Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

This was originally comment, but by the time I finished saying everything I felt needed saying (and by the time I'd reiterated it incessantly to make sure I was understood, as I neurotically tend to do), I realized I'd written a diary.

There's a lot of anger out there and frustration over Obama's apparent leap to the center. I've thought about writing about FISA, but the fact is what can be said has been. By the time I got up the confidence to write something, the lines were drawn and that was that.

Well I'm getting in on the ground floor of this Wesley Clark hullabaloo. Thanks in advance for reading. I'm a bit nervous but here it goes:

Obama is smart; look at the primary. He fought Hillary in the way she is vulnerable. Fair or not, she is seen as manipulative and false. It's her asset and her vulnerability; too good at reading the polls and reacting swiftly. That calculating image was her Achilles' heel, but the talent that created that image is also what brought her so very close to a comeback when she located, isolated, and pursued the exact message for the voters she was courting.

Obama will fight McCain in the way he is vulnerable, and I'm sorry but that's not on character. Besides the (in my opinion bullshit) reverential treatment of the man because of his war experiences, he's got his media 'base'. If McCain's character could be assassinated, his own behavior would have done it by now. If the media doesn't ding him for calling his wife a cunt or leaving his crippled first wife for a rodeo-queen heiress, he's unassailable.

Now I realize that Clark was doing no such thing. He answered a direct question directly and insightfully, but the McCain myth has a mystique to it, and simply shining the light on it won't undo that. In fact, a full frontal assault on a basic tenet of McCain's argument (I'll be a good President because I'm a war hero) serves only to put people on the defensive. It encourages a descent into those old Vietnam era battle-lines between those who venerate military service and the dirty hippies; it pushes the right-leaning moderates to take McCain's side simply because Johnny didn't dodge the draft and did his country proud. Clark didn't do anything morally wrong; politically though? He fucked up.

Winning the primary battle is all about selecting the battlefield. Fair or not, stupid or not, relevant or not, McCain's strongest suit is his biography. Whether or not it was an attack, even going into that territory allows the media narrative to dwell there, and in that place the terrain advantage is McCain's. He's been desperately trying to make this campaign about his service since it began. What do you think of Medicare? "Well, as a POW I...." What should be done about the economy? "Well you know, I learned a lot about hardship in Hanoi..." The man desperately wants to frame this election in terms of his military service; Clark gave him that.

Obama beat Hillary by moving the battlefield away from her her strengths and onto her weaknesses. Here are the perceptions, correct or not. Strength: fighter; weakness: two-faced. So what did he do? He neutralized 'fighter' with talk of post-partisanship and moved the battlefield to consistency (cite: "I was the only candidate against this war from the beginning").

He's doing the same thing with McCain. McCain's hero image is the impenetrable fortress. He doesn't even want to talk about McCain's biography except in the brief, dismissive, moving-along "While I honor John McCain's service..." prefix no one even hears anymore. You don't assault the Maginot Line; you go around it. Strength: biography; weakness: policy. Suddenly, Obama is a wonk. Let's cut the the character crap and talk brass tacks. Service aside, this man is bad for the country. Just as he played at the intersection of his strengths and Hillary's weaknesses before (Iraq vote: codeword Judgment), he wants to do the same thing now. Don't debate the biography. Don't even encourage people to think about it. Dismiss it and move on.

It hurts to see a valued attack dog saying what we've all been screaming get hung out to dry. Clark kicked some ass, and I think his perfectly fair, factual statement will have positive ripples, but those ripples will materialize best divorced from the formal campaign. Clark's no rockstar. Soon enough the narrative will shift back to Obama, and when it does, he wants the media to leave McCain's service behind and stop reminding the American people how much they love this mavericky war-hero. It's the corollary to the common wisdom on how you deal with smears; if it doesn't help you, it doesn't bear repeating.

Wes Clark made his point and planted his seeds. The ideas are out there, and they will serve Obama best if he leaves them alone and lets them grow naturally. The media unfairly made this into a character assassination, but whats done is done. Obama isn't here to go to bat for Clark; Clark is here to go to bat for Obama. He'll take the PR hit and get the idea out there; Obama will denounce it, benefit from the idea's gradual percolation, and allow it to subvert McCain quietly without arousing the "RAWR PATRIOTISM" crowd.

