Barack Obama....the Establishment Candidate?

Everybody in Washington is fixated on this quote from Mark Halperin's and John Heilemann's new book Game Change. In 2006, as it became clear to the Democratic Party establishment that Hillary Clinton planned a presidential bid and that she would be the heavy favorite going into the election cycle, panic set in. She might be too divisive to the general election. She will be a drag on down-ballot candidates. In the summer of 2006, then Senate Minority Leader (soon to be Majority Leader) Harry Reid summoned then freshman Senator Barack Obama to his office to encourage him to run for the Senate.

The quote that has Washington in a tizzy falls at the end of the first paragraph (highlighted). What I am interested in are the five paragraphs that follow.

 

Years later, Reid would claim that he was steadfastly neutral in the 2008 race; that he never chose sides between Barack and Hillary; that all he did was tell Obama that “he could be president,” that “the stars could align for him.” But at the time, in truth, his encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama—a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” as he later put it privately.

Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama’s race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination. He argued that Obama’s lack of experience might not be crippling; it might actually be an asset, allowing him to cast himself as a figure uncorrupted and uncoopted by evil Washington, without the burdens of countless Senate votes and floor speeches. And, unlike Clinton, Obama had come out forcefully and early against Bush’s Iraq incursion; in 2002, while he was still a state senator, he’d given a heralded speech in which he said, “I don’t oppose all wars. . . . What I am opposed to is a dumb war.” Reid wasn’t sure Obama could defeat Clinton. Probably he couldn’t. But he was the only person in the party who stood a fighting chance—the best available alternative.

Obama had heard these arguments before from other senators. His friend and Illinois counterpart, Dick Durbin, was urging him to run, but that was to be expected. More intriguing were the entreaties he was receiving from New York’s Chuck Schumer. Schumer’s relationship with Hillary had always been fraught with rivalry and tinged with jealousy; though she was technically the junior member of the New York team in the Senate, she had eclipsed him in terms of celebrity and influence from the moment she arrived on the Hill. By 2006, they had found their way to a mostly peaceful coexistence. Yet because of the circles in which he traveled, Schumer was more familiar than most with the tittle-tattle about her husband’s alleged infidelities. He heard people debating what Hillary should do to preserve her political viability when the scandal inevitably broke: Divorce Bill or ride it out (again)?

Schumer was also the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and, in that role, had seen Obama’s efforts up close on behalf of the party’s candidates. He was blown away by Obama’s fund-raising prowess and the enthusiasm he generated in states traditionally inhospitable to Democrats. The political handicapper in Schumer was fascinated by Obama’s potential to redraw the electoral map, a capacity Clinton surely lacked. In conversations with other senators and strategists in 2006, Schumer would make these points over and over. He made them to Obama as well, and repeatedly; in one instance Schumer even double-teamed him with Reid. Although Schumer was careful to signal that home-state decorum would prohibit him from opposing Clinton publicly—“You understand my position,” he would say—he left no doubt as to where his head and heart were on the question.

These were not the only senatorial voices importuning Obama. Daschle, too, was on the case, and so was a coterie of senators close to him, including Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, both of North Dakota. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Barbara Boxer of California, and even Ted Kennedy—all were nudging Obama to take the plunge. Their conversations with Barack were surreptitious, a conspiracy of whispers. They told him that 2008 was going to be a change election and that he uniquely could embody transformation. They told him he might never get a better chance. They told him this could be his time.

But they also added the same caveats as Schumer. Keen as they were for Obama to run, they would never be able to bless him with an early endorsement. Coming out against Hillary would pose grave risks. The Clintons had long memories and a vindictive streak ten miles wide. If Hillary prevailed, they feared—no, they were certain—there would be retribution down the line. But they would root for Obama secretly, doing whatever they could to help without affronting the aborning Democratic dynasty.

