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Monday, February 25, 2008

The Audacity of Hopelessness

Written by AskHodder contributer Frank Rich

WHEN people one day look back at the remarkable implosion of the Hillary Clinton campaign, they may notice that it both began and ended in the long dark shadow of Iraq.

It’s not just that her candidacy’s central premise — the priceless value of “experience” — was fatally poisoned from the start by her still ill-explained vote to authorize the fiasco. Senator Clinton then compounded that 2002 misjudgment by pursuing a 2008 campaign strategy that uncannily mimicked the disastrous Bush Iraq war plan. After promising a cakewalk to the nomination — “It will be me,” Mrs. Clinton told Katie Couric in November — she was routed by an insurgency.

The Clinton camp was certain that its moneyed arsenal of political shock-and-awe would take out Barack Hussein Obama in a flash. The race would “be over by Feb. 5,” Mrs. Clinton assured George Stephanopoulos just before New Year’s. But once the Obama forces outwitted her, leaving her mission unaccomplished on Super Tuesday, there was no contingency plan. She had neither the boots on the ground nor the money to recoup.

That’s why she has been losing battle after battle by double digits in every corner of the country ever since. And no matter how much bad stuff happened, she kept to the Bush playbook, stubbornly clinging to her own Rumsfeld, her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Like his prototype, Mr. Penn is bigger on loyalty and arrogance than strategic brilliance. But he’s actually not even all that loyal. Mr. Penn, whose operation has billed several million dollars in fees to the Clinton campaign so far, has never given up his day job as chief executive of the public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller. His top client there, Microsoft, is simultaneously engaged in a demanding campaign of its own to acquire Yahoo.

Clinton fans don’t see their standard-bearer’s troubles this way. In their view, their highly substantive candidate was unfairly undone by a lightweight showboat who got a free ride from an often misogynist press and from naïve young people who lap up messianic language as if it were Jim Jones’s Kool-Aid. Or as Mrs. Clinton frames it, Senator Obama is all about empty words while she is all about action and hard work.

But it’s the Clinton strategists, not the Obama voters, who drank the Kool-Aid. The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it’s a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate’s message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama’s organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

In the last battleground, Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign was six days behind Mr. Obama in putting up ads and had only four campaign offices to his 11. Even as Mrs. Clinton clings to her latest firewall — the March 4 contests — she is still being outhustled. Last week she told reporters that she “had no idea” that the Texas primary system was “so bizarre” (it’s a primary-caucus hybrid), adding that she had “people trying to understand it as we speak.” Perhaps her people can borrow the road map from Obama’s people. In Vermont, another March 4 contest, The Burlington Free Press reported that there were four Obama offices and no Clinton offices as of five days ago. For what will no doubt be the next firewall after March 4, Pennsylvania on April 22, the Clinton campaign is sufficiently disorganized that it couldn’t file a complete slate of delegates by even an extended ballot deadline.

This is the candidate who keeps telling us she’s so competent that she’ll be ready to govern from Day 1. Mrs. Clinton may be right that Mr. Obama has a thin résumé, but her disheveled campaign keeps reminding us that the biggest item on her thicker résumé is the health care task force that was as botched as her presidential bid.

Given that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama offer marginally different policy prescriptions — laid out in voluminous detail by both, by the way, on their Web sites — it’s not clear what her added-value message is. The “experience” mantra has been compromised not only by her failure on the signal issue of Iraq but also by the deadening lingua franca of her particular experience, Washingtonese. No matter what the problem, she keeps rolling out another commission to solve it: a commission for infrastructure, a Financial Product Safety Commission, a Corporate Subsidy Commission, a Katrina/Rita Commission and, to deal with drought, a water summit.

As for countering what she sees as the empty Obama brand of hope, she offers only a chilly void: Abandon hope all ye who enter here. This must be the first presidential candidate in history to devote so much energy to preaching against optimism, against inspiring language and — talk about bizarre — against democracy itself. No sooner does Mrs. Clinton lose a state than her campaign belittles its voters as unrepresentative of the country.

Bill Clinton knocked states that hold caucuses instead of primaries because “they disproportionately favor upper-income voters” who “don’t really need a president but feel like they need a change.” After the Potomac primary wipeout, Mr. Penn declared that Mr. Obama hadn’t won in “any of the significant states” outside of his home state of Illinois. This might come as news to Virginia, Maryland, Washington and Iowa, among the other insignificant sites of Obama victories. The blogger Markos Moulitsas Zúniga has hilariously labeled this Penn spin the “insult 40 states” strategy.

The insults continued on Tuesday night when a surrogate preceding Mrs. Clinton onstage at an Ohio rally, Tom Buffenbarger of the machinists’ union, derided Obama supporters as “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies.” Even as he ranted, exit polls in Wisconsin were showing that Mr. Obama had in fact won that day among voters with the least education and the lowest incomes. Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Obama received the endorsement of the latte-drinking Teamsters.

