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Monday, April 14, 2008

What's the Matter with Clinton?

It seems like every weekend there's some weird news from the campaign trail. Sometimes they're blunders, sometimes they're lies, sometimes they're a tempest in a teapot.

This weekend's tempest in a teapot was a comment by Barack Obama. First reported on The Huffington Post, Obama told a crowd in Pennsylvania, "You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Of course, the Clinton campaign -- who's only hope in hell is that Obama destroys himself somehow -- jumped right on the comment. She called Obama "elitist" and "out of touch." I suppose, when your only hope is that your opponent throws himself off a cliff, a little push won't hurt any.

The problem is that Obama's isn't really a new argument. Author Thomas Frank made basically the same case in his book, What's the Matter With Kansas? : How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. People have been manipulated into voting against their own economic interests with BS wedge issues like immigration and abortion and unfounded fear of the government taking their guns away. It's an argument I've made more than once and, in a great example of why I'll never get elected to anything, I've called these voters "chumps." Of course, my motivation is to tell the truth, not to get elected. The truth about a subject is often unpleasant for that subject. These voters are victims of a bait and switch -- they get all freaked out over the homosexual menace or evolution in schools and they vote for people who deliver tax cuts for the rich and trade deals that ship their jobs overseas. They are chumps, since they keep doing this over and over, never noticing that the people they vote for only talk about their issues, but never actually do anything about them. They fall for the same con over and over and over.

It's hard to imagine a Democratic campaign in middle America where Frank's observations aren't discussed by the campaign team. Clinton absolutely has to have signed a paycheck for someone who's told her exactly the same thing -- while having strategies to get around that wedge issue filter. After all, the same people who vote this way are those who listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and James Dobson. These voters have not only been instructed by demagogues to distrust Democrats generally, but Hillary Clinton specifically -- for close to two decades. That no one on Team Clinton has ever expressed these concerns is practically the definition of incredible. It had to have happened. Frank's book was wildly popular on the left.

Of course, this is far from the self-destruction of Obama that Hillary had hoped for. She can exaggerate its importance all she wants, but she'll still probably take only a slim lead in Pennsylvania, when what she needs are landslides. She doesn't need Obama to call bitter voters bitter voters, she needs Polaroids of him in bed with a dead hooker. She can push all she wants, but he's still miles away from the cliff.

Meanwhile, there may be a move to give Clinton a little push of her own.

The Scotsman:

Democrat grandees Jimmy Carter and Al Gore are being lined-up to deliver the coup de grĂ¢ce to Hillary Clinton and end her campaign to become president.

Falling poll numbers and a string of high-profile blunders have convinced party elders that she must now bow out of the primary race.

Former president Carter and former vice-president Gore have already held high-level discussions about delivering the message that she must stand down for the good of the Democrats.

"They're in discussions," a source close to Carter told Scotland on Sunday. "Carter has been talking to Gore. They will act, possibly together, or in sequence."

Did I say "push?" I probably should have said "send on a catapult-powered joy ride" over the edge of that cliff. Even Team Clinton knows their chances are slim . Politico reported last month that "One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives." As I say, either Barack Obama self-destructs or Hillary is done.

Barack Obama has not self-destructed, he's simply stated an uncomfortable truth. He's managed to back away from it without disowning it -- a skill he's used more than once in this race. And the breathless "this hurts him" message from the punditry may not pan out in at the ballot box. "Interviews with political leaders around the state Sunday indicated that the flap over his calling those people 'bitter' might have made less of an immediate, negative impact on voters than the news media focus on his words suggested," reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. I'm guessing that a lot of people took it for what it was -- the truth -- and thought it was a pretty good assessment of the current political reality.

What we're seeing is Clinton forced into attacking Obama from the right. He's staked out his populist appeal, so Clinton has to take him on as if she were a Republican. The problem is that she's competing in the Democratic primary, where Republican messaging goes straight to people's BS filters. She's failing because she's taking what are essentially Republican campaign strategies to Democratic voters. If there were any hope in hell of that working, all of these voters would be Republicans by now.

And rushing to the defense of the chumps isn't going to help any, either. Those people aren't going to vote for Hillary Clinton -- not in a million freakin' years. They've been trained to hate her. Those con men that Obama and Frank and even Clinton's own staffers know all about have already made sure of that.

Obama's right on this one -- there are bitter voters out there and there are chumpish voters out there. If Clinton thinks any of those voters would come vote for her in November, she's dreaming.


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