1.21.2008

Democrats: Obama is forced to engage Bill Clinton

For the past few weeks, Bill Clinton has been leading many attacks against Obama. He is the one, for example, who brought Iraq back to the table first two weeks ago by attacking Barack's shady record there -- famously or infamously calling his anti-war reputation a "fairy tale." Meanwhile, Hillary has remained slightly out of the attack circuit, which has allowed the campaign to get a lot of attention for its attacks (which other Clinton surrogate would the media cover even half as much as Bill?) while leaving the candidate out of the fray.

This strategy was especially successful in Nevada, where Bill Clinton went all out; he accused the Culinary of intimidating union workers (and claimed he had witnessed that), he went to the casinos the morning of the caucuses, etc. And Obama now realizes that he needs to fight back and cannot let Bill Clinton go unanswered. Speaking on ABC this morning, Obama said, "We've got a formidable opponent -- actually, two formidable opponents, at this point, between Senator Clinton and President Clinton."

Pressed on that point, he blasted the Clintons for “unbelievable falsehoods” and went after Bill Clinton directly: "He continues to make statements that are not supported by the facts — whether it's about my record of opposition to the war in Iraq or our approach to organizing in Las Vegas. This has become a habit, and one of the things that we're gonna have to do is to directly confront Bill Clinton when he's making statements that are not factually accurate.”

This is not a good situation for Obama to be caught in. His campaign realizes it needs to do something about Bill Clinton and that getting Obama himself to push back is probably the only way. But this draws Obama in a back-and-forth with his rival's spouse rather than with the candidate herself. The media can now paint a Bill Clinton-Obama showdown during which Hillary can go around campaigning on positive rhetoric -- and be covered as such.

This is why Bill Clinton is such a huge asset to his wife, no matter how many reports are being filed about his putting his foot in his mouth. The former president will always be covered by the media, and he is probably the only surrogate besides a vice-presidential pick (much later in the year) who can be used as an effective attack dog whose statements will be played on repeat on cable tv and whose criticisms will feature in the next day's papers. No other surrogate of anyone can force a rival campaign to send its candidate -- not a surrogate, a candidate -- down to the fray to engage with a surrogate. Usually, surrogates are sent to answer surrogates, and the candidate does not have to spend a news cycle responding to all the attacks.

And the Clinton campaign is eager to get Bill and Obama to engage even more frontally, believing that this is a fight that favors them, especially heading into February 5th with a lot of states where Obama is not that well-known yet and where Bill Clinton is loved by the base. Howard Wolfson, one of Hillary's chief advisers, responded to Obama today saying that his allegation that Bill Clinton was fibbing is a "right wing talking point." And that's one more news cycle in which Barack Obama will be stuck answering Bill.

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10 Comments:

  • Can't disagree with you here. I don't particularly like what Bill Clinton is doing, but I can't argue with his effectiveness. The problem long-term is putting the base back together after this is over. Bill and Hillary probably figure that they will have time after they have won to deal with this; they may be right as long as they hsve not gone too far in the meantime (as Bob Johnson did). The ideal solution, IMHO, would be a Clinton-Obama ticket; nothing has happened so far that would preclude that in the end.

    By OpenID sjberke, At 21 January, 2008 15:43  

  • Why is everybody buying this line of "having to put the base together"? What is it exactly that has to be put together? This is the way elections are run. When two candidates ideological orientation is as close as Barack and Hillary, contrast has to be made someplace else. In a sense the Obama camp has to accept the reality of their own rhetoric. Obama has used the change mantra as the fundamental reason for his candidacy. And he has been incredibly short on details. The result is that he has become the Rochard candidate. Everybody sees in him what they want. To expect that the Clintons will allow that to happen is naive. What really piss me off of the Obama camp and his followers is that they will want to turn any criticism of the candidate as out of bounds or inherently racist. They want to muffle the political fight and argument. That is why I see them almost as a cult. The leader cannot be criticized. Well I don’t buy that. He is running for president, not Pope. So we have MSNBC running with this ridiculous story of a broken base, of Hispanics and African Americans at odds, and so on! Please!

    By Anonymous robert_v, At 21 January, 2008 16:58  

  • I just wanted to say that the "fractured party" stuff is bunk. Most of my AA friends who are for Obama are telling me they have no hatred for Hillary, not at all. They just want to vote for him, and I respect that.

    The media keeps trying to make it a love him/hate her or vice versa issue. And it isn't, not for the majority of voters.

    MSNBC and CNN should be ashamed of how they are milking the race thing for all they are worth.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 21 January, 2008 17:28  

  • Robert, is it possible you meant Rorschach?

    And as far as "out of bounds" goes, I may have to side with Obama on this one. Your own language admits the unfairness of his situation when you mention "the Clintons." No candidate for President, in all the time that America has been holding elections, has possessed the advantage of being married to someone that previously held the office--and it doesn't hurt that in this instance, Bill Clinton is still popular with the party's base. Hillary's superior organization couldn't beat Obama in Iowa, but now with her husband as her point man, they're executing a very effective tag-team on Obama. This actually IS unfair, as no other candidate for President has ever had to spend equal time campaigning against an opponent's spouse. Even the current President's father stayed largely in the background in both of his son's campaigns.