If the press were as prejudiced against Mrs. Clinton as her campaign constantly whines, debate moderators would have pushed for the Clinton tax returns and the full list of Clinton foundation donors to be made public with the same vigor it devoted to Mr. Obama’s “plagiarism.” And it would have showered her with the same ridicule that Rudy Giuliani received in his endgame. With 11 straight losses in nominating contests, Mrs. Clinton has now nearly doubled the Giuliani losing streak (six) by the time he reached his Florida graveyard. But we gamely pay lip service to the illusion that she can erect one more firewall.

The other persistent gripe among some Clinton supporters is that a hard-working older woman has been unjustly usurped by a cool young guy intrinsically favored by a sexist culture. Slate posted a devilish video mash-up of the classic 1999 movie “Election”: Mrs. Clinton is reduced to a stand-in for Tracy Flick, the diligent candidate for high school president played by Reese Witherspoon, and Mr. Obama is implicitly cast as the mindless jock who upsets her by dint of his sheer, unearned popularity.

There is undoubtedly some truth to this, however demeaning it may be to both candidates, but in reality, the more consequential ur-text for the Clinton 2008 campaign may be another Hollywood classic, the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy “Pat and Mike” of 1952. In that movie, the proto-feminist Hepburn plays a professional athlete who loses a tennis or golf championship every time her self-regarding fiancé turns up in the crowd, pulling her focus and undermining her confidence with his grandstanding presence.

In the 2008 real-life remake of “Pat and Mike,” it’s not the fiancé, of course, but the husband who has sabotaged the heroine. The single biggest factor in Hillary Clinton’s collapse is less sexism in general than one man in particular — the man who began the campaign as her biggest political asset. The moment Bill Clinton started trash-talking about Mr. Obama and raising the specter of a co-presidency, even to the point of giving his own televised speech ahead of his wife’s on the night she lost South Carolina, her candidacy started spiraling downward.
What’s next? Despite Mrs. Clinton’s valedictory tone at Thursday’s debate, there remains the fear in some quarters that whether through sleights of hand involving superdelegates or bogus delegates from Michigan or Florida, the Clintons might yet game or even steal the nomination. I’m starting to wonder. An operation that has waged political war as incompetently as the Bush administration waged war in Iraq is unlikely to suddenly become smart enough to pull off that duplicitous a “victory.” Besides, after spending $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts in January alone, this campaign simply may not have the cash on hand to mount a surge.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Good for you Texas

That isn’t a phrase I have used all that often, but last night the Lone Star State made me proud.

I haven’t written about Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, but I often discuss him with friends, I frequently tell the story about meeting him at a 2006 gubernatorial debate in Agawam where an entrance census, census not survey, showed 95% of those in attendance did not know who they would vote for if the election were that night, which is not uncommon, people go to debates to learn about the candidates. Patrick blew the doors of the place. I had goose bumps. He got more standing ovations than his opponents got applause, I would liken it to the Obama buzz, except bigger. The exit census showed 97% would vote for Patrick if the election were that day, census. What does that mean? It means that of the 200 or so people there that night, six or seven people would vote for one of the other candidates, including the two other candidates themselves and their wives. Barring a massive scandal or a lack of personal ambition, I think Deval Patrick will be President someday.

Patrick and Obama have been friends for years, they went to school together, they worked together as community organizers in Chicago, and Gov. Patrick is one of the chief strategists on the Obama campaign. They are also very similar politicians, near identical résumés pre-politics, they speak with sincerity about bridging the blue/red divide and they both have the power to give a speech that’ll knock your socks off. That said it didn’t surprise me to read about the manufactured controversy about them making the same point in a speech (and by the way, if you can forget who said it first, it’s a dynamite speech).
It also didn’t surprise me to get a couple phone calls from Hilary staffers curious for my opinion. I pointed out the close relationship the two have, and also that Patrick had suggested Obama use the allegedly “stolen” lines. They seemed to think it was going to cripple Obama and rejuvenate the Hilary campaign, I said they were crazy, but one staffer who works very closely with Mrs. Clinton said “wait until you hear the line we came up with. She’s going to drop it on him and it’ll be the chant at every McCain rally, it’ll be all over youtube, it’s gonna be the turning point.”
I was skeptical.

The line? “That’s not change you can believe in – it’s change you can Xerox”. The audience booed. Good for you Texas. It was one of the dumbest things her campaign has done, how is she going to condemn him for using lines written by his staffers with a line written by her staffers? I called my friend after the debate to ask that question and to say that “a big part of why you’re losing so monumentally, is because you have a candidate and a campaign staff that can’t seem to tell the difference between brilliant ideas and really stupid political moves, this was dumber than when you dug up his kindergarten papers”.

Her campaign still thinks it’s going to resonate.