While Senator Obama's campaign was depicted by the media--and by his supporters--as an insurgent campaign to take down the darling of the party elite--Hillary Clinton, the reality was that Senator Obama was pushed into the race a Democratic Party establishment fearful of Hillary Clinton's general election prospects, and the possible effects of her candidacy on down-ballot Democrats. Even as he was sparing with Sen. Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois on the Sunday morning talk shows as a Hillary Clinton surrogate, the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, was plotting behind her back. In late summer 2007, when Obama appeared to be fading on the campaign trail, some of his donors began to grumble and privately urged him to start going after Hillary. So concerned was Sen. Schumer, that he used Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)--an early supporter of then-Senator Obama--as a back channel to encourage the Obama campaign to hit the Clinton campaign harder, to "take a two-by-four to Hillary."

While some might counter that this one book shouldn't been taken as proof that DC insiders secretly backed his campaign because of anti-Clinton antipathy (as opposed to his awesomeness), I'll remind you that this is not the first time that the acrimonious relationship between the Clintons and the Democratic Party establishment has bubbled to the surface. An overlooked story on Politico in January 2008 discussed the DC reaction to Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama.

Kennedy has been supportive of both Clintons in the past. But, according to advisers who have spoken with him, Kennedy was motivated to publicly bless Obama in part because he was offended by what he regarded as Clinton’s divisive and distorted arguments against his wife’s chief rival.

Bill Clinton, in other words, botched a big one — at a moment when Hillary Clinton can afford it least.

It is striking how many people around town seem to be loving it. But it should not really be surprising.

Clinton spent so long as the dominant personality in the Democratic Party that it is easy to forget: Lots of elite Democrats never liked the guy that much. Or, perhaps more precisely, their feelings of admiration were constantly at war with feelings of disdain.

The ferocity of anti-Clinton sentiments heard around Washington in recent days — as even some former Clinton White House aides say they are enjoying the Kennedy endorsement and the implicit rebuke of the Clintons — has reached levels that haven’t been seen for seven years. Clinton’s pardons in the closing hours of his presidency prompted a similar backlash.

As an aside, while this piece depicts the endorsement as a rebuke of Bill Clinton, Halperin and Heilemann (in an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe) claim that Sen. Kennedy was among those who felt that Hillary would be a weak general election candidate and had been looking for a reason to throw his support to Barack Obama for some time. In fact, the authors claim that he had been privately mocking Bill Clinton's efforts to woo him, complete with an imitation of Bill Clinton's Arkansas accent. Former Pres. Clinton's now infamous "this guy would be serving us coffee" line (a line in which Greg Sargent suggests we shouldn't put much trust) provided Kennedy with the justification he'd been seeking.

While we should always caution in putting much faith in what is basically campaign trail gossip provided by anonymous sources with axes to grind, this did put a few events of the primary campaign in a new light for me.

First, a number of the Obama endorsements cited his oratory skills and his ability to inspire and unite people. Caroline Kennedy, for example, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times comparing Barack Obama to her father. What I'm wondering now is how much of that was total bullshit? Were all these DC insiders fawning over Obama's speeches really inspired by the candidate or were they grasping at straws to take down his opponent?

Second, how did this antipathy play out in Michigan/Florida battle? To refresh your memory, Florida and Michigan moved their primaries to the front of the schedule, in violation of Democratic Party rules, and the party stripped them of their delegates and the candidates did not campaign in those two states. Hillary Clinton handily won both contests. When it became clear that the two candidates were in a stalmate, the Clinton campaign suggested a re-do and both states began drawing up plans to do so. The Obama campaign would not agree to a primaries--but they would agree to caucuses, a format that played to their strengths--and the idea eventually died.

Around the same time, Clinton surrogates began pushing another argument--that if the campaign ended with Hillary leading in total votes and Obama leading in pledged delegates, the unelected superdelegates (party elders and elected officials given automatic votes at the convention) should give their support to Hillary. What did not receive much publicity at the time was that the majority of Democrats--including a majority of then-Senator Obama's supporters--agreed with the Clinton campaign.

Among Democratic voters, 59% believe the candidate with the most popular votes deserves the nomination while 25% take the opposite view. Barack Obama will almost certainly wind up with more pledged delegates than Hillary Clinton. However, in what might create a nightmare scenario for Democratic Party leaders, it is also quite possible that Clinton will wind up with more popular votes than Obama.

