Fighting Smart - Why Clark had to Take the Hit
by warmwaterpenguin, Mon Jun 30, 2008 at 08:44:15 PM EDT
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.
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?