The politics of politics

I wish someone other than William Kristol had said that and that he had gotten his facts straight:

The more you learn about him, the more Obama seems to be a conventionally opportunistic politician, impressively smart and disciplined, who has put together a good political career and a terrific presidential campaign. But there’s not much audacity of hope there. There’s the calculation of ambition, and the construction of artifice, mixed in with a dash of deceit — all covered over with the great conceit that this campaign, and this candidate, are different. . . .

With no particular dog in the Democratic fight, many conservatives have tended to think it would be good for the country if Obama were to win the Democratic nomination, freeing us from the dreary prospect of the return of the House of Clinton. Now I wonder. Might the country be better off with the cynicism of the Clintons than the conceit of Obama?

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Peter Daou, Clinton’s online adviser, sent an email to a bunch of bloggers arguing that Obama’s playing the negative game, too:

I want to address a pervasive misconception, namely, that Senator Obama hasn’t run a negative campaign against Hillary. I think it’s time to put that misconception to rest.

The truth is that for months, the Obama campaign has been attacking Hillary, impugning her character and calling into question her lifetime of public service. And now the Chicago Tribune reports that Senator Obama is preparing a “full assault” on her “over ethics and transparency.” To those who contend that Senator Obama is the clear frontrunner, I ask, to what end this “full assault” on Hillary?

On CNN last Tuesday, Senator Obama said, “Well, look, Wolf, I think if you watch how we have conducted our campaign, we’ve been very measured in terms of how we talk about Senator Clinton. … I have been careful to say, that I think that Senator Clinton is a capable person and that should she win the nomination, obviously, I would support her. You know, I’m not sure that we have been getting that same approach from the Clinton campaign.”

The facts of this election stand in stark contrast to that statement. Senator Obama and his senior campaign officials have engaged in a systematic effort to question Hillary’s integrity, credibility, and character. They have portrayed her as someone who would put her personal gain ahead of the lives of our troops, someone who would say or do anything to win an election, someone who is dishonest, divisive and disingenuous. They have adopted shop-worn anti-Clinton talking points, dusted them off and unleashed a torrent of unfounded character attacks against her. Among other things, they have described Hillary – and her campaign – as: “Disingenuous” … “Too polarizing to win” …’Divisive’ … “Untruthful” … “Dishonest” … ‘Calculating’ … “Saying and doing whatever it takes to win” … “Attempting to deceive the American people” … “One of the most secretive politicians in America” … “Literally willing to do anything to win” … “Playing politics with war” [Each of those lines is a link in his email to the quote; I’m too lazy to copy them all over -ed]

To top it off, they have blanketed big states with false radio ads and negative mailers — ads and mailers that experts have debunked time and time again. They have distributed health care brochures using Republican framing. They have tried to draw a nexus between Hillary’s votes and the death of her friend Benazir Bhutto. And one of Senator Obama’s top advisers (who has since left the campaign) recently called Hillary “a monster.”

This “full assault” on Hillary comes from the very top of the Obama campaign, not surrogates and supporters.. . . .

This is a hard-fought campaign – as it should be. Like any candidate for elected office, Hillary has made clear why she thinks she would do a better job than her opponent. She has laid out comprehensive policy proposals, put forth her 35-year record of accomplishment, and spent countless days introducing herself to voters across the country. She has said that she is far better prepared to take on John McCain on national security. She has contended that she is the candidate with the experience to confront the GOP attack machine. She has argued that she is more electable. She has said that Senator Obama’s words are not matched by actions. And she has challenged him to live up to core Democratic values and goals such as universal health care. . . .

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I look forward to hearing Obama’s speech today about race. I hope he will say that criticism is not racism. And questions are not all negative. I hope he will urge a return to substantive discussion of issues, not personality and victimhood.

  • Jeff, with all due respect, I don’t think you have the Obama thing right. In brief, here’s what makes him different. Please bear in mind that I’m a nerd, not a policy wonk.

    There’s a difference between a boss and a leader. You do stuff for a boss because he orders you to, and that’s effective, in a limited way, for a handful of people.

    A leader can motivate millions of people to work together to do the right thing, and that’s what’s happening with Barack. That’s not just in the US; overseas, people feel that with him in charge, we can be the good guys again. That’d be in practice and perception.

    Countries get big stuff done when people are inspired by genuine leaders, like FDR, Lincoln, Victoria, Elizabeth I, etc.

