Democratic race stuck in January: Krugman attacks Obama on mandates, and the media invents another "Tears" episode

The Obama-Clinton campaign started more than a year ago. Now in the final hours of the Super-Monstrous-Tsunami Tuesday, what is there left to talk about? If anything, we seem to be stuck in January all over again, with storylines that have been dominating the campaign over the past two months making a come back in the final hours of the campaign.

The first is the media's ridiculous attempt to create a second "Tears" episode. The original incident, of course, happened on January 7th, the day before New Hampshire and the media just ran with the video of a teary Clinton on the verge of a breakdown for hours that day. It fit perfectly into the narrative of a sinking Clinton who was days away from withdrawing. But even that day, watching the video revealed that it was a huge stretch to see Clinton had teared up. While her voice did break a little, "The Tears" were largely a media fabrication.

Last week, the media put together a few pictures and invented "The Snub" which was as absurd an episode. After all, there wasn't even a video of the incident, and it seems that a video would be the first thing we would need to determine when exactly Obama turned away. But at least "The Snub" wasn't "The Tears."

Now, the last day before Super Tuesday, "The Tears" have made a come back, even though there is even less to play with today than there was on January 7th. Hillary Clinton returned to Yale (her Law School alma mater) this morning for an event at the Children Study Center. Clinton was introduced by an old friend who welcomed her saying, "Here is the abiding truth we know — you have always been a champion for children. Welcome home, dear friend. We are so proud of you." And CNN continues its coverage of the event with the following paragraph:

Though it is difficult to see her reaction in footage of the event..., Clinton's eyes appeared to grow misty during the introduction, according to CNN producer Sasha Johnson. When it was the senator's turn to speak she said, "Well, I said I would not tear up; already we're not exactly on the path."

CNN has a video up, with unsurprisingly little to see. This has not prevented this emotional moment from becoming the talk of political pundits today, with some implying that this proves the first tears were fake and others wondering whether this might help her again, in the run-up to Tuesday. Time's Joe Klein weighted in with: "She worked at the Yale Child Study Center when she was in law school. This is one of the core commitments of her life... I vote genuine...and second that emotion. And let's stop trying to evaluate that which is unevaluatable." The bottom line is that there is very little to make a story here, but the parallels with January 7th are too much for the media to resist.

The second storyline I referred to at the beginning of this post is the Paul Krugman versus Barack Obama showdown. Krugman has been hammering Obama's position on a range of issues but none more insistently than individual mandates and health care. For the past month, the debate over ndividual mandates have become an even bigger part of the campaign, with Obama invoking Harry and Louise in a mailer sent out to Democratic voters. And this has got to make us wonder whether the prominence of the health care theme in the past week made it impossible for John Edwards to endorse Barack Obama before Super Tuesday. What would it say about Edwards's bargaining power if he rallied behind Obama when the Senator was attacking one of the key provision of Edwards's own health care plans.

Today, Krugman came out with a new column hitting Obama on individual mandates, using many of the arguments of the past few weeks but finishing it much more harshly than in previous columns -- perhaps as a result of this week's mailer:

Mr. Obama’s campaigning on the health care issue has sabotaged his own prospects. You see, the Obama campaign has demonized the idea of mandates — most recently in a scare-tactics mailer sent to voters that bears a striking resemblance to the “Harry and Louise” ads run by the insurance lobby in 1993, ads that helped undermine our last chance at getting universal health care.

If Mr. Obama gets to the White House and tries to achieve universal coverage, he’ll find that it can’t be done without mandates — but if he tries to institute mandates, the enemies of reform will use his own words against him.

If you combine the economic analysis with these political realities, here’s what I think it says: If Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, there is some chance — nobody knows how big — that we’ll get universal health care in the next administration. If Mr. Obama gets the nomination, it just won’t happen.

That is as clear a show of support for hillary that we have seen Krugman give, as most of his previous columns seemed to be written from a pro-Edwards angle, and certainly one of the most explicit contrasts he has drawn between the two. The Prospect's Ezra Klein points out that Krugman might look stubborn in his attacks against Obama, but at least he is going after him on substantial grounds: "Rich and Dowd go after Hillary largely on personality grounds -- she's cold, and calculating, and entitled, and overreaching... Rich and Dowd go after Hillary largely on personality grounds -- she's cold, and calculating, and entitled, and overreaching."

