Trying to piece together the events of the past 48 hours, we were at first stymied. We had no idea what Obama was saying. We think we finally have it figured out; at least until Obama opens his mouth again:
Hillary’s consistent position: We must have diplomacy but not foolishness.
Obama’s position, shifting and convoluted: We must have diplomacy and foolishness.
Here are the forensics: At the debate, Obama stated that YES he would (“I would.”) meet 1) separately; 2) without precondition; 3) during the first year; 4) in Washington or anywhere else; 5) with leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea.
Immediately after the debate however Obama’s chief mastermind David Axelrod (according to right wing journalist Byron York) declared Obama’s debate statement of “I would” – inoperative.
Sen. Barack Obama’s closest political adviser, David Axelrod, wants you to know that Obama did not say what he appeared to say at Monday night’s Democratic debate here in Charleston. [snip]
But after the debate, speaking to reporters in the spin room, Axelrod claimed Obama didn’t mean any such meetings would actually take place.
“He said that he would be willing to talk,” Axelrod explained. “And what he meant was, as a government, he’d be willing and eager to initiate those kinds of talks, just as during the Cold War there were low-level discussions and mid-level discussions between us and the Soviet Union and so on. So he was not promising summits with all of those leaders.”
Axelrod said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who took sharp issue with Obama on the question, was “trying to make a distinction without a difference.” If Axelrod seemed a bit sensitive about the issue, it was because Clinton, when she was asked about meeting Ahmadinejad, et al, showed a much firmer grasp of what a president should and should not do when dealing with rogue states. [snip]
Early the next morning, on Tuesday, the Obama campaign began circulating press releases attacking Hillary, then posed with outrage when Hillary responded to a question and rightly stated that Obama’s debate answer was naive and irresponsible.
In an interview the day before the debate with Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald Obama had a different answer:
A day later, at the CNN-YouTube Democratic Debate, Obama raised eyebrows nationwide when he responded affirmatively to a question on whether he would be willing to meet — without preconditions — in the first year of his presidency with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.
In our interview, the senator from Illinois had been a bit more cautious. When I asked him whether he would meet with Chávez, he had said, “Under certain conditions, I always believe in talking. Sometimes it’s more important to talk to your enemies than to your friends.”
So it went. Obama fluctuated his views, at one point repudiating “cup of coffee meetings” then eventually the Politico noted
Obama took another whack at Hillary today on the war, and seems to be trying a different tack.
On debate night, the spin was that he hadn’t actually said anything different from Hillary.
“Axelrod said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who took sharp issue with Obama on the question, was ‘trying to make a distinction without a difference,'” Byron York reported.
Today, Obama suggested that he was actually articulating a different policy.
The last screw connecting, a now unhinged Obama, attached to reality fell away as Obama ranted away in an open air speech with the implication that Hillary was “Bush-Cheney lite”. Hillary responded in an adult but amused manner and reminded Obama about his “new politics” slogan. Hillary then returned to her winning fight with the Bush/Cheney Pentagon. “Watching today’s Clinton-Obama spat play out on CNN right now, it’s impossible not to note how well Clinton has positioned herself to rebut the accusation that she’s “Bush-Cheney Lite.”
The immediate political implications for Obama were fairly clear. Obama’s entire campaign premise was allegedly that he wanted to get people together and get away from political fights. The idea lodged in Obama’s head was that this was the way to attract independents and lead to victory. That six months pose has officially disappeared.
The other implication for Obama is the loss of voters who want an intelligent and professional foreign policy – missing in the entire 7 years of the Bush administration. Obama, like Bush, proclaimed that he, not lifelong diplomats knew best. Obama added, in a speech at the inaptly named Concord, New Hampshire: “I’m not afraid of losing the PR war to dictators.” Obama, like Bush, might not be worried about how his amateur “international relations” activity damages the United States and the world, but most Americans do not want to get further into the mess we are already in. The problem is not that professional diplomats and diplomacy have failed in the last 7 years, the problem is that the professionals have been banned for the past 7 years.
Other implications running against Obama were the loss of Cuban and Jewish voters in Florida. The more ominous implication, as detailed by David Corn in The Nation magazine was the probable swiftboat type ads with
Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro, Bashar al-Assad, and Hugo Chavez all strolling into the White House, and a grinning Barack Obama greeting them with a friendly “Welcome, boys; what do you want to talk about?”
If Obama gets close to the Democratic presidential nomination, pro-Hillary Clinton forces could air such an ad. If he wins the nomination, the Republicans could hammer him with such a spot.
