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

education grants kind

14 thoughts on “oBOMBa?

  1. When you talk about breaking from old, tired, divisive approaches, do you mean the trash like when Hillary called Barack out for simply “denouncing” Louie F’s endorsement rather than flat-out “rejecting” it?

    I almost threw up when she said that.

  2. Hornseth says:

    It raises the question: Can a major campaign refuse to go negative on principle, make a big, self-congratulatory, break-from-the-past deal about it ….and win?

    If anyone could, it would seem like the Obama campaign would have the aptitude for bringing about negativity’s Berlin Wall moment. But…

    You know front-line politics better than I, Loveland, but I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a consultant that would predict other than a Pyrrhic victory for a non-negative Obama.

  3. jloveland says:

    Going negative is both dishonest and strategically stupid.

    Today’s NYT editorial said it better than I can: “A candidate should never betray the core theory of his campaign, or head down a road that leads to that betrayal. Barack Obama doesn’t have an impressive record of experience or a unique policy profile. New politics is all he’s got. He loses that, and he loses everything. Every day that he looks conventional is a bad day for him.

    Besides, the real softness of the campaign is not that Obama is a wimp. It’s that he has never explained how this new politics would actually produce bread-and-butter benefits to people in places like Youngstown and Altoona.

    If he can’t explain that, he’s going to lose at some point anyway.”

  4. Hornseth says:

    Hey, I like this discussion. And I like the NYT quote.

    Crowd — weigh in.

    Obama going negative: Sadly smart or strategically stupid?

  5. kadetcomm says:

    I keep thinking that Obama is keeping his rhetorical powder dry for the general election. Good luck with that.

    The NYT quote nails it. Obama’s message is spinning its wheels — without a vision for what all this change will get us, Clinton will continue to speak to people’s hopes *and* fears and define the rest of the primary season.

    I think Obama wins by going aggressively positive — taking the story further toward what “change” means for you and me.

    One other comment — Clinton advisor Mark Penn’s wrote a book where he calls it surprising but true that the working class votes on the issues, while elites vote on character and personality –while imagining they’re doing so because that’s what the working class will do.

    Darned if that’s not how it plays out when Clinton wins …

  6. jloveland says:

    Thought-provoking post, Kadet. In a race with few issue differences, such as this primary, it strikes me that character and personality should take a higher priority than in a race where the issue differences are more significant.

  7. Bert says:

    Swimming in a sea of style, the challenge is to find some substance floating out there worth going negative over. If Obama’s hope and hype go limp when the sea gets choppy, voters wonder what happens when the real shit hits the fan. He will need to find a way to find some fire, some moral outrage funnelled into powerful responses. But it needs to be over something that really matters, not just an insult over the stripe of his tie. In fact, he has to somehow make it is not about him. He will need to stand up and show that he is fighting for all these hopeful young things that have followed him down the path. Righteous indignation, baby! But it’s got to be about something big in a campaign where the only big things are sweeping generalities. Good luck with that.

  8. jloveland says:

    Bert, you make some good points. But let me challenge an underpinning assumption:

    I’ve heard that “when the real shit hits the fan” line of argument a lot. But, I would point out that Obama has had a bit hit the fan.

    He has had attacks that have made it onto TV on some personally damaging stuff — being Muslim in a nation of Muslim-phobes, refusing to swear in with his hand on the Bible, refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, being part of a crooked church, being associated with 60s radical revolutionaries, being in bed with a crooked real estate guy, being just like Ken Starr, having a wife unproud of America, lying about NAFTA, plaigiarizing speeches, darkening his skin, lightening his skin, being no more serious than Jesse Jackson, being secretly for Reaganomics, and going to a terrorist school, among other things.

    I don’t intend to start the violin music. This is not a case for victimhood. But I do want to challenge the conventional wisdom that this is a guy who has been handled with kid gloves and has yet to face tough stuff.

    Will McCain launch nastier stuff than the aforementioned? I’m not convinced he will. In that race there will be honest to goodness policy differences, and I would guess that might be more the focus that these kinds of personal issues.

  9. Bert says:

    Oh, I’m not suggesting running against a Clinton is ever going to be a cakewalk. Certainly some nasty stuff has come his way, but it is mostly personal because this race is highly personal. I suppose people don’t want to see a leader perpetually turning his cheek until he spins through the floorboards. But he has to be careful. It is better to go ballistic about something that really matters to people in their daily lives — how they keep their jobs or health insurance or a roof over their heads — than about a personal insult that doesn’t really involve them personally. (This is maybe why the 3 a.m. phone call ad was effective — if it really was and I haven’t seen polling. That is the kind of shit storm people are wondering about). The conundrum here is that the candidates are only talking about things that matter in broad generalities, so it is hard to latch on to something specific that helps show off some spine.

  10. jloveland says:

    Good points, Bert.

    My point: Obama has just such a Spine Test right now. If he starts acting just like the Clintons — with the petty and overstated attacks and whining — it will show that he has insufficient spine to substantiate his calls for “lifting the country up instead of tearing each other down.” Many seem to think the Spine Test is whether he’ll stand up to the Clintons, the media or McCain. I submit the tougher Spine Test is whether he will stand up to his own advisers and stick to the central promise of his campaign.

  11. Kelly Groehler says:

    “Obama going negative: Sadly smart or strategically stupid?”

    I need a frame of reference, please. Name one politican who hasn’t gone negative.

  12. jloveland says:

    You’re right. Every politician conventionally judged to be experienced enough to run for President has gone negative some time in their life. Obama hasn’t had to go negative against an opponent in a big way because his career has been so short, and his races have been relatively non-competitive up until now. His inexperience is one of the reasons why he can run this unique campaign.

    Obama has had truly extraordinary appeal with previously discouraged voters because of his “lift the country up instead of tear each other down” promise. If he abandons that, I’m won’t be damning him for being an aberrant politician. I will be damning him for being an all too ordinary politician.

  13. ghornseth says:

    So. Postive or negative for Obama?


    At least that’s what Dick Morris and Eileen McGann advise in the New York Post today. Excerpted:

    “If (Obama) doesn’t answer in kind, he’s toast. ….But if he does, they’ll have forced him off his winning message of hope. … The solution for Obama is clear: Reply in kind, but do it through surrogates…His holier-than-thou posture is fine for the opening stages of a campaign, but when your opponent starts throwing mud, you’ve got to answer….Obama needs to enlist the likes of Ted Kennedy and his other supporters in making the case against Hillary.”

    Gigantic URL:


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