Renouncing the comment moves us past it faster. The sooner we get past this, the sooner Obama can reap the benefits. The worshipers put their backs down and start to think about what Clark said as Obama quietly, subtly, blamelessly alludes to the idea. Long after the mess is forgotten, he points out McCain's sudden tie to a swiftboater ( can't you hear it : "That's exactly the kind of old politics we're trying to close the door on with this campaign). Clark goes away for a couple months and gets a haircut, and by the time he shows back up most of America has forgotten that this is the guy who dared to say their beloved straight-talker was blowing smoke.

Clark and Obama are both best served by letting Clark get off the stage double-quick before this defines both him and the campaign. Denouncing the comment is the fastest way to do that. I love the man for saying what needed to be said, but now's the part where he takes a short-term hit for the team and we all move on.

The big seat, 3 justices, and a big majority in the legislature; if Obama wins this, we aren't just looking at a good four or eight years. This is a realignment. Republicans still haven't been able to undo the social programs that happened the last time Democrats had this kind of control. If we can get in there, by hook or by crook, the long term effects will be incalculable. Obama has to win. If that means a good man takes a fall for him here, it hurts me to say so, but let it happen.

Go donate.

Go volunteer.

Get your enthusiasm back up. Even if he's the most triangulating centrist Democrat in history (which he's not), we will still see incredible leaps forward under a unified, three-branch Democratic government.

He's doing what it takes to win, and thank God for that. Most years I'm an idealist; this year winning is everything.

--- Wow, rec list! Thanks guys! I'll keep writing I suppose ^^. Also, I cross-posted at dkos, though I've been such a lurker here that I still don't know how to link to that. Help?

Tags: campaign, clark, experience, FISA, hero, mccain, Media, military record, military service, obama, president, qualifications, strategy, surrogate (all tags)

Comments

43 Comments

Re: Fighting Smart

I read your comment and remarked that it deserved to be a diary. Then I come back to the list of latest diaries and there it is. Couldn't be more pleased. Highly rec'd. I see this is your first diary. Congratulations, you hit a home run. I look forward to reading new diaries you might write in the future.

by MS01 Indie 2008-06-30 08:48PM | 0 recs
Thanks so much. Um, tip jar I guess!

I was pretty nervous. Hope you all like it.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-06-30 08:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Thanks so much. Um, tip jar I guess!
I enjoyed your diary too. We seem to be too casual
when it comes to getting our candidate elected.
There is too much at stake. Rec
by Politicalslave 2008-06-30 09:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart

"The man desperately wants to frame this election in terms of his military service; Clark gave him that."

While Clark was correct in his assessment of McCain, you perfectly sum up why it was a bad idea.  He WANTS this race to be about his service instead of Iraq, health care, the economy, etc.  Even if we win arguments like the one Clark is suggesting, we lose.

by thatpurplestuff 2008-06-30 09:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart

Which is why Obama completely agrees! This should not be a point of discussion for this election. That Wesley Clark is WAY out of line, I tell ya what.

by vcalzone 2008-07-01 05:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart

Whatever happened to attacking your opponent's strengths? Break them on their strengths and they crumble.

by MNPundit 2008-07-01 09:08AM | 0 recs
Yes but how?

Undermining McCain's strengths is well and good, but the avenue of attack determines whether or not you'll be successful. They're called 'strengths' for a reason. This was the right way to go about it. Weaknesses are to be directly assaulted; strengths are to be subtly undermined.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 09:33AM | 0 recs
It's FREAKIN' EASY!

All Obama's surrogates (definitely NOT Obama himself) have to do is say:

"I'm drawing a distinction between Patriotism and Experience. Nobody disputes that Sen. McCain is a Patriot. He is. His service was exemplary. But, he has no relevant experience. What does flying a jet have to do with foreign policy?"

"John McCain is going around this country saying that he has the "experience" to lead and Obama doesn't, based on his war record. They have exactly the same foreign policy experience. They served in the U.S. Senate. John McCain was heroic as a prisoner of war, and every right-thinking American honors his service, but what does that have to do with foreign policy?"

If McCain can simplify this election down to "who has the most experience?" then he wins. Bush's Wolves ads in 2004 did that: "It's a scary world, experience counts." Hillary hurt Obama with the 3'A.M. ads for the same reason.