Still, 45% of Obama voters believe that the nomination should go to the candidate with the most popular votes rather than the candidate with the most pledged delegates. Just 32% of Obama supporters believe the candidate with the most pledged delegates should win.

It is true that at that time Hillary Clinton had virtually no chance of catching up in the pledged delegate count, even with new contests in Michigan and Florida. However, a Clinton victory in the new contests could have provided the party with the nightmare scenario that it wanted to avoid, an African-American candidate leading in one metric (pledged delegates) and a female candidate leading in the other (total votes). At the time, I believed that the re-votes were nixed because party leaders wanted to avoid making a difficult decision. After all, politicians often run on a platform of bold leadership and then avoid it as much as possible once elected.

In light of Halperin's and Heilemann's reporting, perhaps party officials really did put their thumbs on the scales to avoid such a nightmare scenario? Such an electoral outcome would have forced the party to choose between two constituencies with legitimate claims to the nomination, with polling data showing that Democratic voters wanted that nomination to go to the winner of the popular vote--Hillary Clinton--and the establishment wanting to supporter the candidate with the most pledged delegates--Barack Obama.

Perhaps signaling the intentions of the party establishment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi waded into the debate, telling George Stephanopoulos that the delegate vote leader would get the nomination.

"But what if one candidate has won the popular vote and the other candidate has won the delegates?" asked Stephanopoulos.

"But it's a delegate race," Pelosi replied. "The way the system works is that the delegates choose the nominee."

Perhaps they were willing to make that decision, but that would have forced those who had been working behind the scenes to undermine Hillary Clinton to make a public stand that they did not want to make.

Finally, I've been thinking about how all of this influenced how Barack Obama chose his cabinet and political appointees in the White House. There was some grumbling among progressives that his choices were too centrists, too "Clintonian". Some of candidate Obama's supporters were passed over for key positions. Sen. Kerry and Gov. Richardson both campaigned for the Secretary of State job, which ultimate went to Hillary Clinton (a testament to President Obama's character) and the administration dropped Gov. Richardson from the B-list Commerce Secretary appointment as soon as the whiff of scandal in New Mexico reached Washington.

While I have no doubt that Obama's desire to turn to people with expertise in the positions they were chosen to fill largely influenced his choices, could it be that Barack Obama was also informed by the nasty campaign he had just withered. He witnessed first hand how quickly one's allies could turn. While he must have been grateful to secretly receive support from party figures who were publicly neutral, he had to be constantly reminding himself that these same people would similarly turn on him on a dime. I'm curious about the degree to which this influenced his staffing decisions and his relationship with Congress. Perhaps this had something to do with his decision to push Congress to "own" the health care bill. He'd seen first-hand that in Washington, DC, promises mean nothing.

I suppose there is little point in assuring you that I'm not trying to re-ignite primary wars and that I am actually a fairly strong supporter of the president. I thought he ran a great transition and he chose good people to work for him. Although I believe that he has been a coward on gay rights, he had a great first year. He pushed a stimulus bill through Congress, drawing three GOP votes. He's on the verge of passing health care. He's done a great deal to improve our relationship with our allies and there's evidence that his outreach to our adversaries might be having some effect. Some will still think that I'm bitter about the primaries. I'm not. I'm over it, but you can say what you will.

Tags: Barack Obama, Harry Reid, 2008 Primaries (all tags)

Comments

33 Comments

Very interesting...

Thanks, and recced !!

by Ravi Verma 2010-01-12 02:38PM | 2 recs
RE: Barack Obama....the Establishment Candidate?

I cant believe I was dumb enough to think about voting for this  for this guy again in 2012. i wont get fooled again. This healthcare bill is trash, and a large chunk of the stimulus bill still hasnt been spent. The loan modification program has been a spectacular failure. I can only imagine what the climate change bill will would look like once Nelson and Lieberman are done getting through with it. Who knew it would be this hard to get decent legislation passed when there is a Democratic Senate, House and ....President?