And the junior senator from Illinois will not have much of a defense.
What caused this flopping and flipping from Obama and his campaign? Two words: South Carolina.
An insufficiently discussed article appeared this week in Politico. Some excerpts follow which provide the script Axelrod gave Obama to follow.
Awash in money and publicity but behind in the polls, Barack Obama, advisers say, is planning a classic insurgent’s campaign to wrest the Democratic nomination from Hillary Rodham Clinton — one that relies on a surge of momentum from early-state victories and faces a make-or-break test in the South Carolina primary. [snip]
Because nothing is working to move Obama’s poll numbers up, and due to the fast and intelligent footwork of the Hillary campaign team, Obama has been forced to drop his lace veil of “new politics” and attack Hillary explicitly.
The upbeat message, Obama advisers say, won’t prevent the candidate from stepping up both veiled and explicit contrasts with Clinton, who he hopes to portray as an old-hat conventional politician whose varied positions on the Iraq war reflect calculation rather than leadership.
The desperation of the Obama campaign became apparent as immediately pre-debate and immediately post-debate South Carolina polls showed Hillary gaining on Obama in the Obama MUST WIN state of South Carolina.
Obama’s need to transcend conventional politics is evident by looking at the practical hurdles to his nomination. He boasts best-selling books and magazine cover spreads and — most relevant to his 2008 ambitions — is winning the fundraising race in both total dollars and with a record number of contributors.
But bundles of cash and good buzz have not eroded what most national polls show as a durable double-digit lead for Clinton, built largely around her nearly two-to-one advantage with Democratic women. [snip]
Obama strategists say for now they are not running a national campaign but are depending on what senior adviser David Axelrod calls “a sequential series” of victories.
This is why Obama is already on the air with television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire and so far is out-spending Clinton in every early state.
Here is the desperation in stark dollars and cents. Obama is now airing ads in South Carolina too.
The trend includes more than twice as much spending in Iowa ($1.6 million to Clinton’s $839,000) and nearly three times as much in South Carolina ($350,000 to $120,000) in the first half of this year.
The South Carolina Democratic primary electorate is usually more than half African-American, and Obama advisers predict these voters will back one of their own to give him an essential victory a week before Super Tuesday.
History suggests the hazards of this momentum-based approach. Nearly every Democratic nominating contest for the past 40 years has featured some variation on the same script: reform candidates trying to use grass-roots energy and media momentum to beat rivals with more traditional profiles and, usually, more support from the party establishment. [snip]
As we noted, Obama overreached in his panic after flopping in the South Carolina debate and abandoned his studied cool to cross the line in a frenzied “draw blood” hunger after months of denying his hostility. The cheers from his dispirited supporters urging their dog to bark added to the frenzied Obama response.
Obama’s goal is to draw contrasts with Clinton without drawing blood. “There is a difference between contrasting and attacking,” Belcher said. Obama is relying on his oratory to portray himself as the aspirational candidate — “we’re more interested in looking forward, not in looking backward,” [snip]
Belcher flatly predicts: “We are going to outright win South Carolina.”
Democrats debated in the Palmetto State Monday night. A July CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll finds Clinton leading with 39 percent and Obama at 25 percent. Other polling in June showed Obama leading.
Again, Obama is trying everything and yet nothing is working. South Carolina is slipping away no matter how much time, effort, surrogates or money he sends to South Carolina. [Hint: They’re Just Not That Into You.]
Again, Obama wanted to start his advertising much later in the year but because of his series of debate flops he had to move up the timetable. Obama is now advertising in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as well as on as many websites as possible.
Obama’s greatest challenge in winning South Carolina is wooing black women, who are swaying between him and Clinton. “When you talk about the broken politics of Washington, the people who are most affected by it are single women, working moms,” Axelrod said.
Obama’s wife, Michelle, has already visited South Carolina several times. The campaign sees her as a key means to reach black women. By late summer or early autumn, Wade said the Obama campaign will be advertising in South Carolina, as well.
But Obama’s campaign staff is aware that if they do not appear to contest the earlier electoral challenges, from Nevada to New Hampshire, they may lack the momentum to win South Carolina.
Faced with rescheduled Florida primary, now on the same date as the South Carolina primary, Obama’s desperation has increased. He has lost Florida. South Carolina looms as an even more necessary state to win as before the debate. But South Carolina too is slipping, or has slipped away.
Obama is throwing everything he has into his flagging campaign. But Americans do not want Bush type inexperience and jaw jutting arrogance.