Obama has to at least plant doubts in people's minds about how experienced McCain really is or McCain will slowly cut him to death on this issue. Every policy question will come back to "yes, I like his health care ideas, but . . . does he have the experience to lead?"

I tried this on a low-information Republican today. This is a guy who sends me idiotic e-mails about Obama and the "flag-pin" and the "pledge of allegiance." He started out blathering about McCain's experience and his "concern" about Obama's lack of experience. But, I pointed out "what does flying a jet have to do with foreign policy?" He had to admit that neither McCain nor Obama had any foreign policy experience except the U.S. Senate.

Obama just has to plant doubts. Not everybody in America is stupid. If they hear something like this said simply over and over again, it gets them thinking. It they start thinking they're going to wind up with Obama.

by Cugel 2008-07-01 07:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart

Quick suggestion for getting your diary noticed. Titles are really important for getting people to go into your diary. The title for this diary is not strong enough. Try changing it to "Fighting smart - why it was right to throw Clark under the bus" or something like that. Then be sure to add a disclaimer at the beginning of your diary that you don't really think Clark was thrown under the bus. Check out the diaries in my user blog to see which ones got the most comments. Do the same with the ones on the rec list now. I'm a big fan of simplicity, but this is definitely one case where less isn't more.

by MS01 Indie 2008-06-30 09:04PM | 0 recs
Thanks for the advice

Is that better?

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-06-30 09:13PM | 0 recs
Thank you

for not using "under the bus".

by JJE 2008-07-01 08:53AM | 0 recs
Any time.

I hear that phrase one more time and I may quit the political scene altogether. I suppose it's another way the internet is changing elections; memes can't live as long before people get sick of them. Hm....that gives me another diary idea.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 09:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Thanks for the advice

I think that works better. The only thing wrong with this diary is that it gets things right. You won't see as many comments, because there isn't much for the nay-sayers to dispute. They will avoid this diary, which means that there won't be a lot of back-and-forth. That back-and-forth is what drives most conversations on here. However, the value of a diary shouldn't be judged by how many comments it generates. This is a good diary that will get a lot of views and will always be there in the archives where people can find it when they run a search on a search engine. This is why it is important to use as many tags as possible when you post a diary.

by MS01 Indie 2008-07-01 09:01AM | 0 recs
Should I add more tags?

And if so what terms do you recommend?

Maybe if I want comments and push-pull I can link here at Noquarter (joking, joking).

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 09:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Should I add more tags?

You could add tags like, military service, military record, experience, qualifications, president, hero, etc... I don't really know how useful they will be for general search engines, like google, but they will certainly help more people find the article when they search on this site. The tags you enter are more than likely saved in the database along with the text of the diary and then indexed.

by MS01 Indie 2008-07-01 09:38AM | 0 recs
Recced for good thinking, but

I don't think Wes Clark is going away anytime soon. I think the (incredibly mild) denunciation was a smokescreen.

I think it goes like this: McCain can't respond directly to Clark, because he would have to distort Clark's words, or agree with him. Clark was the Supreme European Commander of NATO. McCain has war hero chops, Clark has "I ran a strategic theatre and I could tell your daddy where to deploy" chops. Clark really is qualified to tell you the limits of a serviceman's capabilities, and McCain knows it.

So, he has to come after Obama. But, oh no, Obama has "denounced" Clark. So now he has to blame Obama for something Obama is on record as standing against. And that, like it or not, plays directly into the "confused" meme that McCain wants and needs to avoid.

I think it is simply a "dilemma ploy", to keep the McCain campaign bouncing around while Obama lays his platform out.

by Neef 2008-06-30 09:14PM | 0 recs
Also a very plausible scenario

Like him or hate him (and I won't lie, I like him), Obama is brilliant at this stuff. You have to start thinking about the effects of the effects of the reactions to the spin on the narrative about every single thing he does. It's great theater and its genius politics.

