“Liberal intellectuals have largely abdicated their responsibility to provide unblinking and rigorous analysis instead of paeans to Obama’s image. Hardly any prominent liberal thinkers stepped forward to question Obama’s rationalizations about his relationship with his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. Instead, they hailed his ever-changing self-justifications and sometimes tawdry logic — equating his own white grandmother’s discomfort in the presence of a menacing stranger with Wright’s hateful sermons — as worthy of the monumental addresses of Lincoln.” Ma! Sean Wilentz is being an asshat…again. Just in case anyone takes Wilentz seriously anymore — like publius, I’ve gotten to the point of doubting his scholarship — Cliopatria has compiled a list of worthy responses. [Link via Ted.]
“Above all, this irony emerges: Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence — on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to ‘do the job from Day One.’ In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel…Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.” The Atlantic‘s Josh Green, who covered the dirt on the Patty Doyle firing earlier this year, tells the story of Sen. Clinton’s primary bid from the inside (thanks mainly to being the beneficiary of vindictive document dumps from across the campaign hierarchy.)
Among the many interesting revelations, Mark Penn is apparently an even bigger asshole than he seemed during the primaries. Regarding Sen. Obama: “All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050…his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values…Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.” Classy.
Update: Speak of the devil. While giving kudos to McCain for his Paris Hilton ad, Mark Penn emerges from his cave to extol the usefulness of negative advertising. “Picking a president is not just about the candidates’ strengths but also about how their weaknesses can manifest themselves. Imagine if, in 2000, Al Gore’s advertisements had hit George W. Bush hard over incompetence on foreign affairs and as a trigger-happy cowboy.“
“‘The most important thing we learned is this: Hillary Clinton won 8 of the last 13 primaries,’ said Steve Schmidt, Mr. McCain’s top strategist. ‘He is beatable.'” Facing an uphill battle against Sen. Obama, John McCain takes several pages from the Clinton playbook. Well, thanks much for pre-plowing that road, Senator. I don’t think it’ll make much difference in the end, whatever the polls say at the moment, but we might as well make the GOP work for a strategy next time.
In related news, Bill Clinton still seems stuck in a moment he can’t get out of. “‘I am not a racist,’ he continued. ‘I’ve never made a racist comment and I never attacked him [Obama] personally.’” Uh, riiight. Tell you what, Mr. President: We’ll forgive you if you just stop insulting our intelligence about it.
Update: He’s still picking at the scab. “‘You can argue that nobody is ready to be President,’ the former President told ABC News.”
Well, it’s sometimes seemed to have more endings than Return of the King. But, tonight, it looks like the primary season is finally, really, truly at an end, with Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois our duly chosen Democratic nominee. In the days and weeks ahead, it’ll behoove all of us, however hard, to let the primary bygones be bygones and to help reunite the party against our real foe, John McCain and the GOP. But, before we let the healing begin, I do have one more word to say about the Clintons, who above all else this campaign season has proven the truth of the old adage: “Choose your enemies wisely, for you will become them.“
Now, I’m not going to recite the full litany of grievances against the Clintons’ behavior of late one more time. I’d say that ground is already pretty well-covered in the election archives. But I will say this: It has become increasingly fashionable in the press and elsewhere to esteem Sen. Clinton — regardless of her other political transgressions — as gutsy, tenacious, a fighter. Say what you will about her methods, this line of thinking goes, she goes there. She does what needs to be done. In fact, argues otherwise discerning political observers such as friend and colleague David Greenberg, she is exactly the kind of fighter the Left has said they’ve been looking for. (Of course, she and her husband have been AWOL when it counted over the past seven years, but that’s neither here nor there in this view.)
Well, simply put, this is all hooey. Sen. Clinton’s behavior over the past six months and change has been exactly the wrong lesson for Democrats to draw from the politics of the last decade. I’ve said it here several times before, but, in a nutshell, here’s why:
You don’t wear the ring. You destroy the ring.
Or, in other words, the key to beating the Republicans is not by acting Republican. It’s by rising above their tendentious garbage and working to restore reason and sanity to our politics. At the very least, a Democratic nominee for president shouldn’t validate the base tactics of the GOP by wallowing in their wretchedness. For what shall it profit a woman, if she shall gain the whole world, and lose her own soul?
