e_legs

Obama’s Mistake

In Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Media Criticism, Progressive Politics, US Politics on January 9, 2008 at 1:00 am

Obama just lost the New Hampshire primary when he should have won it.

Why should he have won it? Because he has better policies, more charisma, and more intelligence than Clinton. Additionally, he has the benefit of having an opponent who is alternately nasty and sacharine, and that is never truly appealing.

In the last debate, though, he commited a fatal mistake. Clearly angry at Clinton for leveling unfair attacks at him, he defended himself artfully, with help from Edwards. Later, Gibson’s guest moderator referred to the “double team” Clinton had faced earlier, in which Edwards and Obama both suggested that Clinton represented the “status quo,” and was a force opposing change. Clinton responded oddly, and seemed to be looking for assurance. Here’s the exchange I’d like to highlight:

SPRADLING: My question to you is simply this: What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight who see a resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more?

CLINTON: Well, that hurts my feelings.

(LAUGHTER)

SPRADLING: I’m sorry, Senator. I’m sorry.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: But I’ll try to go on.

(LAUGHTER)

He’s very likable. I agree with that. I don’t think I’m that bad.

OBAMA: You’re likable enough, Hillary.

CLINTON: Thank you…

(LAUGHTER)

What Obama doesn’t get is that this is war. Hilary is treating it like one, and she has shown that she is not above getting nasty to win. Obama was not being called upon to speak at this moment, Clinton was floundering, and silence from his corner would have left her to respond without assurance. This is something Obama should have left her to.

By alleviating the gravity of the situation with this little utterance, Obama moved away from his own frustration, which would have provided a platform for some powerful statements towards the end of the debate.

You will say, “but this is so insignificant.” Yes, deceptively so. The real outlines of a situation between people are in these small gestures. Obama is trying to be all things to all people, even a friend to Hilary. That is fine, but I think there were some beefs to settle first, which Obama ignored in favor of social grace. By doing this, Obama gave Clinton a platform that she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

It is worth noting that Obama did not make a very strong showing towards the end of the debate, and Clinton seemed to find her voice a bit more.

For comparisons, see Kerry’s response to Bush’s aggression in the Town Hall debate in ’04, when Bush refused to let a question go when his time was up. Kerry replies to what Bush is saying, but skirts the more effective (and necessary) approach of taking Bush’s aggression head on and calling him out in it. Does anybody else see any parallels between the Obama-Clinton battle and the Bush-Kerry battle in ’04? I do.

Aggression tends to win the day in American politics, and Obama will have to learn not to lose sight of the realities of his opponent if he wants to win this race. Softening to create a contrast is not a good option here. The American public tends to prefer the aggressive side of that contrast. There is no need to be nice when the other guy would gladly bash you to kindgom come. That’s not to say he should go negative, but that he shouldn’t forget that Hilary has done so.  She is serious about it and will take every pawn left unprotected. This is not about friendship for her.

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  1. somebody seems to agree

  2. I’m glad you wrote about this, Krems. Hearing Obama’s snarky comment was painful. He was seduced by self-assuredness, acting as if his likeability and Hilary’s hard-edged persona are both permanently fixed into public perception. This small interjection made Barack look like a snotty little brother taunting his sister at the dinner table. He may forget about the moment, but a woman never forgets. She draws strength from opposition, and especially when her emotions are prodded.

    Will these two rivals continue to duke it out, as fatigue and pressure weakens them, bringing the tough HC to more tears and pushing the sweet Obama to further displays of cockiness?

    Will the American voters follow such a jockeying for position, marking ballots in reaction to the results of the last jab?

    Or, will some grow weary of this tugging and pulling, and turn to the gentle contender, John Edwards, gracefully smiling in the adjacent ring?

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