Drawing distinctions as Democrats battle
If I could draw—I can’t, not even a little—right now I’d be reaching for my pencils.
I’d be sketching a little street-corner scene with two big crowds of voters on opposite sides of the street. One crowd would be wearing buttons and placards supporting Barack Obama; the other crowd would be similarly decked out for Hillary Clinton. Then, above each crowd, I’d draw a great big sign on a sturdy pole.
Above the Obama crowd, the sign would say “HOPE!”
And above the Clinton crowd, the sign would say “DON’T!”
Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Hillary Clinton, looking for some way to bring Barack Obama down to earth, goes after him for offering Americans “false hopes.” Obama replies that the story of America shows there’s nothing “false” about hopes. To illustrate his point, he conjures up an alternate John Kennedy telling people that the moon is too far away to even attempt the journey, and an alternate Martin Luther King telling people that the dream of equality can’t be achieved.
Where would we be today, Obama wonders, if we hadn’t been willing to hope?
Which leads Clinton to slap at Obama for comparing himself to John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and to argue—as long as Obama mentioned him—that, for all of Martin Luther King’s fine speeches, it was Lyndon Johnson’s efforts that turned King’s dream into actual legislation.
“It took a president to get it done,” Clinton says, characterizing herself as a “doer,” not just a “talker” like some other people she could name, and ticking off certain black (and white) voters who hear her comments as diminishing Dr. King—and by extension, this other black man, too.
Meanwhile, a former president (also named Clinton) angrily declares that the media have been giving his wife’s chief rival a pass and that a central point of Obama’s appeal—his opposition to George Bush’s invasion of Iraq—is “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”
Some of those same black (and white) voters wonder if Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line is intended to apply more broadly to Obama’s entire improbable campaign.
Do the Clintons seem just a tiny bit rattled?
Or do the Clintons seem just a tiny bit too clever for their own good?
After all, it’s fine for Hillary Clinton to try to convince Tim Russert that it’s the Obama camp that’s been injecting race into this campaign. But her argument would sound ever so much stronger if her own co-chair in New Hampshire hadn’t just happened to muse out loud about Obama’s admitted drug use as a teenager, and what those nasty, stop-at-nothing Republicans might say about it.
Why, they might even ask if Obama had ever given drugs to other people, if he even sold drugs. (Playing to stereotypes, are we?)
And her argument would sound ever so much stronger if leading surrogates such as BET founder Bob Johnson weren’t making cryptic comments such as “Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood—and I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in the book”—and then, when challenged, pretending that he was merely referring to Obama’s community organizing!
And her argument would sound ever so much stronger if prominent Clinton supporters such as New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo didn’t just happen to use the words “shuck and jive” in the course of criticizing Obama.
Just a coincidence?
How many “gaffes” make a strategy?
They’ve called a truce for the moment, the two camps, but I’ll be surprised if it holds. There’s too much at stake to keep all those emotions in check.
Of course, there’s also plenty at stake if they don’t.
I’d better learn how to draw a cliff.