Nevertheless, seemingly blinded by ambition, Sen. Clinton very quickly chose the wrong path. (In the place of a Dumb Lord, we would have a Queen…) She embraced the Rove playbook and dabbled in Al Qaeda hysteria. She validated John McCain and threatened to obliterate Iran. She called her opponent elitist and derided the “elite opinion” of the reality-based community. She played nice with Limbaugh, Scaife, and FOX. She flirted dangerously with the race card and lauded hard-working whites. She, for all intent and purposes, became the Republican candidate in the Democratic primary. She, and her husband, became part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
To repeat something I said after Wisconsin in February, the night when Sen. Obama’s primary victory basically became mathematically inexorable: “If you’ll forgive the lapse into LotR metaphors, the treason of Saruman, once the noblest and wisest of our order, is almost subdued. The Battle for Middle-Earth is only beginning.” So, as we move forward after tonight, I’ll try as much as anyone to tone down the internecine fighting around here, and start focusing fire on our true opponents over on the Right. (That is provided, of course, that Sen. Clinton chooses to diminish, go into the West, and remain a Democrat.)
But let’s also draw the appropriate lesson from the Clinton candidacy of 2008. The Clinton era is over, and this general election is now a chance for we as Dems “to show our quality.” We are not Dubya-Rove Republicans, and adopting their scorched-earth idiocies in a “tenacious” attempt to get elected is most assuredly the road to political, civic, and spiritual ruin.
You know, just when I thought Sen. Clinton realized she had been decisively beaten, and thus that it was time to beg off and let the healing begin, we get garbage like this: With West Virginia and Kentucky on the docket (and no more sizable African-American populations left on the calendar), Clinton toys dangerously with the race card yet again. “‘I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,’ she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article ‘that found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.’” Uh, riiiight. Because, as we all know, black Americans aren’t hard-working at all, but rather “shiftless” and “indolent.” “There’s a pattern emerging here.” That there is, Sen. Clinton, and your campaign seems to be on the wrong side of it.
I get it — She was probably trying to make the same old point about her support among the white working class, and for whatever reason it came out disastrously wrong and inadvertently (I hope) conflated white and hard-working. But, even allowing for an unfortunate gaffe, this riff further illustrates the Clinton campaign’s troubling penchant for denigrating African-American votes as less important than those of white folk. Simply put, they’re not — a vote is a vote is a vote, and Obama has more of them, eggheads, African-Americans, you name it. Nor do I agree with the dubious contention that white working-class voters who have backed Clinton in the primary will go for McCain in the general en masse. As I said here, when it comes to primaries and generals, we’re talking apples and oranges. Past performance is no indicator of future success, or failure.
You know all the media hype we’ve been hearing of late about Obama’s presumed troubles with white voters? According to a study by NYT columnist Charles Blow, the numbers don’t bear it out. In fact, quite the converse: “The question is this: Have white Democrats soured on Obama? Apparently not. Although his unfavorable rating from the group is up five percentage points since last summer in polls conducted by The New York Times and CBS News, his favorable rating is up just as much. On the other hand, black Democrats’ opinion of Hillary Clinton has deteriorated substantially (her favorable rating among them is down 36 percentage points over the same period). While a favorable opinion doesn’t necessarily translate into a vote, this should still give the Clintons (and the superdelegates) pause. Electability cuts both ways.” That it does. (See also Rural Votes.)
“I think that they played the race card on me. We now know, from memos from the campaign that they planned to do it along.” It’s not a lie if you believe it, right, Mr. President? I’ve grown bored with trying to keep track of all the myriad ways Bill Clinton has continually embarrassed himself in recent months. But, since I’m blogging today and as per his “mugging”, former President Clinton whines further about the reaction to his unfortunate Jesse Jackson comparison, citing once again a vast Obama conspiracy and now memos that do not exist. (In his own mind, he probably meant the Amaya Smith memo during the MLK/LBJ uproar, which, of course, had nothing to do with Clinton’s idiotic remarks.) The former president also said he couldn’t have said anything racist because he has an office in Harlem. Uh, I live in Harlem…I didn’t realize that constituted a free pass for us white folk to spout ignorant and dismissive bromides whenever it’s politically expedient.
Not realizing the mic was still on, Clinton later scoffed to an aide during the interview, “I don’t think I should take any shit from anybody on that, do you?” Actually, Bill, you really, really should.
Update: Now, in full defiance of the audio, he’s denying he said it. “Outside a Pittsburgh campaign event, a reporter asked Clinton what he had meant ‘when you said the Obama campaign was playing the race card on you?’ Clinton responded: ‘When did I say that and to whom did I say that?‘” (Can you find the Clintonian distortion? I’m guessing it’s “played” versus “was playing,” but who knows how the man’s mind works?)