And here are two more notes on the Democratic race. First, the Clinton campaign revealed today that it had raised about $13.5 millions in January, less than half of the total raised by Obama. That certainly explains why Obama has been on air in much more states than Clinton has in the past two weeks. It could also be a factor in the coming weeks, if Obama's financial advantage helps him go on longer, though it is worth noting that the pace of campaigning is going to be slow enough after tomorrow and that money should be less of a problem for her than it has been over the past week. And this at least is one thing that has changed in 2007: Imagine if, a year ago, you had been told that Hillary Clinton would be endangered in the primaries because of a lack of money!

Second, the Obama campaign's setting up expectations is worth a read: "Senator Clinton is certainly the favorite on February 5," Axelrods writes, citing many polls from October to recently with Clinton up big in most states. He then sets his goal:

Our path to the nomination never factored in a big day for us on February 5. Rather, we always planned to stay close enough in the delegate count so that we could proceed to individually focus on the states in the next set of contests.

We fully expect Senator Clinton to earn more delegates on February 5th and also to win more states. If we were to be within 100 delegates on that day and win a number of states, we will have met our threshold for success and will be best positioned to win the nomination in the coming months.

It was unfair for Obama's 2% loss in New Hampshire to be considered a stinging defeat, but that's the way expectations work. And Axelrods is now trying to set the bar very low. After all, the campaign must not be happy with just how much expectations have soared over the past week with polls showing their candidate leading in Missouri, California, Connecticut. Clinton coming out with 100 delegates more won on Tuesday would be a good showing for her given that Obama is now likely to take a large number of delegates even in places like New York.

That said, the campaign spin could have a role in determining the coverage of this race. In New Hampshire, there was only one state voting and it all looked pretty straight forward. Tomorrow, who is the winner of Super Tuesday? The candidate who wins the most states, the most delegates? The one who defies expectations?


  • fter reading this blog, I cannot help be so very depressed, of what we are becoming. I came to this country as a very young child, and all thru my life the comparisons to the old country were abundant. Always with a glowing sense of profound gratitude and pride my parents pointed out the ways America was the greatest place on the face of the earth. I grew up watching strong newsmen like Brokaw, or Jennings, or Rather. Not always agreed with them, but, there was this level of comfort. Now we have Matthews, or Dobbs, and of course MSNBC and FOX. Rating hogs. Cynical and opinionated and with very little of value to contribute to the discourse. This election has become the new American Idol. I was so offended by Tim Russert trying to trip the democratic candidates with gotcha questions, or Wolf Blitzer trying to get Obama and Clinton to have another go at each other in the last debate. We are turning our democracy into a reality show. All polls and predictions, everybody want to be first, sometimes with the most dubious pieces of reporting. Stuff that belong to an amoral wacko like Drudge, or the sewer that is talk radio. From the right wing gas bag, Limbaugh, to the left wing gas bag, Ed Shultz, all we get is nastiness disguise as political commentary. I read the postings of some people here and wonder if they realize that this is an election, not a war. I am not naïve. Elections are fought hard, and passions are always stirred. But the lever of hatred I have seen is unbecoming. These are fellow Americans, all six of this gents and lady running. The offer themselves to the great unwashed to great personal sacrifice and peril. And all of them deserve a fair hearing and proper respect. Or we will become the old country of mine!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 04 February, 2008 21:08  

  • I would be stunned if HC came out of tomorrow +100 Delegates.

    That would require a total blowout. The Demo Delegate system is absurd.

    I bet that whoever wins on Tuesday will be +30 at the most.

    Actually, I have read a lot of people predicting +20 or so at the max. And with Obama ahead by 15 or so already, we could literally end up with a "Tie" Wed. Morning.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 04 February, 2008 23:06  

  • duh, in NH, if your expectations was Obama win by 8%, then lose by 2% in the end, that's a 10% drop in performance. i would say that's really bad. it's actually a good thing the media over-spun obama's polls in the last few days. if he cannot live up to those expectations, then he'll be back to square one.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 04 February, 2008 23:59  

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