As for Harry Reid, chances are that he wont be Majority leader for much longer after the 2010 election. 

by bsavage 2010-01-12 03:34PM | 0 recs
No sense in

peddling your silly falsehoods, bsavage.

<br><blockquote>I cant believe I was dumb enough to think about voting for this  for this guy again in 2012.</blockquote>

<br> No one on this site with a brain believes for half a second that you ever cast your ballot for Barack Obama.

by sricki 2010-01-12 11:43PM | 0 recs
RE: No sense in

Dammit! so HTML doesn't even work now?!

by sricki 2010-01-12 11:44PM | 0 recs
RE: No sense in

Click on the HTML icon just above the text box.

by psychodrew 2010-01-12 11:45PM | 1 recs
Thank you, psychodrew.

Interesting diary, btw. And I do not think you were inciting a PUMA-fest. I tend to think much of this doesn't really matter and isn't important in the long run, but it is an interesting bit of history.

by sricki 2010-01-13 12:39AM | 0 recs
RE: Thank you, psychodrew.

Actually genius I did. It was in Ohio and I'm a registered Democrat. 

by bsavage 2010-01-13 01:33AM | 0 recs
Don't worry,

I'm sure everyone believes you.

by sricki 2010-01-13 04:22AM | 0 recs
yes

Obama was the establishment candidate and the nonsense about Clinton being too divisive was just code for plain old sexism. As it turned out they joe sixpack guys who were supposed to switch if she got the nomination were the very voters who put her over the top in state after state and the people who gave her the majority of the vote.

But the pasty faced fat assed old white guys in DC do not believe in letting the voters decide. Reid and all the rest of the can KMA.  I won't support them anymore. For what?  They have done nothing but dump on women and my liberal values.

 

ps...did you ever notice that men never get called divisive?

by TeresaINPennsylvania 2010-01-12 04:26PM | 0 recs
Classy:

"But the pasty faced fat assed old white guys in DC do not believe in letting the voters decide."

 

Reeeeeeaaaaaal classy. Just your style, Teresa.

by sricki 2010-01-12 11:48PM | 0 recs
Damn it all.

Apparently not gonna get used to the new commenting system anytime soon.

by sricki 2010-01-12 11:49PM | 0 recs
Great psychodrew

Congratulations on the pumafest you've incited. Just read the comments...

The spurious notion that Obama was some kind of insider candidate defies all the Hillary endorsements from senior blue dogs and Democratic Party establishment figures - not to mention the superdelegates. Only Kennedy and Kerry really diverted from the mainstream consensus. Or maybe all the others were just lying Obots.

The only other explanation for the 'insider' candidate is the Manchurian one - that Obama was secretly in thrall to the banks and Wall Street. This makes no more sense than Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown being a tool of high finance - since our stimulus package is very similiar. Blackmailed and brownbeaten and warned of imminent collapse without funding to be sure. But since Bush had followed the same plan, I doubt whether Hillary would have been any different.

All of which just leaves your return to MYDD as - like I've suggested - a belated 'I told you so'. Good luck with that. Since most other rational posters have either left or been banned, you'll find yourself in the delectable company of teresainpa or more more more. If you want to know more about them, check the comment history.

I'm saddened to see you return to this site in such a fashion - but not surprised. You were one of several who arbitrarily trolled Denise Velez's tip jar the other week. 

by brit 2010-01-12 08:53PM | 1 recs
I didn't know you were keepin' tabs on me.

Denise's diary was a hit job and mine was one of several dozen HR's.

Thanks for keepin' it classy.

 

by psychodrew 2010-01-12 09:55PM | 0 recs
RE: I didn't know you were keepin' tabs on me.

I wasn't keeping tabs on you. Denise blogs regularly on the Moose. On Chris' advice she cross posted it there.

If you thought her diary was a hit job, you prove your point rather than just hide rate a tip jar.

As for you point in this diary now... I'm afraid I don't see it. Instead it purveys a tenuous and unlikely thesis. And has - demonstrably - drawn back the PUMA crowd, which really is not classy.  

