If David Corn of The Nation is to be believed — and his reputation as a reporter is solid despite his affiliation with a far-left news source — the Hillary Clinton campaign’s recent harshness against Barack Obama comes straight from the heart:
When talking to Clintonites in recent days, I’ve noticed that they’ve come to despise Obama. I suppose that may be natural in the final weeks of a competitive campaign when much is at stake. But these people don’t need any prompting in private conversations to decry Obama as a dishonest poser. They’re not spinning for strategic purposes. They truly believe it. And other Democrats in Washington report encountering the same when speaking with Clinton campaign people. “They really, really hate Obama,” one Democratic operative unaffiliated with any campaign, tells me. “They can’t stand him. They talk about him as if he’s worse than Bush.” What do they hate about him? After all, there aren’t a lot of deep policy differences between the two, and he hasn’t gone for the jugular during the campaign. “It’s his presumptuousness,” this operative says. “That he thinks he can deny her the nomination. Who is he to try to do that?” You mean, he’s, uh, uppity? “Yes.” A senior House Democratic aide notes, “The Clinton people are going nuts in how much they hate him. But the problem is their narrative has gone beyond the plausible.”
That is, the Clintonites–and the campaign–may be overreacting. Will Democratic voters really buy the Clinton argument that Obama is an inauthentic and a dissembling scoundrel? Until the caucus-goers of Iowa speak, there is no way to know if Clinton’s DEFCON-1 assault on Obama will succeed or backfire. But the Clinton attacks do say something about Hillary Clinton. She’s adopting a whatever-it-takes strategy, mixing legitimate criticisms with truth-stretching blasts. And her campaign aides have adopted a we-must-destroy-him mindset that they justify by viewing Obama as a political lowlife.
Whatever-it-takes often works in political campaigns. But we all know that hatred can be blinding. Clinton is, as has been noted, running the risk of alienating those kindhearted souls of Iowa by slamming the lovable, likable and inspiring Barack Obama. She could end up looking a bit desperate. Candidates are always responsible for their campaigns, and they can be judged accordingly. If the Clinton campaign throws anything it can against Obama–with little regard for accuracy or decency–that will reflect her own character and values. It could, to turn her words against her, be a disqualification for the job.
Clinton is playing with fire. In explaining to reporters that she will be tougher on Obama, she said, “Now the fun part starts.” That was tasteless. It’s a remark that certainly can–and will be–used against her.
Whatever happened to “Don’t get mad, get even?” (Attributed to Robert Kennedy.) Or “revenge is a dish best served cold?”
My image of the Clinton campaign operations over the years was that all the emotion was on the upbeat side, the “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” orgy of idealism in 1992-93, combined with a steely, unemotional ruthlessness in dealing with its foes. If Hillary’s got a bunch of people around her feeding her paranoia about Obama, thinking they’ve got to save the country from Obama, then some kind of contagion has gotten loose.
Hopefully, for his sake, Obama won’t give way to the dark side himself. A cooler, more confident Obama emerging victorious out of Iowa could suddenly find himself formidable.
ADDED: I finally took a look at the “kindergarten” press release Clinton’s campaign manager is now trying to spin as a “silly” joke that “the spin machine” sold to a gullible press. TPM has the release in this post.
Joke press releases are always dangerous business. But if this release was intended to make anyone crack a smile, it failed. Reads like typical grim-faced faux campaign outrage to me:
Twice in One Day: Senator Obama Tries Rewriting History, Again Claims He Hasn’t Been Planning White House Run
At an event in Boston this evening, Senator Obama claimed for the second time today that he is “not running to fulfill some long held plans” to be elected President, contradicting statements his friends, family, staff and teachers have all made about him.
“Senator Obama’s relatives and friends say he has been talking about running for President for at least the last fifteen years. So who’s not telling the truth, them or him?” Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said.
In Boston this evening, Senator Obama said: “I’m not running to fulfill some long held plans or because I think it’s open to me.” In Iowa earlier today, he said: Senator Obama said: “I have not been planning to run for President for however number of years some of the other candidates have been planning for.”
But that’s not what Senator Obama’s teachers, family, classmates or staff say:
The kindergarten stuff is in the last paragraph, five paragraphs later. So, I suppose all of this stuff, line after line of “gotcha,” is just a big set-up for the hilarious punchline. Here it is:
In kindergarten, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled ‘I Want to Become President.’ “Iis Darmawan, 63, Senator Obama’s kindergarten teacher, remembers him as an exceptionally tall and curly haired child who quickly picked up the local language and had sharp math skills. He wrote an essay titled, ‘I Want To Become President,’ the teacher said.” [AP, 1/25/07 ]
Here is where Johnny Carson would say something like, “May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.”