Monday, January 23, 2012

The behind the scenes ruthlessness of the “hope and change” candidate in 08

Obama and Clinton. (photo credit: public domain.)

In his piece in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza clearly is not out to get Barack Obama. For the most part, Lizza offers balanced coverage of the soon to be president and his first term in office. Occasionally, the savvy reporter bends over backwards to praise Obama in his continued efforts to grasp the difference between campaigning and governing.

It’s a long article that gets tedious at times, but when Lizza exposes the Obama campaign’s deliberate strategy to attack Hillary Clinton by smearing her character rather than debating her policy positions, any civilized person has to recoil in shock.  Recall as you read the paragraphs below that Obama presented himself as the one who would rise above politics and unite the country; whereas, Hillary Clinton would be too polarizing:

(We’re still waiting for that united country, Mr. President.)

Another hard-edged decision helped make him {Obama} the Democratic Presidential nominee. In early October, 2007, David Axelrod and Obama’s other political consultants wrote the candidate a memo explaining how he could repair his floundering campaign against Hillary Clinton. They advised him to attack her personally, presenting a difficult choice for Obama. He had spent years building a reputation as a reformer who deplored the nasty side of politics, and now, he was told, he had to put that aside. Obama’s strategists wrote that all campaign communications, even the slogan—“Change We Can Believe In”—had to emphasize distinctions with Clinton on character rather than on policy. The slogan “was intended to frame the argument along the character fault line, and this is where we can and must win this fight,” the memo said. “Clinton can’t be trusted or believed when it comes to change,” because “she’s driven by political calculation not conviction, regularly backing away and shifting positions. . . . She embodies trench warfare vs. Republicans, and is consumed with beating them rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done. She prides herself on working the system, not changing it.” The “current goal,” the memo continued, was to define Obama as “the only authentic ‘remedy’ to what ails Washington and stands in the way of progress.”

Obama’s message promised voters, in what his aides called “the inspiration,” that “Barack Obama will end the divisive trench warfare that treats politics as a game and will lead Americans to come together to restore our common purpose.” Clinton was too polarizing to get anything done: “It may not be her fault, but Americans have deeply divided feelings about Hillary Clinton, threatening a Democratic victory in 2008 and insuring another four years of the bitter political battles that have plagued Washington for the last two decades and stymied progress.”

Neera Tanden was the policy director for Clinton’s campaign. When Clinton lost the Democratic race, Tanden became the director of domestic policy for Obama’s general-election campaign, and then a senior official working on health care in his Administration. She is now the president of the liberal Center for American Progress, perhaps the most important institution in Democratic politics. “It was a character attack,” Tanden said recently, speaking about the Obama campaign against Clinton. “I went over to Obama, I’m a big supporter of the President, but their campaign was entirely a character attack on Hillary as a liar and untrustworthy. It wasn’t an ‘issue contrast,’ it was entirely personal.” And, of course, it worked.

And it’s still working, Neera. Any mention in the blogosphere of Hillary’s current popularity compared to Obama’s humiliating poll numbers, brings out Obamaphiles regurgitating the same character attacks against her.

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