, that if she’s the nominee, I’m voting for McCain. I’m afraid I might mean it. The crisis lesson here is that a bad spokesperson can harm her organization.

–Bruce Benidt grant applications kind

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