Obama v Clinton(s)
I read two solid commentaries on the Obama/Clinton feud today.
The first is a piece by EJ Dionne that notes just why the feud is so depressing for Democrats.
She argues that the campaign Obama is running, his central aim, is no different than the aim Bill Clinton had in 1992 when he ran for the same office. Both promise/d a new kind of politics, a fresh vision, a time to depart from the old. Clinton's vow to do so is what breathed new life into his party. And now, only fifteen years later, he's tearing down a similar vision with the most underhanded of tactics:
The worst thing about all this is what both Clintons are doing to their own legacy as pioneers of an approach that rejected, as Bill Clinton said in a 1991 speech, "the stale orthodoxies of left and right." The great asset shared by both Clintons is their willingness to bring fresh thinking to old problems.
"Our new choice plainly rejects the old categories and false alternatives they impose," Bill Clinton added in that 1991 address in which he offered a long list of new ideas. "Is what I just said to you liberal or conservative? The truth is, it is both, and it is different. It rejects the Republicans' attacks and the Democrats' previous unwillingness to consider new alternatives."
Pretty good stuff, still. Why should either Clinton attack Obama for facing some of the same truths that both of them taught their party so long ago?
A Slate article by John Dickerson offers a suggestion as to how Obama can put take the upperhand in this ongoing feud and move forward. He argues that it's time for Obama to stop complaining about the Clintonian tactic and make an offensive move of his own:
Obama's response to the Clintons has been to punch and counterpunch. He's not superb at it. He seems to struggle with his irritation at having to engage in this at all and then sometimes seems afflicted with a wicked case of staircase wit, issuing comebacks a little late—after he's thought of a good one—even as the Clintons have moved on to calling for an elevated debate. There is still every possibility that the Clintons may fall of their own overreaching, but that's a risky strategy for Obama.
Obama could change the tone by talking about policy ideas, but his biggest, boldest idea is that he's going to change the tone of the debate. So, whatever alchemy he was going to employ when he became president to solve Washington's most intractable problems, he should probably employ now to help himself. I'm not setting the bar too high for him. This is the bar he has set for himself.
I have to hope Obama finds an effective way to counter. So far, any comments he's made have been used by the Clinton camp to push the notion that Obama is an inexperienced whiner who can't handle the criticism that comes with the big stage. Their tactic has been powerful. Obama had been rocketing upward in national polls as recently as two weeks ago. But since the feuds started, he's dropped and then plateaued while Clinton has begun a slow ascent. With SuperTuesday only ten days away, and Obama trailing in every major state, he has to make a move now to have any chance to remain viable after the 5th.