“The campaign did not play ‘a race card,’ Mr. Clinton told CNN. ‘We had some played against us,’ he said, “but we didn’t play any.” As it turns out, Sen. Obama wasn’t the only politician to discuss race in the past twenty-four hours. As noted by Emily Bazelon at XX Factor, President Bill Clinton went on TV on Monday to act (surprise, surprise) the aggrieved party with regard to race in South Carolina. “Mr. Clinton said the widespread interpretation of his remarks — comparing Senator Barack Obama to the Rev. Jesse Jackson — was ‘a total myth and a mugging.’ Mr. Clinton added, ‘I think that’s been pretty well established.’” Uh, no, Mr. President, that hasn’t been established in the slightest.
“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” I saw this yesterday and was going to leave it well enough alone, but since it’s growing into a full-fledged dustup today, and since Team Clinton recently made a point of calling for Samantha Power’s scalp: former veep candidate and Crossfire host Geraldine Ferraro makes some rather unfortunate remarks about Sen. Obama. To quote Ambinder (whom I generally find irritating, but he pegged this one): “Because running as a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama is soooo easy.” At any rate, if the door is now open to playing this ridiculous identity game, I think it’s rather obvious to all that if Ferraro herself was a white man, we’d never have heard of her, since her gender was basically the sole reason for her inclusion on that historically terrible ’84 ticket. Similarly, if Sen. Clinton wasn’t the spouse of a former president, it’s hard to imagine her still in this race, particularly given her virtual mathematical elimination and all.
Perhaps, before Ferraro makes any more dubious claims about an easy road for black males in our society, she should read Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson’s editorial today in the NYT, where he examines the old-school racial fears stoked by Clinton’s infamous 3am ad: “I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society.” Some pundits argue that Patterson is over the top here, but I actually think he’s on to something (and, note, I’ve recently defended the Clinton ad people on charges of intentional racism.)
As Chris Orr notes, this wasn’t just a warmed-over Mondale/LBJ Cold War leadership spot. Team Clinton explicitly turned it into an old-school home invasion ad, the kind that’s so passé that even Slomin’s Shield has moved on. The Clinton campaign still could’ve forestalled any possible racial subtext by changing the race of the family, but, as it is, you’d have to be willfully naive not to see a problem with the Clinton version of “Barack Obama is a menace that will harm your sleeping (white) children in their beds” as it came out. At the very least, the ad gurus at Camp Clinton are guilty of willful ignorance about racist cultural tropes in American history, and perhaps a good deal more. Update: In response, the Clinton campaign points to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her African-American child in the ad, although, given the lighting, that wasn’t immediately obvious, to say the least.)
Update 2: Ferraro blows a gasket, now claiming: “I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white. How’s that?” Well, if it’s any consolation, Rep. Ferraro, I’m sure your fellow national embarrassment, Sean Wilentz, agrees with you. (Patterson rebuts Wilentz here.) Update 3: Ferraro’s done this before, back in ’88: “If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race.“
Update 4: “It wasn’t a racist comment, it was a statement of fact.” Ferraro can’t seem to stop digging herself deeper. At this point she’s either dogwhistling to Pennsyltucky or just completely off the rails. Either way, Keith Olbermann’s disbelief about Ferrarogate last night is worth watching. Update 5: She’s gone, and not very gracefully.
“‘I think it would be really wonderful if me and Barack Obama could get together and make a nice counter ad,’ Knowles said.” Enterprising local journalists in Bonney Lake, WA find the little girl in Clinton’s fearmongering 3am ad and discover, not only that she’s old enough to vote, but that she’s a strong supporter of, and former precinct captain for, Barack Obama. Apparently, the ad used stock footage from 8 years ago, which should help to quell the talk of subliminal racism on the Clinton campaign’s part. (I don’t happen to subscribe to that intentional-racism theory, or this one. But, if this thing goes on another month, who knows where Team Clinton will draw the line?)
