Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I'VE NOT DISCUSSED THIS BEFORE, but I have some actual writing to do today, and I've found no other way to procrastinate yet.

CLINTON SUPPORTER LANNY DAVIS'S OP-ED in the Wall Street Journal, discussing Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright, suggests "This issue is not going away."

WELL, IT CERTAINLY IS NOT. At least, not so long as Lanny Davis continues to write Op-Eds about it.*

BUT DAVIS'S FURTHER POINT--that Obama's history with Wright will be brought up in the general election should he be the nominee--is true.

IN FACT, it is so true as to be self-evident, and hardly necessary to point out, unless you want to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt among certain voting blocs right before a big primary. In this regard, Lanny Davis is the definition of a concern troll.

BUT TO BRIEFLY FEED THE TROLL, I will take Davis's concern seriously for a moment. Let's ask: should Obama become the Democratic nominee, will the Republicans attack him over his relationship with Wright?

YES, OF COURSE... just as they will happily attack Hillary Clinton over her relationship with Bill Clinton should SHE become the nominee.


No, the candidates' guilt-by-association problems are NOT equal.

FOR ALAS, Clinton's is worse.

Not because Bill Clinton is somehow more "guilty" than Wright (I'll leave that for the angels to debate), but because the association is closer, and because Clinton has never had to defend against these kinds of attacks in this election.

DEMOCRATS are not trying to tie Hillary Clinton to the Bill Clinton scandals, for obvious reasons. And I'm not even talking about what you think I'm talking about. Indeed, I can think of two attacks against Bill Clinton that are not stupid and disgusting and that I actually find substantive and troubling, though I will not air them here.


AND REPUBLICANS have not really deployed this line of attack yet either. I'm not sure why. It's either because they have had a complete change of heart about Bill Clinton in the past 8 years, or they have been biding their time until there's a nominee.


BUT IT WOULD BE HOPELESSLY NAIVE to believe that these attacks are not coming. And we really haven't seen how Clinton will handle them. Whereas I would argue we have seen how Obama intends to handle the Wright smears, which is to say: PRETTY EFFECTIVELY.

SO I WILL DO MY OWN BIT OF CONCERN TROLLING HERE AND SAY: yes, Obama's relationship with Wright may undermine his appeal to certain white voters, and will certainly lose him the racist vote. But he's shown he can take the punch and shake it off in the polls.

BUT WILL NOT HILLARY CLINTON'S RELATIONSHIP WITH BILL CLINTON energize a currently disinterested Republican base? And won't constant attacks on this front undermine her support among Independents?

And wouldn't you like at least some preview as to what her strategy will be for fending off these attacks?


That is all.

* (Although most polls suggest that for Democrats at least, the issue has indeed gone away. And double indeed, there is reasonable debate as to whether it deserves the word "issue" at all, as opposed to a simple character smear--except among those within the Clinton campaign who wish it to BE an issue.)


jeffk said...

It seems like McCain's ties to people like John Hagee and Jerry Falwell should effectively neutralize the Wright issue in the general election - those two are at least as crazy and racist as Wright, and McCain, instead of distancing himself from them, is puckering up just like W did.

McCain's political career over the last five years reminds me of Homer falling off the cliff in The Simpsons: "D'oh! ... D'oh! ... D'oh! ... D'oh!"

Ethan T said...

Full disclosure: Obama fan here.

Most of what I've seen coming from the Fox News side of town (I consider them one of the main sources of right-wing popular opinion) is attacks specific to Obama. They're reserving judgment against Hillary for later. Instead, they're putting all their effort into helping her win the nomination without actively supporting her, with the goal of unleashing a torrent of abuse if she earns the nomination. The post-nomination effort against her will be much easier than against Obama, if only due to the unexplained hatred some people seem to have for her.

In that regard, it's in the right's best interest to push as much anti-Obama sentiment at the public as possible, for the moment. Assuming they're already doing this, I think it's promising that they've come up with so little of substance so far about him.

@jeffk: part of the problem with using the same tactics on McCain is that (in my opinion) there are more people on the right who blindly support their candidate than there are on the left. I firmly believe that the uninformed voter in the US is more likely to lean right than left - and these people will not be hearing (i.e. listening to) arguments against McCain. They'll just be voting for the elephant.

jeffk said...

Ethan, I think you're probably right about that, but there are some encouraging signs - one of which thrills me because I'm both an Obama fan and a giant nerd. Emma Caulfield (Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who is a pretty devoted right-winger, is an Obama convert. Over on her MySpace blog, she said: "No one is more shocked than I am. My reason for voting for him is simple. I trust him. I pretty much disagree with every policy he has, but I believe that HE BELIEVES his course of action is the right one."

After I recovered from the shock of learning that Anya is a Republican (she still calls Obama a "socialist"), I realized that Barack is capable of winning over people who value honesty and backbone. Despite appearances, I think that applies to a lot of conservatives. Given the contempt so many right-wingers have for McCain, I can see Obama gaining some support from those voters, simply on the strength of his character. Sure, the racists and the Fox New faithful will hold the party line, I think (hope?) their numbers are smaller than a lot of us believe. Of course, that could just be hopelessly naive optimism.

Dan Warren said...

My least favorite thing about this entire primary process so far has been that it has negatively impacted my view of the Clintons. I am a big fan of Bill and Hillary both, and Bill's presidency was the most effective and competent of my lifetime despite all of the things the right tried to do to derail it. I find the Clintons' obvious willingness to play dirty politics all the more disturbing because of that respect, though, and the openly expressed strategy of circumventing the will of the people by trying to sway superdelegates even more so. I firmly believe that a "win at all costs" strategy is indicative of a lack of conviction and moral fiber, and it deeply disturbs me to see the Clintons in that light.

tony said...

Granted I don't live in the headspace of your average private racist but does anyone buy that there's this huge number of would-be Obama voters who would choose to vote for McCain because of Obama's (I paraphrase) scary black pastor?

I will say after the Jeremiah Wright controversy came out, the Obama is a Muslim fear seemed to die down a bit so maybe there's an advantage. Plus I doubt the fear that he's a Muslim Manchurian candidate could ever be counteracted. Those voters are way gone.

I'm all over the place but isn't it to the Obama campaign's credit that they're not playing up Clinton's association with the Fellowship? (Talk about scary.) It seems that Clinton's campaign is taking advantage of the fact that they know his campaign is above the tactic.

Lhyzz said...


Hillary is from Mordor?

Christen said...

Dear John Hodgman,

It has long been a dream of mine that "troll," in the Internet sense of the word, begin to be applied to figures in the non-Internet world whose behavior fits that description. Not two weeks ago I had to explain to a not-very-nerdy friend what a troll was. And I thought that was terrible! Because the offline world is CRAWLING with 'em.

So THANK you.

Sincerely yours,
Christen McCurdy