 

 

by brit 2010-01-12 10:16PM | 0 recs
How do you know I didn't?

You're seriously upset at me for HR'ing a tip jar in another diary that you didn't write on a completely different blog like two or three weeks ago?

Slow day at Motley Moose?

by psychodrew 2010-01-12 11:40PM | 0 recs
RE: How do you know I didn't?

Lordy. I'm not upset with you. My main point - which you've neatly avoided - is that the thesis Obama was some kind of inside establishment candidate doesn't bear scrutiny. In the current circumstances it also feeds the 'Primary him' meme - something you seemed to be supporting by taking the Jane Hamsher line. 

These are the only two encounters with you in the last six months. If you're not igniting old flame wars, and following the Hamsher line of killing bills, allying with teabaggers, and primarying Obama, then forgive me...

But given my two encounters, you can perhaps see why I could come to that conclusion. 

by brit 2010-01-13 06:29AM | 0 recs
RE: How do you know I didn't?

Encounter?  You read Denise's tip jar and assumed that I was a bill-killer because I HR'd her tip jar?  I'd hardly call that an encounter.

My reasons for the HR have nothing to do with my views on the health care bill, which I explained in the comments (not that you read them).  And if you really think I'm a supporter of the 'Primary Obama' movement, you clearly didn't read the entire diary. 

by psychodrew 2010-01-13 06:52AM | 0 recs
RE: How do you know I didn't?

Er... you said, if I remember correctly, that Denise/Deoliver was doing a 'hit job' on Jane Hamsher.  Denise's diary was about precisely that - the 'kill the bill' proposals coming from FDL. No surprise if a HR looks like you're supporting the kill the billers.

I read the whole diary. You put in a rider at the end which I agree with, but as I said in my first comment, and the the bulk of this thread has borne out - the tenuous idea that Obama was the establishment candidate has been red meat to the Primary Obama's and PUMAs. 

May not have been your intention. But the effect is verifiable. Which is a shame. 

by brit 2010-01-13 11:01AM | 0 recs
RE: How do you know I didn't?

My first response to this comment was to explain myself, but I'm just not.  If you have formed some impression of me--however negative or incorrect--based solely on the HR, I don't really care.

by psychodrew 2010-01-13 01:27PM | 0 recs
RE: How do you know I didn't?
I have a lot of respect for Denise's writing, but that was a really nasty diary. I had a strong negative reaction to it and I am certainly not one of those kill the bill people, nor am I at all a fan of Jane Hamsher's tactics on this issue. If you've decided to put the people who downrated her tip jar on some sort of enemies list I would encourage you to rethink your position. And I would say, do whatever you like with the hardcore PUMA people - mock them, ridicule them, ignore them, whatever - but maybe don't be so nasty towards the individual whose only crime was writing an otherwise interesting diary that happened to bring them out of the woodwork.
by Steve M 2010-01-13 02:03PM | 0 recs
RE: How do you know I didn't?

C'mon. This is political debate. It's not being nasty. My salient point is - like you - I don't think H&H have written a book of much integrity. As I said, Psychodrew may not have had the intention of drawing out the PUMA's, but the timing was - to repeat - unfortunate. So is, in my view, the bolding of this quotation from the book

"He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama—a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” as he later put it privately."

If pointing this out, or disagreeing with you about Denise's diary - which drew attention to the planned alliance with the Tea Party - is beyond the bounds of political debate, then I'm a bit baffled.

by brit 2010-01-13 05:53PM | 0 recs
RE: How do you know I didn't?

Who said you're not allowed to disagree with me about Denise's diary?  You can think it was the greatest diary ever as far as I'm concerned.  I'm just saying you shouldn't write off everyone who disliked the diary as some kind of hater or bill-killer.

by Steve M 2010-01-13 05:58PM | 0 recs
I don't a big believer of looking back too much...Primary war was a historic yet a great battle...

Our side lost, the other side won. Thus I've moved on, HRC had moved on, Obama had moved on, most of us (including you as you note here) had moved on. And as you say on the overall scale, our President did have a good year. He chose good people around him, and is doing the best he can to salvage this country. 

