January 13, 2008

Clintonian Sin: Arrogance

The Clinton campaign has made a mistake, one which may be fatal to their hopes in South Carolina and perhaps beyond. In order to counter the Obama challenge, they have engaged in an aggressive attack strategy, attempting to hammer at Obama's perceived weakness in experience and to swiftboat his strengths by attacking his integrity. The Clinton machine learned the tactics of political victory in the decade long battle against rapacious republicans. They invented or refined the political warfare tactics of rapid response and triangulation, using them to effectively confound republicans for a decade.

The problem they have now is twofold. One, they are fighting Obama as though he were the republicans, which basically means anything is fair game if you can get away with it. Its how republicans play. Democrats had to learn to fight with as much savagery, and the Clintons and their advisors such as Carville wrote that playbook. But they are not fighting the republicans for the White House, they are fighting Obama for the nomination. The strong arm tactics are overkill and the more they ramp them up, the more shrill and mercenary they appear. They were doing better trying to sell their vision and why they are the best to lead. But instead, they are focusing on telling us why Obama is not the best candidate. They are giving reasons not to vote for Obama, rather than reasons for us to vote for Hillary. Its a negative campaign.

Two, their campaign is beginning to ooze arrogance. Bill has been hailed as the so called "first black president" so often, he apparently has begun to believe it. Hillary references her years fighting for civil rights ad nauseam to assert that their is no way that her racial bona fides can be questioned. They have clearly taken for granted their vaunted position in democratic circles and among blacks, assuming that they would be free to attack the first credible African American candidate for president in any way they saw fit with impunity. They have also assumed that they don't have to be careful in what they say, since no one can question their racial goodwill. Wrong on both counts.

Hence, the emails about Obama's muslim middle name and innuendo that he was raised in a madrassa. The references to admitted past drug use and even raising the idea that perhaps he was a drug dealer. Bill regularly using the word "kid' in references to the 46 year old Obama. Hillarly's ill-advised comment about LBJ and the Civil Rights Act. The recent deployment of Bob Johnson to attempt to smear Obama again with past drug use and the subsequent statement issued by Johnson through the Clinton campaign (which means they wrote it, not him) saying he was referring to Obama's community organizing years, an insulting lie because it is so patently transparent.

In their arrogance and for all they supposedly understand black people so much, they have failed to understand that blacks will quickly withdraw their support if they attack Obama with unfair, hardball tactics that include smears, lying, misdirection and disrespectful attacks. He is the first credible candidate to make a run. Blacks, many of whom are supporting the Clintons, won't balk if the Clintons beat him fair and square. But the Clintons are clearly using anything they can get away with now that they perceive him to be a real threat. For that, blacks are likely to make them pay with a withdrawal of support, both now and in the general should they win the nomination. A shot across the bow as already come from Rep. Clyburn of SC, who has publicly stated his disappointment with recent comments from the Clinton campaign. Its a warning the Clintons would do well to heed.

Should this prove to be their downfall, the Clintons will have no one to blame but themselves. More than any one, they should have understood the delicate balance they would have to strike. In their arrogance, they are proceeding as though they can do or say or behave in any way they wish. They are sadly mistaken.