“The Obama campaign has yet to reach bottom in its race-baiter accusations…They promise to continue until they win the nomination, by any means necessary.” Taylor Marsh, Ph.D? A Clinton supporter from Day One, he at first dismissed Obama as merely the newest in a long tradition of “beautiful losers,” like Adlai Stevenson and Bill Bradley. (If you come ’round here often, you can probably guess that didn’t sit too well with me. In fact, it’s basically the same argument recently made by friend and colleague David Greenberg, before he went the way of the Great White Hope.) Well, if today’s TNR piece is any indication, historian Sean Wilentz only knows how to lose ugly. Despite the fact that Wilentz has been ranting worse than Krugman for most of this election cycle, I’ve been inclined to give him a pass, partly as a professional courtesy of sorts to a well-esteemed historian of whom I once thought quite highly, and partly because of his well-publicized Dylan fandom. Well, no more. Wilentz has been writing increasingly blatant pro-Clinton spin pieces throughout the campaign, which is his wont as a Clinton supporter, I suppose. But here he’s penned a shrill and intemperate screed which, frankly, is more embarrassing than anything else. It’s the type of angry, weirdly conspiratorial rant you’d expect to be written by an anonymous, and possibly drunk, Salon poster, not one of the more venerable American historians in the profession.
Am I overstating the case? Well, let’s take a look at some of the spleen-venting on display here: “After several weeks of swooning, news reports are finally being filed about the gap between Senator Barack Obama’s promises of a pure, soul-cleansing ‘new’ politics and the calculated, deeply dishonest conduct of his actually-existing campaign. But it remains to be seen whether the latest ploy by the Obama camp–over allegations about the circulation of a photograph of Obama in ceremonial Somali dress–will be exposed by the press as the manipulative illusion that it is.” Calculated, deeply dishonest conduct? Ploy? Manipulative illusion? Tell us what you really think, Prof. Wilentz.
And that’s just the first paragraph. It gets worse. Check out this unsightly sentence: “As insidious as these tactics are, though, the Obama campaign’s most effective gambits have been far more egregious and dangerous than the hypocritical deployment of deceptive and disingenuous attack ads.” Riiight. I really started to buy your case after that fifth negative adjective or so.
I’d spend time refuting Wilentz point for point if I thought he was trying to make a reasonable case here. But he spends most of the article just shrieking “race baiter race baiter race baiter!“, punctuated with occasional whiny, Clintonesque accusations of pro-Obama media bias. (One of the many targets of Wilentz’s wrath, Frank Rich, has recently pointed out the problems with that line of argument.) But, in general terms, in order to buy what Wilentz is selling here, you’d have to believe all of the following:
And so on. Meanwhile, in between the purging of bile (Obama’s “cutthroat, fraudulent politics,” “the most outrageous deployment of racial politics since Willie Horton, “the most insidious” since Reagan in Philadelphia), Wilentz trots out stale and rather sad race-conspiracy talking points from pro-Clinton hives like TalkLeft, such as Jesse Jackson Jr. chiding superdelegate Emanuel Cleaver for standing in the way of a black president. (Please. As if female superdelegates weren’t receiving similar calls from the Clinton camp. Clinton even made the explicit gender case — again — in the debate tonight.) I dunno, perhaps this is what you should expect from a thinker who cites Philip Roth as an expert on black-white relations. (Although, fwiw, Roth’s voting Obama.) Nevertheless, Wilentz has crossed over the line here from politically-minded historian to unhinged demagogue, and made himself to look absolutely ridiculous in the process. It’ll be hard to read his historical work in the future without this hyperbolic and ill-conceived polemic in mind.
So, since Thursday night’s seemingly valedictory moment, when it seemed Sen. Clinton might withdraw from the presidential contest with dignity intact, we’ve witnessed the ridiculous “shame on you” farce, her grotesquely unbecoming (and unpresidential) spate of unhinged sarcasm, further railing against Obama’s foreign policy (in part by comparing him to Dubya), some really desperate whining about the press coverage, and — arguably a new low — her staff’s apparent attempt to get the “closet Muslim” smear machine up and running again with the already-infamous Somali gear pic. (Here’s a quick summary of recent events.) Update: One of the more egregious spins of the day: Combining the biased-press and Somali-photo tacks, a Clinton aide is quoted as saying, ““Wouldn’t we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were [Clinton]?” Uh, no, because there’s obviously no whispering campaign arguing that Sen. Clinton is secretly Muslim. Really, what kind of idiots do you take us for?
It can only make you wonder what the next eight days will bring, and how much lower the Clinton campaign can possibly sink. I understand that they’re desperate now (See also Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro all but begging supers to back HRC), but they’ve really gone beyond the pale. At this point, I’m less outraged than I am just disgusted by Sen. Clinton, Mark Penn, and co. The self-immolation of the Clinton legacy is almost complete, and any goodwill they might’ve once enjoyed in progressive circles is well past exhausted. Let’s just hope the trail of slime they leave on their path to the exit doesn’t prove fertile ground for the Republicans in the general.