Jerome, it is really difficult to browse this website. I click on the rec-button and it brings me to blankpage with a "not found" sign. I cannot read followups to my own comments from before. I cannot preview the comments or diaries before they are posted. Now I see trolls who had been recently banned are back on this website. If you're going to unban these trolls (one who had the indecency of not only insulting me but also my mother)  it would be difficult for somebody like me to continue reading this website. Please for goodness sakes, fix this blog!

 

 

 

by louisprandtl 2010-01-12 10:09PM | 3 recs
Dang...the headline should've read.."I'm not a big believer....."
Jerome, Please bring back the Preview button!!!
by louisprandtl 2010-01-12 10:14PM | 1 recs
God yes.

Jerome, Please bring back the Preview button!!!

by sricki 2010-01-12 11:51PM | 1 recs
RE: I don't a big believer of looking back too much...Primary war was a historic yet a great battle...

I don't think it's worth re-fighting, BUT the history of that primary battle is being written write now.  So the discussion is worth having.  Unfortunately, eighteen months after Hillary's concession speech, many people just can't let go of their anger.

by psychodrew 2010-01-12 11:43PM | 1 recs
RE: I don't a big believer of looking

It is not about Hillary, It is about the people's right to vote and have their vote counted.  The DNC and the fat assed old white man's club (and their woman's auxiliary) decided they knew better than the voters and they clearly did not.

Obama is just another blue dog, and he was also chosen by the MSM owners.  They chose Bush
Bush and Obama.  That should tell you something.

by TeresaINPennsylvania 2010-01-13 03:51PM | 0 recs
RE: I don't a big believer of looking

All the nuance and complexiity of a tea party in this comment.  One sugar or two?

I want a public option and I object to some of the ways race and gender were used in the primaries.  The caucus system requires some reform.  But none of this places Obama on the grassy knoll or makes him into a cylon run by the corporatocracy.

I only wish real world politics were as simple as they appear in Teresa's head.

by Strummerson 2010-01-13 05:15PM | 1 recs
Shrug

There's less here than meets the eye.  The evidence suggests that Democratic powerbrokers like Nancy Pelosi supported Obama simply because they had concerns about the electability of the presumptive nominee and they were looking for a better option.  It's no different than what the Republicans did to William Seward in 1860, for example.  And who doesn't think Seward ended up doing a fine job as Secretary of State?

by Steve M 2010-01-12 11:17PM | 1 recs
After thoughtful consideration

I agree with Brit's assessment. But unlike Brit, I welcome the feelings of nostalgia which will come from a reignited Primary/PUMA war. Mix little Kennedy hate with a helping of MI/FL, spice it up with some TX, pour on some Superdelegate disrespect, and top it off with a little "I am a pretty big supporter of the"..."coward".., but don't misunderstand me. "I'm not bitter"!.

 

Loved every bit of the Diary and the comments it generated. Thanks. More, please!

by QTG 2010-01-13 01:50PM | 1 recs
Even better...

If you want a flash back to No Quarter or Texas Darlin', check out the google ads on the right hand bar. This is what I'm getting

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Obama's New World Order: A Frightening 150 Page Report on the Obama New World Order. See Now!

by brit 2010-01-13 06:05PM | 0 recs
QTG, I'm all ready for the re-fight, are you?
I remember us coming close to knocking heads few times during 08 primaries. But now that seems silly...
by louisprandtl 2010-01-13 07:04PM | 0 recs
RE: QTG, I'm all ready for the re-fight, are you?

 'Silly' has been responsible for alot of the best banter around these parts. A very recent case-in-point is the postulation that Obama, assuming he doesn't go to Massachusetts, assumes he will stay home trying to avoid embarrassment. I suspect that he keeps the wars going so he won't have to spend as much time with Michelle and the girls. He probably made a pact with the devil to get a category 7 for Haiti, since it quiets down the news on the secret vaults and birth doumentation for a little while.

by QTG 2010-01-14 04:42PM | 0 recs

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