Sunday, March 16, 2008

Getting fooled again

A few weeks ago Frank Rich wrote a column in the New York times that, among other things, compared Hillary Clinton to George W. Bush in managerial style and judgment. Since then Hillary has unleashed what has become known as the "kitchen sink" strategy, dubbed for throwing everything available at front-runner Barack Obama. The strategy, though wide-ranging, is surprisingly simplistic in its approach. The main component of the plan is also Bushian in nature.

One could make the argument that the Bill Clinton nomination in 1992 elevated campaign tactics to a new level--with the induction of a 24/7 "war room" to handle press questions and disseminate negative information on opponent George H.W. Bush. The elder Bush appeared slow and weak, while the Clintons stayed ahead of the attack curve. These tactics did not go unnoticed by the Republican party which took eight years to catch up. By 2000 Bush junior was vying for the White House, and at his side were people like Karl Rove who could not only cripple other Republican candidates, but negate Democratic heavyweights like Vice President Al Gore.

After 9/11 those Rovian tactics found their muse in the form of shadowy terrorists, rogue nations, axises of evil, and illegal immigrants--all things nebulous, subversive and alien--designed to scare the hell out of white America and drive them to the polls to vote for those who could save them. The Clintons, eying the White House again in 2008, have shown themselves exceptional political students. As Barack Obama gained momentum they got busy sowing the seeds of fear and tapping into white America's unrelenting xenophobia.

First, Bill Clinton rejected Obama's win in South Carolina as purely racial--noting that even Jessie Jackson won there not once, but twice. Then, after a lackluster Super Tuesday in-which Hillary not only did not win the nomination, lost her lead among delegates, the Clintons focused on Texas and Ohio and began scaring the daylights out of blue collar white workers.

Pictures of Obama in native Kenyan garb appeared on the Drudge Report. (Drudge claims they arrived via the Clinton camp.)

Meanwhile, the Clintons began painting the good citizens of Ohio and Texas as unfortunate victims of outsourcing.

Too painful to admit reality, that jobs have been lost because labor workers priced themselves out of the market and did not make themselves competitive enough, job losses were instead attributed to NAFTA, the evil trade agreement that allows our products to be made by Mexicans. Never mind that those Mexicans often work in appalling conditions with no insurance so we can, and do, buy their productions on the cheap. And never mind that NAFTA itself was enacted by the Clintons. As we have discovered over the last eight years the discontent and anger of the scared white voter knows no reason and no bounds.

Finally, there was the "red phone" add White children are sleeping soundly in their beds, yet something is amiss. Mom is alert, peering into their rooms to make sure everything is fine. But outside, somewhere, something is happening. There is a burglar in the proverbial bushes. The hedgerow surrounding the suburban house has been breached. Barbarians lurk at the gates. But fear not, Hillary Clinton is there to take the call and avert a national crisis of some unknown origin.

Hillary, vowed to go to Washington and fight. Against what, no one is really sure, but that's not the point. There's a lot of anger out there, a lot of uncertainty. It's the type of thing that can give fruit to an Iraq war, and give reason to a candidate gone mad. Barack Obama may just be the candidate who represents too much uncertainty. While Hillary has been a familiar white face we have recognized all these years.

And to no big surprise, all of this all worked. Obama's momentum was halted and both Ohio and Texas swung Hillary's way.

This week, Geraldine Ferraro dismissal of Obama as a flavor-of-the-month candidate. She ruminated that this month the flavor is black, and America is "caught up in this concept" as she said. To think that this statement, by a well-handled, politically savvy trailblazer was not intentional is to be totally ignorant.

And that brings me to Obama's minster, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose name alone not only sounds concocted but hearkens back to the Salem witch trials. Imagine Obama's misfortune at having to attend a church for twenty years where the minister shouts things like "God damn America!" from the pulpit. Obama has every right to attend what ever church he wants, and the rhetoric of Rev. Wright, which resonates with so many disillusioned African Americans, may be what keeps Obama grounded. There are millions who are hurting and broken and Wright taps into that spirit and Obama listens. Still, that comes with a steep price when white America begins listening in.

What does Wright have to do with Clinton? It plays right into her tactics. The Wright issue is huge, and any Obama supporter had better understand that. It is huge for the very reasons I mention above. As Obama himself pointed out in the wake of the Ferraro attack, "I think that if anybody was looking for the quickest path to the presidency, they would not say 'I want to be an African-American man named Barack Obama.' I do not think that is in the handbook for running for president."'

Obama says this for good reason. If there is any doubt about the precarious chances an African-American faces when getting elected to a federal position, one only needs to look back on the voting history of this country. Then, give that person a foreign-sounding name. A name so atypical all you have to do is say it to make the many whites cringe. Barack Hussein Obama.

And Now that very person is introducing himself to the country, and is, to many, a man educated in a madrassa, a man who when in Kenya does as the Kenyans do, a man who happily attends a radical black church. He has been painted that way not just by bigoted and agitated right-wing radio hosts but also by the Clinton campaign. This was a calculated ploy to show Clinton as the more trustworthy candidate. Because, in-comparison to Clinton, who seemingly has been around forever (many would say far too long!) Obama
is the unknown. To many nervous white voters he is becoming a shadowy and therefore untrustworthy candidate.

You could tell in his rebuke of the Rev. Wright Obama knew he was walking a fine line between a black community with whom most of Wright's message resonates with, and a white community that finds the comments deplorable. So, what is a man of God to do? What Obama should have done was not put Wright on his staff, and should have done as much as he could to distance himself from what he knew, even a year ago, was a potential problem. One wonders what asset Wright was for Obama that outweighed his obvious liability. Maybe Obama was a little stunned at how distasteful his minister sounded to many Americans. Not good when many will rely on what they think they know rather than the unknown. A perfect voting block for calculating politicians.


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