2.25.2008

Using shifting tones, Clinton hopes old arguments finally register with voters and... Edwards?

Seeking to keep the upper-hand in the run-up to March 4th (perhaps surprised that she is still afloat considering the tone of the campaign over the past few weeks?), Clinton shifted the tone of her campaign this week-end. On Saturday, Clinton held a presser holding up fliers sent out by the Obama campaign (especially the one invoking Harry and Louise imagery that surfaced in the days leading to Feb 5th), declaring in an angry tone, "Shame on you, Barack Obama," accusing him of using Karl Rove-ian tactics and calling for an honest discussion rather than ploys that undermine Democratic values.

I was not going to write about this, thinking that this controversy is now a few weeks old and that there was no reason to get excited by this latest development until I watched the video of the press conference last night (you can watch it here) and I was surprised that Clinton actually sounded angry. After all, the media has not accustomed us to believe that a candidate is "angry" when that epithet is used (Dean's scream, for instance). But Clinton definitely and purposefully sounds incensed, which suggests this is indeed a new strategy her campaign is trying to employ rather than just the same controversy rolling out for one more week.

A few dynamics are at play here: First, Clinton is looking to make herself look like the victim, and further the narrative that Obama is playing dirty (a claim that has not taken hold). Second, she is seeking to hit him on the specific issue of health care, as she is being less and less capable of doing so at debates; but this is a flier that provoked a lot of controversy and that invokes imagery used by universal health care opponents in 1993. And Obama did indeed cross many lines with this flier, as even the way his flier's couple is dressed closely parallels Harry and Louise's 1993 appearance to make a point about Clinton's health care plan that misses the mark: What is truly at issue with mandates is whether the rich and young will have to enroll or free ride, since the system would not be financially viable if those people -- certainly not in the financial situation of Harry and Louise -- did not opt in.

Yesterday, Clinton switched gears once more, going after what she perceives as another Obama weakness, what she sees is his unwillingness to fight:

I could just stand up here and say ’Let’s just get everybody together, let’s get unified. The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect. Maybe I’ve just lived a little long, but I have no illusions at how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and have the special interests disappear.

You can watch the video here. In both these instances, Clinton is making old points that she has argued many times before, even in debates -- and we saw in Thursday's debate that the repetition factor (this is, after all, a 14 months campaign now) is making it very difficult for Hillary to get her message across or really get it covered. By switching gears and using new campaign tones (anger and derision), Clinton is hoping that the new angle gets more attention and that these points have more effect on the political discussion. After all, Clinton's criticism that Obama is getting from too positive coverage entered public consciousness on Saturday night in SNL's opening skit. The last pre-March 4th debate (perhaps the last debate of the primary campaign) is tomorrow night, so it will be interesting to see whether Clinton will attempt to continue this effort at novelty there.

Clinton must be hoping that John Edwards is also listening -- health care and Obama's fighting capacity are two issues Edwards has with Obama. The main reason the former candidate is not endorsing probably has to do with how important the health care debate is on the trail and Obama's attacking a part of Clinton's program that was also one of Edwards's; and the main criticism Edwards aimed at Obama during the campaign was that the Illinois Senator was too naive and optimistic about special interests -- just the point Clinton is making now. This does not mean Edwards will jump in for Clinton (now less than ever, what does he have to win in endorsing a candidate that looks so weak at the moment?) but it makes an Obama endorsement that much more difficult.

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