The Clinton campaign’s tough-guy shorthand

Mark Shields's picture

That New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has maintained, even in some cases widened, her lead for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in national polls is a tribute to her own polished performance, especially in the candidate debates, and to the professional campaign organization she has assembled.

That those same polls show her “unfavorable” personal ratings among voters to be almost as high as her “favorable” ratings remains a serious cause for concern to both her fellow Democrats, worried about her electability in the general election, and the Clinton campaign. Adding to the Clinton camp’s concerns are those same polls that find, in contrast, voters by two-to-one margins view second-place Illinois Sen. Barrack Obama more personally favorable than unfavorable.

To political professionals, such differences in voters’ feelings mean that Clinton’s high unfavorable ratings limit her potential growth in voter support, while Obama — to whom voters are more favorably inclined — has greater potential to win over undecided voters who now do not know much about him or may be supporting another candidate.

Based upon its orchestrated and repeated rebuke of Obama after the YouTube-CNN candidates’ debate, the Clinton campaign strategy is to rough up Obama by raising his “negatives“ among voters.

You want evidence for that assertion? Just reflect upon the separate, but almost identical, statements made by Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn, Clinton campaign chief spokesman Howard Wolfson and Clinton spokesman Phil Singer after Barack Obama’s answering that, as president, he would meet — without preconditions — during his first year in office with the leaders of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela.

Penn could only imagine all the negotiations before a president “would agree to meet with somebody like (Iranian President) Ahmadinejad, who has even denied the Holocaust.”

Wolfson, in a short interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews,” three times questioned Obama’s willingness to meet with a “Hololocaust-denier” named Ahmadinejad. Singer told The Chicago Tribune that Sen. Clinton “doesn’t believe we should give away the leverage of a meeting ... with people like Ahmadinejad, who deny the Holocaust happened.”

Sure, during World War II and the Cold War, the cherished FDR and the sainted Harry Truman met with Soviet tyrant and butcher Josef Stalin, who had signed an alliance with the architect and engineer of the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler.

Ike hosted Soviet dictator Nikita (“we shall bury you”) Khrushchev, and JFK negotiated with him in Vienna.

Richard Nixon won wide praise for recognizing and doing business with Mao Zedong, the Butcher of Beijing.

And true, Sen. Clinton this past April at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, had this to say about direct U.S. relations with Iran: “I think it is a terrible mistake for our president to say he will not talk with bad people. You don’t make peace with your friends — you have to do the hard work of dealing with people you don’t agree with.”

So, beyond contrived quibbling about alleged “preconditions” Clinton would demand and a supposedly unworldly President Obama would fail to insist upon, why all the rehearsed Holocaust references?

Obama, as has been reported, is an African-American Democrat. Both of the two most recent African-American candidates — Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — because of their words and actions, had problems with and from some Jewish Democratic voters. In more than a few of the nation’s largest cities, relations between the African-American community and the Jewish community have been periodically strained.

So, the Clinton high command’s reasoning must have gone: Why not allege the less-known Obama’s nonexistent chumminess with the Iranian “Holocaust-denier” to spread the misimpression that the Illinois senator may well be an African-American candidate who’s unreliable on Israel and other Jewish causes?

As these Clinton folks practice it, politics ain’t beanbag.


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