Just trying to figure the plan out is fascinating.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-06-30 09:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Recced for good thinking, but

Yes I think this was planned and Clark said what Obama could never say. Clark has the background and he took a stab at it. Mission Accomplished people are talking and writing about it.

by Politicalslave 2008-06-30 09:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

Well said, and a lesson for pundits and progressives alike to watch the donut and not the hole.  Obama is good at this and the combination was quite good, it is the perfect time to plant the seed and who better to do so than Clark?

by Shaun Appleby 2008-06-30 10:12PM | 0 recs
Exactly

Going off message can be a tactic. Geraldine Ferrarro, for instance, went off message because the campaign could afford to lose her in 'official' capacity in return for getting people to think critically about topics that were taboo to bring up (sexism in the media, Obama's race). Now I think she did a lousy job and created more backlash against her candidate than support, but the tactic itself is the same.

Clark is talented, articulate, and perfectly poised to do this. That's the difference. A black woman could have said what Ferrarro said and perhaps been more effective; afterall, being both black and female she can speak with some authority on the disadvantages of both types of discrimination.

Clark is a military man, wounded for his country, and with superior tactical experience to John McCain. Choosing the surrogate who goes "off the rails" is the key to making sure they are effective.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 08:58AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

This was a brilliant diary.  I wish everyone here and Daily Kos and many other places would read it.

There's far too much armchair quarterbacking going on on the blogs these days and not enough organizing for real on-the-ground action.

Please consider posting this widely.

by barath 2008-06-30 11:26PM | 0 recs
Thank you very much.

I've got this over at Dkos too, same username, though its not gaining much traction. Any other suggestions where I might post it?

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-06-30 11:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Thank you very much.

Try posting at openleft.  Diaries change more slowly there.

Not sure what you might do about Daily Kos, but one option is to write a slightly modified (maybe more general) version of this diary in a day or two over at Daily Kos.

by barath 2008-06-30 11:52PM | 0 recs
Good call.

I'll roll over there later today when work allows. Thanks.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 08:59AM | 0 recs
Good luck or simply good management? Both?

I'm always in awe of how lucky Obama seems.  Even his lowest moment, the first Wright fiasco, came at the exact perfect time so as to not destroy his candidacy: Six weeks before the Pennsylvania primary but well after he'd effectively secured an insurmountable delegate lead, giving him plenty of time to re-calibrate and recover momentum for the final contests.

It's a pattern that repeats itself throughout the last seven months: Obama faces a problem, and through skill, favorable circumstances, and the gaffes of opponents, gets out of it just fine.

I personally don't think that the exploding of Clark's comment was planned; it was simply fortuitous that it came the same week as Obama's patriotism speech defending McCain.  He certainly couldn't have planned McCain trotting out a Swift Boat Veteran For Truth to denounce swiftboating.

I think this is a case of fortune favoring the bold: Obama plans well and reads the environment so these issues seem to come up at opportune times, even though they're essentially uncontrollable.

by Dracomicron 2008-07-01 06:33AM | 0 recs
Not sure its luck

Obama knew Wright was incendiary. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the timing was at least influenced.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 09:07AM | 0 recs
How would he do that?

I'm not sure that Obama would've been able to influence that; ABC broke the story, and ABC has been almost FOX-like in its persecution of Obama this season.

You're suggesting that he perhaps did what McCain did with the lobbyist-affair story?  Just called them up and asked ABC to sit on it until a convenient time?  Somehow I doubt Obama has the kind of media-influence cred that McCain has.

Obama is good at planning and contingencies, but he's not the puppet master some people see him as.

by Dracomicron 2008-07-01 09:48AM | 0 recs
ABC didn't break it

Youtube did. And Obama definitely has the means to sway (though not of course control) internet narrative.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 09:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

Actually renouncing the comment only wins the battle but not the war. People will just keep hurling these things at Obama the whole campaign. What we need to do is debunk such false controversies to make things easier down the road. Sure, he got rid of the controversy quickly, but let's say he wants to use Clark in the future on something, people will still be hurling the same accusations all over again.