    SJBerke, I also have to say that although nothing has happened yet which would preclude a Clinton-Obama ticket, that won't be the case if this sort of dogfight continues going forward. Imagine if the Democratic race is still competitive after February 5, and the two candidates have to continue this bruising fight into a few more primaries! If this keeps up, and the black portion of the Democratic electorate reads this as Obama getting a raw deal, then the base may indeed fracture...or at the very least, black turnout for Clinton (should she win) might be significantly reduced.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 21 January, 2008 17:43  

  • Robert, The Obama campaign does not claim every attack on them is racist, but some of the comments by surrogates were over the line. You have to call them on that.
    Let Hillary win this on her own if she can. But to have Bill be the attack dog and have Obama have to respond to his attacks is really unpresidented, and fundamentally very unfair. I don't mind him campaigning for her but the things he is saying is pissing me off and I voted for him twice. This is a calculated and cynical tactic that is not good for the party. All anybody is asking for is fairness. This is starting to look like a power grab by both Clintons and it will hurt party unity. If Hillary is the nominee she will have to win this against the republicans on her own. This whole dynasty thing is really starting to bug me. Bill is the one trying to muddle things by trying to leave the impression that there was no difference between Sen Obama and Sen Clinton on the war and everyboby should know that is simply not the case.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 21 January, 2008 19:56  

  • Mr. Rational: You are absolutly right I ment Rorschach. Ugly word I must say.

    On the fairness of having Bill Clinton stumping for Hillary, I admit that is unusual and the result of an unique situation. But since the beginning of the modern campaign, spouses have stumped for the candidate. That this spouse is high octane and on steroids is just the result of the facts on the ground. To ask Hillary to shelve Bill is naïve. All this fellows are in this to win and they will use all the resources available to them. Campaigning has changed over the years. There use to be a time when the presidential candidate just stayed home while the surrogated went around and did the campaigning. Then most of the work was done by the newspapers that were nothing more that organs of the parties. Surely nobody would suggest that electioneering should be limited by precedent. Bill is campaigning for Hillary, that is a fact, fair or not. Barack will have to live with it and overcome it.

    As far as the attack on Obama, yes, some surrogates have gone over the line. Being the cynic that I am, I find it difficult to believe that these surrogates were not trying to achieve a strategic goal for the Clinton campaign. Regrettable and disturbing. But the Obama camp ran and distorted Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” remark and use it to imply the man was making a racist statement. This is not opinion. Clinton was talking about the scrutiny he felt Obama should have had about his position in opposing the war. Whether Clinton was correct or not, he was in no way calling Obama’s historic race for the White House a fairy tale. And I think that by itself has done more damage to the party that anything that the Clinton surrogates could have said about Obama. Mark my words, we will have to live with the distortion for year to come.

    By Anonymous robert_v, At 21 January, 2008 21:34  

  • I'm well aware of how campaigning has changed over the years, and I actually happen to believe that it was more dignified when candidates stayed at home. (Thanks a lot, William Jennings Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt.) But as you say, times change, and we have to change with them, however reluctantly.

    However, I still say that Laura Bush speaking to housewives and educators is a far cry from Bill Clinton attacking his wife's opponent about policy matters. This is not a traditional "spouse stumping for the candidate" scenario. Bill Clinton is stumping AGAINST Obama, not FOR Hillary, and that makes a world of difference in how I judge things. When you're running for President, you shouldn't have to deal with two opponents running under one banner.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 21 January, 2008 22:29  

  • Amazing how everyone just seems to put up with Bill Clinton - such a jerk who did so much damage to his party. Amazing how Dems still grovel at his feet.

    By Anonymous Steve, At 21 January, 2008 23:03  

  • I'm actually getting annoyed with the Obama campaign and I am moving towards voting for Clinton in WA state's Feb 9th caucuses. I was a Richardson supporter until he dropped out and I actually attended Obama's Iowa election night party here in Seattle.

    First the Obama campaign started using the race card -- trying to make it appear that Sen. Clinton had dissed MLK which was ridiculous. Now he's whining about how Sen Clinton uses her husband, the former president, on the campaign trail. Like she should tell him to stay home at their place in New York!!?

    Cry me a river. That's how campaigns work. Anyway, Obama should be careful -- I sympathize with him since he's in a no win situation. By attacking Bill Clinton, he highlights several of her strengths -- institutional experience, a great campaign team, and a reminder that she has been through the rough and tumble many times before.

    Obama will probably win South Carolina. It may give him some momentum but the win is expected. I don't see how he can keep going though. He does not have the experience nor the campaign team needed to win across the country on Super Tuesday.

    For me, in the end I dislike Sen. Clinton only because of the idea of a dynasty. I dislike that very much. But I do think she would be a good president, different than her husband and somewhat more progressive. And, when comparing the two frontrunners, I like her experience and her environmental policies more than Obamas. Her positives outweigh her negatives in my mind.

    Hope and a buck fifty will get you a cheap coffee.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 21 January, 2008 23:26  

  • Bill Clinton said "this is the biggest fairy tale" comment about Obama being against the war from the beginning. It was the media that distorted it. Not The Obama camp. Bill Clinton said that to make it look as if Hillary and Barack had the same position on the war which they clearly did NOT. That is Bill's big lie. In fact, Bill is probably the one who suggested to Hillary to vote for the war just to be on the "safe" side of the issue. I don't think Hillary, if elected, will make one move without consulting him. He will be looking over her shoulder the entire time. Who would want to be VP or even Sec. of State with him calling the shots? It's all about the "restoration" with them. These people are not even Progressives. Bill Clinton did more than anyone else to get GWB elected, and some of you people need to get off your knees and stop with the bootlicking.

    By Anonymous stone621, At 22 January, 2008 19:17  

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