A Foundering Campaign Is Not Pretty To Behold

Let me begin with my standard disclosure that I support Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination.

Dana Milbank wrote an article (Team Clinton: Down, and Out of Touch) in today’s Washington Post which casts the Clinton team in a very harsh light. Milbank was present at a recent confab between the Clinton campaign and the Washington Press corps. The description Milbank gives of this event can only be described as acerbic for the Clinton campaign.

First came Harold Ickes, who gave a presentation about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s prospects that severed all ties with reality. “We’re on the way to locking this nomination down,” he said of a candidate who appears, if anything, headed in the other direction.

Ickes comes across sounding like Baghdad Bob, giving tours on the street and insisting that the Americans had been beaten back from the city, even as American tanks rumbled along in the background. There are some jobs, like White House Press Secretary or spokesperson for a floundering national campaign, which demand that the job holder be willfully ignorant or even openly defiant in the face of the true state of affairs. Ickes’ claim that the Clinton campaign is on the path to locking down the nomination would be given top billing in the spokesperson make believe hall of fame if his delusion were given wider publicity… and there were actually a spokesperson make believe hall of fame…

Milbank then notes the appearance of Phil Singer, who actually referred the journalists to the past weekend’s opening skit on Saturday Night Live as proof that the media is giving Obama an easy ride. Just reading about the interaction as penned by Milbank, you can just sense the awkwardness of the moment as Singer is made to justify a painfully absurd work of logic.

“That’s your assignment editor?” responded Post columnist Ruth Marcus.

“That’s my assignment editor,” Singer affirmed.

So the first two presentations were obviously straight out of La La Land. Maybe if the Clinton campaign were able to just step back and objectively consider the way they are coming across, it might dawn on them why they are having such a rough time with the media of late. It’s the same reason that White House press secretaries leave the job as cynical codgers. The Washington Press corps has been fed this fantasy based, 2+2=5, everything is wonderful, view of the world for going on seven years now and they are not buying it… from either side. They would savage Baghdad Bob if they were given the chance as well!

Obama surrogates are, admittedly, able to get away with this happy talk a bit more only because things really are looking bright for their campaign. Just as soon as some Obama flunky steps out with some fantastical absurdity I’m certain the press will be more than happy to stomp them into the ground as well.

Milbank goes on to describe how Ickes responds to a seeming catch-22. At one time he was saying that a certain delegate lead would be “significant”, but now that Obama is likely to surpass that lead Ickes says: “As we all know in this city, I have a very short memory.” I mean… wha? He’s not even denying his own logic… he’s not denying still believing what he said previously. Ickes is simply giving a reason for him to ignore that which may not be ignored.

My impression after reading this story was very comparable to the feeling of frustration and stupified amazement I typically feel after watching a briefing by the White House Press Secretary. It’s like these yes people tweak the public on a very basic level… trying to get us to believe obvious untruths, even though they know that the public is already onto them. I suppose it’s part of the job, but they should expect to be humiliated if that’s what they do for a living.

Speaking of humiliating, the recent scramble by the Clinton campaign to use the satire of Saturday Night Live to prove their point is simply ludicrous. How desperate must the campaign strategists be to think it is somehow a good idea to have the surrogates pump that skit as proof of their case, followed by Senator Clinton try to actually recreate the skit in question at tonight’s debate to the sounds of groans from the audience. It reminds me of the time that then Vice President Dan Quayle used the plot of Red October as logic to justify increased military spending. If you can’t get traction for yourself in reality so you have to go to fiction and late night comedy shows to move your issues, that is a very bad sign.

Let me wrap this up with a bit of a note on the ranting weekend reaction of Senator Clinton to the mailings on NAFTA and health care sent out by the Obama campaign. I think Senator Clinton getting all upset about these mailings, claiming they were straight out of the Rove play book, is just silliness. In tonight’s debate she reinforced that argument, saying that she was disappointed with the Obama campaign because the mailings look like they were sent by Republicans.

If Senator Clinton thinks the mailings in question are reminiscent of Republican attacks, we must wonder at her true ability to face the real attacks she will be subject to in the general campaign. The mailings hardly rise to the offensive level of Republican attack dog Roger Stone’s 520 organization labeled “Citizens United Not Timid”. Just imagine what the fliers from that Republican group will look like… Actually I can immediately think of a dozen Republican low blow attacks at various points in various campaigns which make the Obama fliers look like Christmas greeting cards by comparison.

In comparison, when Obama was taking heat in tonight’s debate he seemed remarkably relaxed. When asked to respond to the other Clinton outburst over the weekend, where she mocked Obama’s speaking style, he joked that he liked her timing and sense of humor. I honestly can not think of another moment in campaign history in which one candidate responded on live tv to a personal attack from an opponent and actually had the opponent genuinely laugh at the response. Obama proved himself disarming in a bit of a tricky spot and I think that coolness under pressure speaks well of his ability to effectively lead the nation.

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