Wes Clark went on GMA and gave CLEARCUT answers which did not dodge a single tough question the GMA crew posed to him. He did not apologize but he made it very clear WITHOUT RAMBLING ON and with a CONFIDENT TONE (two things lacking in democrats like Pelosi in the past) about how there was no need to apologize because he never made any derogatory remarks about McCain's service. Only a total right wingnut would not buy Wes Clark's explanation if they watched him on GMA.

by Pravin 2008-07-01 06:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

agree 100%

and by obama stepping lightly on this issue, it keeps it in the news longer...the more times a man like clark can state such facts on primetime ...the better

by citizendave 2008-07-01 08:41AM | 0 recs
It's the same tactic as Geraldine Ferrarro

This is how you put cracks in a topic you're not allowed to address.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 08:52AM | 0 recs
Its why surrogates exist

Surrogates can attack with the candidate at least partially remaining above the fray.  I think Clark went a bit off the reservation with this one (not that he wasn't correct) and that's why Obama's spokesman mildly rebuked him.  It may be advantageous for it to be said, but its not advantageous for Obama to be the one saying it.  

by PantsB 2008-07-01 07:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

I tend to agree that they planned it to go down like this.  

I volunteered at Obama's speech yesterday.  I received an email from an organizer late Friday night, Clark makes his comments on Sunday, Highly polished speech on Monday, continued comments by Clark on Monday night and Tuesday morning....?

sounds planned to me.

by elie 2008-07-01 08:08AM | 0 recs
Indeed.

I'm glad Obama's on our side.

by warmwaterpenguin 2008-07-01 09:19AM | 0 recs
Wow

I agree with every word - which doesn't happen often....
by lolo08 2008-07-01 08:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

Awesome diary -- I don't understand why everyone up in arms about this doesn't understand how important it is to control the narrative.  Obama is controlling the narrative, not letting it control him.  That's far more important that reflexively defending everything that is said.

by Raumfahrer 2008-07-01 10:11AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

Wes Clark, who I have watched for years, still speaks as a general, not a media-savvy politician.  Good for him and for those of us who want to hear honest assessment and explanation.  Bad for any who use the sound-bite approach to determining the best candidate.  Unfortunately, I fear that too "citizens" use just that approach.  At least in those I speak to, few know or care to examine issues in depth.

by spacemanspiff 2008-07-01 10:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

*too many

by spacemanspiff 2008-07-01 10:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

You are mistaken if you think someone can get to be a four-star general without being a good politician. The military is as, if not more so, political than any other large organization.

by MS01 Indie 2008-07-01 12:09PM | 0 recs
Fantastic analysis.

and may I say, now that the primary wars are over, it's kind of awesome to be able to have that here again.

by neutron 2008-07-01 11:47AM | 0 recs
I've said all along what Clark said was

absolutely right, and it was the right thing to do. We need to chip away at McCain's perceived Nat'l Security creds and Clark is in a very unique position to do it. Great diary and rec'd

by SocialDem 2008-07-01 01:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

Your diary was very well written.  You had nothing at all to be nervous about =)

But I have to say, I disagree with your conclusions.  Between FISA and this fiasco it feels like Obama's capitulating to the right.  It requires far too much justification on our parts to make something else out of it.

This wasn't the first time that Clark had made those comments.  He said the very same thing on Morning Joe a few weeks ago.  I was beaming over it for days, and telling everyone I knew that I thought he would make a great VP.  If the campaign thought that these comments were a negative for Obama, they should have stopped him from spreading them before they had to denounce them.

I think the comments themselves were valid criticisms that turned McCain's proposed strengths into a weakness.  And we used the perfect surrogate,  Clark is in a position to say this where Obama is not. Once again we're allowing them to frame the debate and we're looking weak.  McCain is now justified in equating POW status with nat'l security experience.  And every other Democrat up against a Republican with military service will have the same issue.

I'm not in any way advocating a withdrawl of support for Obama.  I have to admit that I'm disappointed with him.  But it isn't the first time I've been disappointed with a politician. I'll get over it and hopefully I can be right up there with him on the next battles.

by Tenafly Viper 2008-07-01 01:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit

Great post.  However, I think you're mistaken.  The statement from the Obama campaign "rejecting" Clark's comments didn't help move on: they actually highlighted the issue, gave the media more to talk about it, and at the same time served to make Obama look weaker.

You're right that this is the sort of issue best talked about by people who aren't part of the campaign, and you're right that Obama should (and does) try to keep the debate on matters where he's stronger.

... but the anger from the netroots is about that "reject" comment, which not only didn't serve those goals, but partly undermined them.

by cos 2008-07-01 04:30PM | 0 recs

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