Update: Sen. Obama personally responds to the Somali pic flap: “Everybody knows that whether it’s me or Senator Clinton, or Bill Clinton, that when you travel to other countries they ask you to try on traditional garb that you have been given as a gift. The notion that the Clinton campaign would be trying to circulate this as a negative on the same day that Senator Clinton was giving a speech about how we repair our relationships around the world is sad. We are going to try to stay focused on what will make a difference in our foreign policy, including bringing the war in Iraq to an honorable end.” He then proceeded to twist the knife: “The notion that they would try to use this to imply in some way that I’m foreign, I think is, you know, unfortunate…These are the kinds of political tricks and silliness you start seeing at the end of campaigns.”
Update 2: The NYT surveys “what one Clinton aide called a ‘kitchen sink’ fusillade against Mr. Obama,” while the WP’s Dana Milbank reports on the efforts of the increasingly combative and bizarre Clinton spin room: “They are in the last throes, if you will…there was no mistaking a certain flailing, a lashing-out, as two Clinton advisers sat down for a bacon-and-eggs session yesterday at the St. Regis Hotel…[They offered] a fascinating tour of an alternate universe.”
How will the Clinton campaign rationalize the losses over the weekend? It’s not pretty. Said Senator Clinton: “‘These are caucus states by and large, or in the case of Louisiana, you know, a very strong and very proud African-American electorate, which I totally respect and understand.’ Noting that ‘my husband never did well in caucus states either,’ Clinton argued that caucuses are ‘primarily dominated by activists” and that “they don’t represent the electorate, we know that.‘” So, “activists” and African-Americans, not “real” Dems. Got it. As for Bill Clinton’s take: “‘Her campaign’s broad appeal is largely to people who need a president,’ Clinton told an audience in Silver Spring’s Leisure World retirement community tonight. ‘Very often they are working and busy and dont go to these caucuses.’” Sure. I guess holding them on a weekend probably didn’t help either. As a commenter at TNR wryly characterized the spin last night: “Clearly there’s been a massive flood of Latte sipping African American knowledge workers into rural Maine.“
Mind you, I’ve said before that caucuses may not be the best way to organize a statewide election. But, given both the breadth and depth of Obama’s leads in caucus states all across the country, Sen. Clinton’s continued losses speak less to the inherent problems of caucusing than to the inherent problems of the Clinton campaign. As I said yesterday, if her campaign is any indication of the managerial talent we can expect from a Clinton presidency, the prognosis is not good. To wit, it’s poorly managed, woefully disorganized, suffers from a lack of “activist” enthusiasm, and — like a certain Republican administration I could mention — clearly had no Plan B. (Also, apparently, Sen. Clinton wasn’t apprised of her dismal funding situation until after Iowa. Another managerial coup.)
“‘Obama’s campaign has been extraordinary and titillating for me and my family,’ Mr. Carter said…’He has an extraordinary oratory…I think that Obama will be almost automatically a healing factor in the animosity now that exists, that relates to our country and its government.’“
Former president Jimmy Carter compliments Barack Obama, although he also says he will not be endorsing anyone before the nomination is decided. “Mr. Carter also said he talked by telephone at length on Monday with former President Bill Clinton, who was ‘trying to explain that he was not raising the race issue’ on the campaign trail…Mr. Clinton ‘has said a few things that I think he wishes he hadn’t said,’ Mr. Carter said. ‘He doesn’t call me often, but the fact that he called me this morning and spent a long time explaining his position indicates that it’s troublesome to them, the adverse reaction.’”
“Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in ’84 and ’88…” Uh, but Bill, nobody mentioned Jesse Jackson. President Clinton tries to race-card it up until the last dog dies. But, hey, shame on the media for injecting race into the campaign, right? It is time…for them…to go.
Update: The Atlantic‘s Matt Yglesias had a pretty great line about this: “After all this time being told by the Clinton campaign that Barack Obama is some kind of closet Reagan-worshipping right-winger, it’s a bit confusing to be told that he’s the second coming of Jesse Jackson, too.“
Update 3: If you were perusing politlcal sites on Sunday, you may have heard many angry Clinton supporters claim that they’d watched the full exchange, that the President was asked directly about the “first black president” prior to the clip — hence, “that’s just bait too” — and that the media was distorting his remarks because they hate Clinton. Not surprisingly at this point, this all turned out to be a pack of bald-faced lies.