Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Obama declares himself the nominee; Clinton crosses a different threshold

On the night that Obama declared himself the Democratic nominee, here's my take on the Clinton campaign.

I didn't think it was a problem that the primary campaign went long--and it did. It drummed up money and encouraged voter registration and turnout that would help whichever Democrat got nominated. It's a petty slap at Obama that she felt compelled to keep tonight from being completely his night, but that won't make any difference in the long run, and to the extent that it will be remembered at all it will likely be more to her detriment than his.

I didn't mind that she went after Obama--and she did. He was her opponent in the primary. It's what you do. I don't even much care if she did stuff that was dirty. (Obama supporters can pick their favorite example here.) I wouldn't say Obama's skirts were much cleaner, although I think his operation was a lot less ham-handed about it. (Clinton supporters can pick their favorite example here.)

After all, Reagan didn't have much trouble deciding on the elder Bush as his running mate, even though in the primaries Bush gave the world the prescient and undying phrase "voodoo economics." (Of course, it helped that Bush was willing to abjectly swallow his pride and renounce that remark in the general campaign, hardly the sort of thing anyone would expect Hillary to do.)

I found her shifting repertoire of "this parrot isn't really dead" sophistries for staying in after the delegate count was obviously, irrevocably against her to be silly, but it's her campaign. I've lived long enough to see people get into the White House through much worse means than desperate and implausible spinning. If her donors want to pay for it, even after tonight, then long live the American experiment, I say.

But this little side trip into Leiberman-land, on the other hand, was inexcusable. No one should be surprised that, once broadcast, it has now returned, perfectly timed to compete with the message of Obama's self-declaration as the winner of the Democratic nomination tonight:

Hours before the polls closed Tuesday in the final two Democratic presidential primaries, the Republican National Committee began circulating a video of Hillary Clinton questioning Barack Obama’s qualifications to be commander-in-chief, and acknowledging John McCain has this important presidential credential.

Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign, I will bring a lifetime of experience and Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002,” Clinton says in the one-minute video of CNN’s coverage of a news conference she held on March 8 – the day Obama won the Wyoming caucuses. “I think that is a significant difference. I think that since we now know Senator McCain will be the nominee for the Republican Party, national security will be front and center in this election. We all know that.

"And I think it is imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold. And I believe I have done that. Certainly, Senator McCain has done that. And you will have to ask Senator Obama with respect to his candidacy.” […]

An RNC official tells CNN to expect to see more of Republicans highlighting Clinton’s critical comments of Obama as the campaign now turns to the general election phase.

“We will use it repeatedly,” the official said.

(Emphasis added. The CNN clip is here.)

All those weapons available for Clinton to bring to bear on Obama, all the possible lines of attack stressing her policies or electability over his--including arguing that her commander-in-chief credentials would trump his--that's all part of the game. If Obama couldn't find a way to defend against that obvious point about national security experience, that's his problem.

But for Clinton to argue gratuitously that McCain's credentials are acceptable but Obama's aren't--McCain, you recall, being the one that the Democratic nominee is supposed to try to defeat--that was inexcusable.

Apologies aren't really Senator Clinton's style; she's prefers explaining why things weren't her fault. So be it.

The reality is that it wouldn't be in Obama's best interests to run a Clinton-free campaign in the general even if it were possible--successfully bringing her supporters on board will be necessary to beat McCain (which is still the point of the exercise, some evidence to the contrary), and that means getting Hillary out there on the stump this summer and fall and selling it like she means it. (I'm not sure how interested Obama will be in help from Bill, who must surely seem like a loose cannon from the former's perspective, nor am I sure he'd be much interested in helping beyond general party fundraising.)

So expect Obama to be a reasonable man about Hillary promoting John McCain by name. Expect no official retribution, no inquiries, no acts of vengeance for Hillary having handed this weapon to the Republicans. And don't feel surprised that they're using it--that, too, is how the game is played.

And, in practical terms, given the sort of campaign the Republicans can be expected to run against Obama, it may not amount to much more than a fart in a windstorm.

But it was inexcusable. And I'd be astonished if it's forgotten.

(Hat-tip to Doctor TV.)

1 comment:

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

I think it's important to remember that in 1980, Teddy Kennedy (a person that a lot of people are lionizing now - Mary Jo's family, not so much) NEVER conceded to Jimmy Carter. Hell, he never even shook the poor fellow's hand to show unity. Bottom-line, maybe we have been a little rough on Hillary for not waving the white-flag immediately.