Ever since Senator Barack Obama’s win in the Iowa caucuses, the Clinton political machine has swung into overdrive attack mode, with former President William Jefferson Clinton, “America’s first ‘black’ President” in the Genghis Khan role, leading the Mongol hordes of the Clinton faithful in an all-out charge against Hillary’s leading opponent and America’s first Black Presidential candidate with a real shot at actually winning the Presidency.
Running scared after Iowa, the Clintons devised a clever team effort, with Bill playing the “bad cop,” attacking Obama at every opportunity, while affording Hillary the leisure of staying above the mean streets of the campaign, as the “good cop” half of the Democratic Dynamic Duo. Early poll returns after implementation of the new strategy seemed to indicate it is working very well; the gap between Obama and Clinton narrowed quickly and decisively, with Hillary winning in New Hampshire and Nevada, virtually erasing Obama’s national lead almost overnight.
As successful as the “tag team” campaign has been on the surface, I can’t help wondering, given the Clintons’ unrivaled success in political campaigning and defeating formidable opponents on the left and the right over the past two decades in Washington, and before that in Arkansas, whether all we see is all there is to their strategy. One has only to recall Bill replying, disingenuously, “Depends on what the definition of ‘is,’ is;” or Hillary wearing a Yankees cap and bragging about her longstanding affection for Bronx Bombers to establish her bonafides for seeking to become Senator of a state with which she had hitherto had very little association to realize that this couple are very clever, disingenuous campaigners.
Not all was roses, however, as Bill repeatedly attacked Obama in speeches and in the press. A number of the Democratic party leaders, alarmed at the image and spectacle Bill was becoming, and their concern over possible perceived harm to the image of the Democratic Party, urged him to tone it down.
In light of their proven deviousness, their unrelenting and steadfast pursuit of the pinnacle in American politics, first for Bill, and now for Hillary, I began to marvel at, and then to examine, their flawlessly choreographed footwork. They both danced around Senator Obama, Bill jabbing and feinting, “stinging like a bee,” while Hillary remained serenely “floating like a butterfly,” keeping her hands relatively clean and leaving the dirty work to the former President.
Until Monday, January 21's CNN-sponsored Democratic Debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Variously described by the pundits as a mud wrestling match and a slug fest, Monday night’s event marked the first time in the current race when the Hillary’s gloves really came off and she personally began freely swinging at Obama.
Though also present, John Edwards largely was relegated to the unenviable role of third wheel as the debate progressed. Ironically, this resulted in what might have been his best debate performance to date, as he attempted to bring the debate back on topic several times during the evening.
The most shocking aspect of the debate was Obama’s performance. As Hillary hammered away at him, Obama lost his cool; his admirable and statesmanlike demeanor slipped as he responded in kind to Mrs. Clinton, finally (and devastatingly, for him) lowering himself to her level. Though, in my opinion, he gave as good as he got, I realized as I watched that Obama was giving what I considered to be the worst performance of his campaign so far; gone were the cool, considered and statesmanlike demeanor, the sophisticated, intelligent responses, in short, all the charisma and impressiveness that have stood Senator Obama in such good stead as his star rose during this campaign.
And that’s when it hit me: here was the reason for all of the Clinton attacks, the playing of the race card, all the baiting and sly innuendo of the past few weeks. All of it was aimed at getting Obama to crack; to lose that persona which so many had been admiring, and which was so impressing voters that even Republicans were noticing this dynamic young man from Illinois. It was aimed at bringing Obama down from the lofty position in which he had so successfully placed himself; his frequent invoking of the mantras of Change and Hope, and his skillful depiction of himself as different, a living, breathing symbol of change.
It was working; people across the nation were embracing the Obama campaign precisely because they saw in this young, handsome, energetic man someone who not only talked the talk, but who also looked the part and walked the walk. A consummate orator, and an obviously very bright man, Obama was offering not only change, but hope to an electorate thoroughly fed up with the “same old, same old” of the establishment Washington politicians of both parties.
The Clintons, consummate political pros that they are, realized they were not going to be able to beat an icon, a symbol; a candidate who was perceived in a totally new and different way by the voters. They had to destroy that image; had to make the voters look at Obama as just another politician, not the symbol on a pedestal he had become. By reducing him to just another politician, they decided, Hillary could beat him.
And so began the war on Obama. Bill began to talk to the press, belittling, criticizing, implying, alleging. Spreading innuendo and outright accusations (but cleverly never alleging anything that was an outright lie), they wore him down over the last few weeks, until finally, baited and tormented by Hillary on Monday night, he broke.
And Obama lowered himself to their level, fighting tooth and nail with Hillary until both took on a strong resemblance to kids in a playground, squabbling over possession of the marbles.
Which may well have been the Clintons’ goal.
Obama will be easier to beat now.
Unless the electorate catches on.