    Another major difference is the relative lack of influence on him by the more predatory lobbyists. (Most lobbyists are just trying to get a fair shake for their client companies, but a small number are happy to sell out the public for a few bucks.)

    Barack has so little of this bad effect that people have been forced to attack minor stuff. On the other hand, McCain is now completely controlled by predatory lobbyists, and Hillary is largely so. (I’ve done the fact checking at, etc.)

    So, the big differences:

    — Barack’s a leader, not a boss

    — He’s running very clean, not owned by the bad guys

    Am I making any sense? thanks!

  • MD

    “criticism is not racism”

    So you want a major presidential candidate to use his speech on race – ON RACE – to address media bias and white people who get called racist because they say stupid things? There’s not a few other more important issues facing the black & white divide than whatever Ferraro chose to whine about? Can you remove head from keester for even one minute?

  • bab23

    I like the way even Daou put “full assault” in quotes. The Chicago (Tribune?) article I believe originated this report describes only the ongoing calls for more disclosure from Senator Clinton. Is that an assault? Maybe, there’s certainly innuendo there (or, to be generous, maybe just a call for transparency). Is it “full”? Well, frankly, I’m amazed at how little of either of the Clintons’ past alleged, admitted, or potential indiscretions have yet to surface in this primary race.

    Senator Clinton has centered her campaign (understandably, but not always convincingly) on her “35 years” experience. How is it that Senator Obama is not permitted to comment upon the quality and quantity of that experience? Senator Obama has centered his campaign on character (mostly in the form of whose character traits are best suited to and effective presidency) and judgment. How is it he is not supposed to draw the kinds of contrasts Senator Clinton does with respect to all that experience?

    Some tactics (from both campaigns) have been less honorable than others. Overall, I don’t see anything that comes even remotely close to crossing a line of dirty politics (and the only truly cringeworthy utterance from either of the CANDIDATES (as opposed to their underlings/supporters) was the ultimately irrelevant 60 Minutes hedge that may help perpetuate known a fallacy.

    More worrisome to big-D Democrats is that they have one potential nominee saying that the other would make a credible president, but not a better one than he, and the other saying that her opponent, despite having a current lead by every measure, isn’t even worthy of the office.

    Anyway, I hope you liked the speech. (All I want is a president who quotes Faulkner.)

  • Craig,
    And with all respect in return….
    Yes, Obama shows the ability to lead. But I fear I have not seen his ability to manage. And I do believe that what we are hiring in November is a manager of an institution that has been terribly mismanaged by someone who was bossed around and not a boss.
    You, friend, are a leader and a visionary; you create and inspire. But you hired a CEO to run the company you created. And you regularly remind people what a smart move that was.
    Push will come to shove and the President will be forced to make hard decisions and when that happens, I am not sure what Obama would do. He could very well impress me; if he wins, I certainly hope he does. But as far as I am concerned, he is untested and uncertain. I believe I know what Clinton will do and I’ll agree with most of it.
    I’m not hiring a hero. We’re hiring the chief executive of the United States.

  • Jeff, thanks! but I’m no leader or visionary, just getting through the day, removing lots of disinfo and bigotry attacking both Hillary and Barack.

    Anyway, I’ve had lots of managers in my time, particularly at IBM and also involving GM, etc. (ten years in Detroit.) Barack’s doing a really good job managing; observe the performance of his teams, particularly in caucus states. He’s picking up a team of really good managers, and managing them.

    That’s also a really good “starfish and spider” approach; please pardon the overworked phrase. (On the other hand, Monday I talk to the US Southern Command about it. Who’da thought?)

  • Harry

    Both Hillary and Barack are seriously flawed individuals, and you could make a very strong case that either will be a disaster—–like Bush 41 or Carter—–as president.

    Unfortunately, the same things can be said for John McCain.

    I sense a nasty storm building on the horizon, and 2009 to 2013 are not going to be years with a lot of fun.

  • I wish I was as smart as Andrew Sullivan at

    Alas, I cannot give a more considered response right now as I have to get on the road. But I do want to say that this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history.

    And it was a reflection of faith – deep, hopeful, transcending faith in the promises of the Gospels. And it was about America – its unique promise, its historic purpose, and our duty to take up the burden to perfect this union – today, in our time, in our way.

  • kat

    Then I pity you if you aspire to be as smart as Sullivan. He has been kissing Obama’s ass for months now– just andrew spewing more bull. Searing, gutwrenching, —-puking. Andrew is a shill for obama.
    I wonder if Sullivan considers Wright a Black Christianist.
    Smart like andrew–LOL