The Clinton-Obama battle has turned nasty. First, Hillary launched her “It’s 3:00 am, who do you want answering the bat phone?” ad. Then came her speech in which she deemed herself and John McCain foreign policy veterans, but implied that Obama wouldn’t know Afghanistan from Argentina. A Clinton spokesman also compared him to Ken Starr. The haymakers are coming fast and furious.
Obama tried to remain civilized–and lost three out of four primaries. He reminded America that while he came out against the war from the start, Hillary voted along with Bush and McCain at every opportunity, which doesn’t exactly show a great deal of acumen in international relations. However, this isn’t about logic anymore.
Obama refused to trade hair pulls, elbows, and eye gouges with the Clinton campaign. But one of his staffers, Harvard professor Samantha Power, let loose to a Scottish journalist, referring to Hillary as “a monster.” It’s not an unfair characterization. After all, she could star in her own version of The Thing That Couldn’t Die. She could also play the lead in dramatic renditions of “The Little Train That Could” and “The Guest Who Wouldn’t Leave.” Give her credit. If she’s going down, she’s going down swinging.
Of course, the Clinton campaign was shocked and outraged (although The Hangover doubts they were surprised) by Samantha Power’s comments. The Clinton camp demanded action and Power resigned from the Obama team. Obama has acknowledged that the election has taken a vicious turn, but stated that he would not be drawn “into a knife fight.” That’s too bad, because by avoiding the blood, he puts his campaign in jeopardy.
It’s noble that Obama wants to keep on message: hope and change. It’s honorable that he wants a clean, dignified campaign. But a look at recent history suggests that those ready to claw and scratch usually emerge the winners.
In 2000, Al Gore acted like a gentleman from start to finish, even after it was clear that Florida had been stolen. Where did that lead us? Into 9/11 and ultimately Afgahnistan and Iraq. If Gore had fought–ungainly and looking like a sore loser–and won, we don’t know how different things might be today. Let’s face it, they couldn’t be worse.
In the 2004 election, “swiftboating” became a verb. John Kerry was besieged by false accusations. Fact: He was a decorated veteran, one of the few Ivy Leaguers to actually see action in Viet Nam. By not fighting back, he allowed himself and his campaign to appear weak. He had an opponent who didn’t even show up for significant stretches of his National Guard duty. Kerry should have hammered W. Bush on that every chance he got. We heard barely a peep about it from the Kerry campaign. That turned out bad, too.
The public shouldn’t be surprised that at least one side of the Democratic battle has turned ferocious. The Clinton team is savvy and cutthroat. They aren’t concerned with a Democrat winning the nomination; their mission is to get Hillary the nod. It’s politics. And after losing for much of the campaign, they don’t care how they get there. That makes them dangerous and more than viable.
In her apology to Hillary Clinton, Power stated, “Last Monday, I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor, and purpose of the Obama campaign.” In those words lie the problem: If Obama hopes to hang on, he’s going to have change “the spirit, tenor, and purpose” of his campaign. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way it is. If he believes his Presidency is what this country needs, his number one priority needs to be winning–no matter what it takes. He’s got plenty of ammunition. If he doesn’t start using it, he’ll be sitting in the Senate next year wondering what the hell just happened.