Just for kicks

This is an unofficial statement from Xerox on Hilary’s attempt to burn Obama:

[W]e here at Xerox make mostly printers and multi-function devices, not copiers.
So yes, Obama, like Xerox offers 21st century color
multi-function devices... almost a 1/3rd of our business comes from integrated
document solution systems not copiers. It is kinda like saying Disney's only
offerings are Mickey Mouse cartoons, and overlooking everything else from theme
parks to television networks and retail clothing.

So you don’t think your old?

Believe it or not the students graduating from high school this year were born in 1990. Maybe you’re still not convinced, but try to wrap your mind around a few things about the world they’ve known:

They have never known a world without the internet
MTV has never played music
Cable TV has always had the digital menus
They don’t remember before the Patriots were the best team in football
They have always known about global warming
Seinfeld has always been in reruns
Dial up and pay by the minute internet were before their time
Their homes have always had at least one pc
Long distance phone calls have never been expensive
They have never seen a black and white TV or rotary dial phone outside of a museum
Phones have always had call waiting and caller id
They had just started middle school on 9/11
Nelson Mandela has always been free
Aids has always been a source of societal concern
There has always been a Starbucks on every corner
Haley Joel Osmet, the kid from The Sixth Sense, is older than they are
Gasoline has always been expensive
The Simpsons came on the air before they were born
Jon Stewart has always hosted The Daily Show
They don’t know who Walter Cronkite is
Barbra Walters has always been on The View and they don’t know what she did before
They don’t really remember life before Harry Potter
TV has always included reality shows
They never cared about arcades
They have never owned any music on cassette, and have always been able to download it offline
Cell phones have always been common
They don’t remember when Michael Jackson was more than a punch line
Steroids have always been in sports
The Berlin wall has always been down, and the Soviet Union is what Russia was before they were born

Things they think are old school:

The SNL cast with Will Farrell, Chris Kattan, Jimmy Fallon, and Tracy Morgan
Play Station 1
Hootie and the Blowfish, the Gin Blossoms, Smash Mouth and Oasis
Bill Clinton (they were too young to read during the Lewinski scandal)
Cordless phones with metal antennas
Michael Jordan
The CD Discman
The expression “old school”

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jason Jones hit the nail square on the head

I actually wrote this post over a week ago, but after a certain segment on “A Daily Show” I knew I had to rewrite it. Jon Stewart asked Jason Jones why the Romney campaign never really caught fire despite limitless funding, good presidential looks, a beautiful family, economic experience etc. Jones responded that “the Mitt Romney campaign was never quite able to get over the fact that Mitt Romney, is a douche bag.” Quite possibly the best political analysis I’ve ever heard.
Romney might not wear a wool hat during the summer or t-shirts with stupid sayings, he isn’t leaching off his girlfriend until his band takes off, he isn’t a security guard with a blog or living in his parent’s basement. Romney isn’t Nick Lachey or Ryan Phillipe and as far as I know he doesn’t own a Segway scooter or wear wide leather strap bracelets, and he doesn’t even smell like a summer mist, but Mitt Romney is a douche bag in that he represents everything people hate about politicians. He is an inauthentic, super polished, over privileged, mud slinging, groveling panderer, and he treats people like they’re stupid. Granted so do most politicians, but Romney is just much more blatant about it.
Mitt Romney grew up a child of privilege, never wanting or having to work for a thing in his life, but he tucks his polo shirt into his jeans, sinches his belt, throws on a brand-new Carhartt jacket and acts like he knows what it’s like to do hard labor. When he ran for office in Massachusetts he swore up and down that he was pro-choice, a position he reversed to run for President and his answer on the flip flop was that “I said I was pro-choice, but every time I had the opportunity, I came down on the side of life” and I’m sure someone on his staff thought this was a brilliant answer. It’s not. Instead it begs the question, were you lying then or are you lying now? but the answer is one of those two.
When Hilary was doing well talking about experience, Romney talked about experience, when Obama’s message of change and the need to fix a corrupt Washington system started to take off, Romney talked about the need for change, when McCain pulled ahead in the polls as the best person to handle the wars, Mitt Romney parroted McCain’s position. He never talked about new ideas, only why other people’s plans were stupid, his campaign never even put forth an original thought. When a reporter asked him if he supported the war so much, why his sons weren’t serving, he replied that they were serving in a different fashion, that they felt the best way they could honor America was to get him elected President.
Romney did look good on paper, but in substance, he’s a douche bag and that’s why whenever he would show up in a state the other guy would start winning. He only won three primaries, and they were all states he claimed to be from (Utah, Massachusetts, and Michigan). People aren’t stupid Mitt, and they proved it by voting you out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chuck Norris

Seriously, Chuck Norris turns 68 next month. Don't take my word for it, check out his IMDB page, even if you do believe me it's worth checking out http://imdb.com/name/nm0001569/