Barack Obama faces a decision which will affect his political future, and that of his party.
His strong performance thus far, not only in fundraising but also in vote-getting, has attracted a few jabs from the Clinton camp (including Hillary’s Nuclear Weapon, former President Bill Clinton himself). To date, these have been sharp blows, but not too hard. They just wanted him to experience the taste of his own blood in his mouth to see if he has the stomach for it.
Take the recent feint on race, which resulted in a huge flap. Despite the absence of any real “racial remarks” from the Clinton side, Obama’s campaign and (more importantly) his unaffiliated supporters rushed to condemn “racial politics” so fast that the candidate was unable to control the reaction. Almost overnight, then, instead of being “above politics as usual,” he was trapped in the same old politics of race, with the same old faces coming forward.
Bill Clinton pointed out the hypocrisy of Obama’s main comeback to any criticism or claim of superior experience from Hillary’s campaign: that she voted for the Iraq War Resolution. Clinton notes that while Obama did speak against it at the time (when he was in the Illinois State Senate), his rhetoric was toned down in 2004, and he expressed ambivalence on the issue – at one point saying he couldn’t say whether or not he would have voted for it himself.
And he really hasn’t any other comeback. Hillary’s rush to present a detailed “economic stimulus plan” shows the problem clearly. Whether or not it’s a good plan is almost irrelevant: the point is she is thinking in terms of concrete solutions and specific policy proposals to address problems, not assuming they will all take flight on gossamer wings when the New Day dawns.
So Obama must choose: he can continue down the road to the nomination by fighting back, as in calling Bill Clinton a liar. If he takes this path, he ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Clinton political machine realizes this is Hillary’s only practical chance at the White House, and they won’t be taking prisoners. Obama will have to abandon his whole “new kind of politics” and “getting rid of partisanship” rhetoric to get down and dirty – and it still won’t be enough.
They will flay Obama alive – and if they end up losing the general election (or even if he beat the odds and won the nomination, but loses the general himself), they will blame HIM for “dividing the party.” Sure, it may not be true, but their spin machine has a long and practiced record of making lies sound true, or at least true enough for the media to accept them.
Obama has an alternative, though. If he keeps to the high road, mutes his criticism of Hillary, and refuses to play “politics as usual,” he will lose, just as other nice-guy maverick liberal challengers have in the past (think Hart ’84 and Bradley ’00), BUT he will keep his reputation intact, save some millions in his campaign fund for the future, and be the Heir Apparent for 2012 should Hillary lose. Even if she wins, he is young enough that 2016 isn’t so far away.
Obama has the largest donor base ever assembled, and recently won access to John Kerry’s 3 million-name email list. Kerry isn’t giving him the list itself, but many will donate and/or ask to be put on Obama’s own list, making it ever longer. He can add some years of Senate service to his resume, and be sure of standing invitations to the Sunday talk shows.
He can’t beat Hillary by being a “nice guy” who doesn’t play “politics as usual,” but he can survive and position himself for an easier run in the future.