Friday, February 1, 2008

A Week in the 2008 Presidential Campaign

As reported in the New York Times:

Monday, Jan. 28 - It's reported that Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy will endorse Barack Obama, spurning Bill Clinton plea.

Monday, Jan. 28 - Neocon columnist William Kristol says he's cancelling dinner plans for Thursday so he can see the debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton:

"Bill Clinton has been playing the race card, and doing so clumsily. But why is he playing any cards? He wasn’t supposed to be in the game. But just as Hillary was supposed to be finding her own voice, Bill decided to barge in, and to do so with a vengeance. This has been no favor to Hillary. ...

"Right now, Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls in almost all the big states voting. She is a tough and capable campaigner, and she may be able to hold on to those leads. But it is now clear that putting her in the White House brings a hyperactive Bill back in with her. Who needs it? Liberals and Democrats can get basically the same policies without the Clinton baggage, and in choosing Obama, they can nominate a more electable candidate....

"Meanwhile, [in addition to the Kennedy endorsement and a possible Gore endorsement,] Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader during most of the Clinton presidency, is actively supporting Obama. Talk to Democrats in D.C., and it’s amazing how many who know the Clintons well — many of whom worked in the Clinton administration — are eager that they not return to the White House.

"This week, the Clinton team will dump every bit of opposition research it has on Obama. We’ll see how Obama responds.

"But the moment of truth could come at the Democratic debate Thursday, in Los Angeles. Edwards may have dropped out by then. If so, it will be a one-on-one showdown.... Will Obama hold his own? ...

"[T]his could be the week Obama upsets the Clintons."

Tuesday, Jan. 29 - reporting on State of the Union address, front page center photograph shows Hillary reaching across Barack Obama to shake hands with Ted Kennedy while Obama turns away to speak with a Senate colleague.

Tuesday, Jan. 29 - Moderate-conservative columnist David Brooks suggests, "Something fundamental has shifted in the Democratic Party... [when l]ast week there was the widespread revulsion at the Clintons’ toxic attempts to ghettoize Barack Obama. In private and occasionally in public, leading Democrats lost patience with the hyperpartisan style of politics — the distortion of facts, the demonizing of foes, the secret admiration for brass-knuckle brawling and the ever-present assumption that it’s necessary to pollute the public sphere to win. ...

"And then Monday, something equally astonishing happened. A throng of Kennedys came to the Bender Arena at American University in Washington to endorse Obama.... The Kennedys and Obama hit the same contrasts again and again in their speeches: the high road versus the low road; inspiration versus calculation; future versus the past; and most of all, service versus selfishness.

“'With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion,'” Senator Kennedy declared. 'With Barack Obama, there is a new national leader who has given America a different kind of campaign — a campaign not just about himself, but about all of us,' he said.

"The Clintons started this fight, and in his grand and graceful way, Kennedy returned the volley with added speed. ...

"[I]n the speech’s most striking passage, he set Bill Clinton afloat on the receding tide of memory. 'There was another time,' Kennedy said, 'when another young candidate was running for president and challenging America to cross a New Frontier.' But, he continued, another former Democratic president, Harry Truman, said he should have patience. He said he lacked experience. John Kennedy replied: 'The world is changing. The old ways will not do!'

"The audience at American University roared. It was mostly young people, and to them, the Clintons are as old as the Trumans were in 1960. And in the students’ rapture for Kennedy’s message, you began to see the folding over of generations, the service generation of John and Robert Kennedy united with the service generation of the One Campaign. The grandparents and children united against the parents.

"How could the septuagenarian Kennedy cast the younger Clintons into the past? He could do it because he evoked the New Frontier, which again seems fresh. He could do it because he himself has come to live a life of service.

"After his callow youth, Kennedy came to realize that life would not give him the chance to be president. But life did ask him to be a senator, and he has embraced that role and served that institution with more distinction than anyone else now living — as any of his colleagues, Republican or Democrat, will tell you. ...

"Sept. 11th really did leave a residue — an unconsummated desire for sacrifice and service. The old Clintonian style of politics clashes with that desire. ...

"It’s not clear how far this altered public mood will carry Obama in this election. But there was something important and memorable about the way the 75-year-old Kennedy communed and bonded with a rapturous crowd half a century his junior.

Wednesday, Jan. 30 - Commenting on Obama's State of the Union snub of Hillary, Maureen Dowd writes:

"Nobody cared about W., whose presidency had crumpled into a belated concern about earmarks.

"The only union that fascinated was Obama and Hillary, once more creeping around each other.

"It would have been the natural thing for the Illinois senator, only hours after his emotional embrace by the Kennedys and an arena full of deliriously shrieking students, to follow the lead of Uncle Teddy and greet the rebuffed Hillary.

"She was impossible to miss in the sea of dark suits and Supreme Court dark robes. Like Scarlett O’Hara after a public humiliation, Hillary showed up at the gathering wearing a defiant shade of red.

"But the fact that he didn’t do so shows that Obama cannot hide how much the Clintons rattle him, and that he is still taking the race very personally. ...

"Their relations have been frosty and fraught ever since the young Chicago prince challenged Queen Hillary’s royal proclamation that it was her turn to rule.

"Last winter, after news broke that he was thinking of running, he winked at her and took her elbow on the Senate floor to say hi, in his customary languid, friendly way, and she coldly brushed him off.

"It bothered him, and he called a friend to say: You would not believe what just happened with Hillary.

"Again and again at debates, he looked eager to greet her or be friendly during the evening and she iced him. She might have frozen him out once more Monday night had he actually tried to reach out.

"But now Obama is like that cat Mark Twain wrote about who wouldn’t jump on the stove again for fear of being burned.

"It was only after the distortions of the Clintons in South Carolina that he changed his tone and took on Hillary in a tough way in the debate there. Afterward, one of his advisers said that it was as though a dam had broken and Obama finally began using all the sharp lines against Hillary that strategists had been suggesting for months.

"Why had it taken so long for Obama to push back against Hillary? 'He respected her as a senator,' the adviser replied. 'He even defended her privately when she cried, saying that no one knows how hard these campaigns are.' ...

"Obama is the more emotionally delicate candidate, and the one who has the more feminine consensus management style, and the not-blinded-by-testosterone ability to object to a phony war.

"As first lady, Alpha Hillary’s abrasive and secretive management of health care doomed it. She voted to enable W. on Iraq so she could run as someone tough enough to command armies. ...

"Obama is right to be scared of Hillary. He just needs to learn that Uncle Teddy can’t fight all his fights, and that a little chivalry goes a long way."

Thursday, Jan. 31 - Gail Collins writes that "Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been extremely testy toward one another, but so far the rancor at the top has not trickled down. The Democratic voters haven’t seemed angry at all. In fact, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen such a chipper group. Racing to the polls in droves. Not a single reference to holding one’s nose or the lesser of two evils. “I want the Republicans to feel the way I did in 2004,” said Mike Sherzan, an Iowan who was for Edwards in the caucus while his wife was for Clinton and his son was with Obama. (Basically, everybody’s son is with Obama.)

"It would be nice if the two survivors could work a little harder on encouraging that mood. Anger is out. So 2006. So ... Tom DeLay.

"Hillary could start by purging her campaign of the lingering sense that the presidency is her due and anyone who stands in her way is a particularly mean chauvinist. You cannot run a campaign with the slogan: “Vote for Hillary — Think of All She’s Been Through.” ...

"Some of the Democratic resistance to Obama’s magic comes from people who are wary of politicians who want to win their hearts. Every great candidate has golden moments when the campaign merges perfectly into the zeitgeist of the people. But sooner or later it passes, and you’re left with a tired, flawed human being making a pitch to crowds of slightly deflated citizens. One of Hillary’s selling points is that we’re pre-deflated. We’ve known her so well for so long.

"The Obama let-down would be way harder to handle. Earlier this week, his campaign visited Barack’s sort-of ancestral home in El Dorado, Kan., a small town outside Wichita where the community college gym was rocking.

“'An hour-and-a-half wait. It was well worth it,' said Hardy Stegall of nearby Pretty Prairie.

"It was Obama’s first visit. His grandparents, the Dunhams, kept chasing the American dream west until they wound up in Hawaii. Stanley Dunham started out in El Dorado, where he managed a furniture store and, family legend has it, once decked the high school principal. At the rally, Obama told the story of how Stanley married a young woman from the right side of the tracks and how their daughter married a man from Kenya, who left her a young single mother whose son is running for president.

“'Their journey, like so many others, speaks to a simple truth ... the future is what we decide it is going to be,' he said.

“'I never thought he’d come here,' said Stegall, almost beside himself with pleasure.

"And to tell the truth, I never imagined sitting in a gym in small-town Kansas, watching people whoop for a black, Hawaii-born, grandson-of-a-son of the Kansas soil who promised to bring their hometown values with him to the White House.

"We may remember this as a great campaign, people. Presuming they don’t screw it up."

Friday, Feb. 1

The front page story reports, "Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met for debate [in Los Angeles] Thursday, sitting side by side and sharing a night of smiles, friendly eye-catching and gentle banter. Cordial as the encounter was, the candidates did not mask their own divisions, even as they previewed the attacks one of them will ultimately make against a Republican rival.

"Still, it was almost as if the battle was to see which of them could outnice the other.

"At the end of the nearly two-hour encounter, as the audience of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities rose to its feet at the Kodak Theater, Mr. Obama held Mrs. Clinton’s chair as she rose. The two rivals, almost hugging, held each others’ elbows and whispered in one another’s ear, offering a striking image that captured the tenor of the debate." ...

"[The] tone Thursday night was largely friendly. Each candidate laughed agreeably and nodded at the other’s remarks, and they praised each other at different points and looked ahead to the battle with the other party.

“'They are more of the same,' Mrs. Clinton said of the Republican candidates. 'Neither of us, by looking at us, is more of the same — we will change our country.'

What's going on here? There's something in the air - maybe they won't screw it up.

Stay tuned for Super Tuesday.