The Strategy That Failed

[For time challenged campaign strategists and political reporters, just read our last paragraph]

We funned Obama just a bit a while back by suggesting his campaign song should be Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” (later on we supplemented that suggestion with The Great Pretender).

The song selections were meant as good advice to Obama that his act was getting stale and his claims increasingly dubious. John Dickerson of Salon Slate has an article on this theme called Song of Myself – How Much Room Does Obama Have To Boast?

While Dickerson in his article missed the now clearly delusional Obama quote “To know me is to love me” he does capture the quintessential Obama boasts and the conventional thinking behind the boasts. Dickerson also misses WHY and how very DEEPLY Obama’s boasts are hurting him (we’ll clue Dickerson and Axelrod in at the end of this article).

For a candidate so anxious to remind everyone that he’s not a typical Beltway insider, Obama can sound a lot like a classic Washington type: the senator who regards himself too highly.

Dickerson does all candidates a favor by giving a quick lesson on why boasting is necessary and how boasting should be done:

Candidates brag because they have to—they can’t rely on voters to get the message or the media to deliver it. But a little self-love goes a long way on the campaign trail. Voters don’t want to hear about the candidate as much as they want to hear what the candidate is going to do for them and the country. This is why Bill Clinton, a nimble politician, knew reflexively to turn around questions about the beating he was taking as a candidate and say it was nothing compared with the beating the American people had taken. Appearing humble is presidential tradition. George Washington walked away from power, and Abraham Lincoln was quick to quantify his shortcomings. Charles De Gaulle is not our kind of fellow.

Dickerson quickly inventories boasts by other candidates then gets to the meat of his argument about why Obama boasts and why his boasts are lame:

Obama has put such focus on a single speech out of necessity. His opponents, particularly Hillary Clinton and her husband, question whether he has the experience to be president. Obama’s boasting answers critique and put Clinton on the defensive at the same time. It’s probably a smart tactic, but the posture is at odds with the reflective politician who in 2004 talked about not knowing which way he would have voted on the Iraq question if he’d been in the Senate at the time. Nor does Obama seem like the same fellow who wrote so readily of his faults in The Audacity of Hope. In the book, he also explains that empathy for your opponents was the key to healthy political discussion. [snip]

Obama’s reliance on his anti-war position invites stories that question whether he is inflating his courage. This creates a double risk: résumé inflation suggests both dishonesty and a lack of anything else to boast about. Some Democrats say Hillary Clinton takes too much credit for her role initiating the SCHIP. (Ted Kennedy was the bill’s driving force.) But her bragging hasn’t sounded excessive, and voters will probably tolerate it. A bigger stretch is Fred Thompson’s excessive regard for his role as John Robert’s Senate escort during the chief justice’s confirmation hearings, a task never before listed by a presidential aspirant and not historically associated with greatness. Thompson’s lack of material explains perhaps why he treats his decision to run for president is an achievement that is itself worth boasting about. “I could have spent the years reading other people’s scripts and cashing other people’s checks,” he says on the stump, “but instead I decided to get into this race.”

The Associated Press story from earlier this week which questions Obama’s claim of boldness is confirmation of what Dickerson is writing. For Dickerson and Axelrod’s benefit let’s discuss why Obama’s boasts on Iraq are deeply hurting instead of helping. Here is part of what we wrote on May 10, 2007 (links to sources can be found in the original post):

But most importantly, recall that the Iraq resolution vote occurred less than 1 month before the 2002 national elections. Democrats were in danger of being extinguished leaving the government in total absolute control of George Bush. Even with the vote to approve giving George Bush the authority to confront Iraq the Democrats lost the Senate on November 5, 2002. Democrats also lost an additional 6 seats in the House of Representatives. Only in 1902, 1934 and 1998 had a party in control of the White House gained congressional seats.

A rejection of the Iraq resolution would not have prevented a savage Bush attack on Iraq and in all likelihood the Democrats would have been wiped out from government. According to CNN “The two top Democrats in Congress said Wednesday that President Bush’s popularity and the post-September 11 environment were largely responsible for the Republicans’ sweeping Election Day victories.” “It is significant when you have a president at a 65 percent rating. That is unusual,” said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri. “I think some of it is related to 9/11 and the people’s reactions — the people’s desire to be united with the president in fighting against these issues, in trying to solve these issues.”

How popular was Bush in October 2002, one year after 9/11?

The Pew Research poll published on October 10, 2002, the day of the Iraq resolution vote in the Senate, which sampled public opinion before Bush’s televised speech to the nation on October 7 gives us a glimpse of the national mood. Presumably a poll sampling public opinion after October 7 would have registered even higher numbers for Bush and his pro war policies. “When asked the question Congress is currently debating – whether the main goal of military action should be ridding Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction or ousting him – Americans come down strongly on the side of removal.”

According to the Pew poll, the mistaken idea that there was an Iraq 9/11 link “strongly resonate with a majoirity of Americans”. Americans by 66% said they believed in the Iraq 9/11 link. 65% of Americans believed that Iraq was close to having nuclear weapons, 14% of Americans believed Iraq already had nuclear weapons. When asked if Saddam “can be disarmed but left in power, or do you think he has to be removed from power,” 85% favor getting rid of the Iraqi leader.

The American public was overwhelmingly in support of the of the Iraq War. Polls measured 75% of the public supported the decision to go to war. 1/3 of Americans believed in declaring war even without UN support. Nearly 70 % believed there were Iraqis in the World Trade Center attack. Bush, we forget at our peril, was the most popular president ever. French Fries were renamed Freedom Fries. Americans wanted revenge. Even some of today’s most antiwar bloggers, who constantly attack Hillary, were table pounding proponents of the war.

Here is the lesson from the above, Dickerson and Axelrod, as to why Obama’s boasts on Iraq hurt him: The boasts are insulting to the majority of Americans. When Obama mocks Hillary on her 2002 vote Obama is also mocking the majority of Americans who agreed with Hillary’s vote.

[Clue for Axelrod and political reporters: the entire premise of the Obama campaign strategy is flawed. The campaign raison d’etre is precisely why the campaign is falling apart. When Obama says ‘I was right’ in 2002 he also is implying about the vast majority of Americans ‘You were wrong’. Check the numbers – Obama’s support will not go higher than the percentage of Americans who opposed the war in 2002 – a minority. Americans don’t like to be insulted by blowhards and braggarts.]


21 thoughts on “The Strategy That Failed

  1. This is an important post, it goes to the heart of who Obama is.
    His “To know me is to love me” *puke* bullsh*it line says a lot about his character.
    And the politics of Washington which he likes to say he is not indulging in, seems to be drawing him in day by day, or rather bringing out the true politician that he is. Someone who is actually good and used to the politics of Washington!

    He brags when someone questions his experience that Chicago politics is no kinder garden politics, indicating ‘you know what (mafioso/lewd issues etc..)’ But throws his hands up in ‘despair’ pretending to not be part of that, and that he is ‘clean’. Barack, you sleaze, so which way is it?

  2. We have not posted today’s “Funnies” yet, below is an excerpt.

    We constantly warn that we wil not take anything for granted and campaign like we are 20 points behind. That said, things look good for Hillary and even the comedians are aware that things do look good for Hillary.

    Anyway, its Friday afternoon of a long week, and we did laugh at some of the jokes from Letterman’s Top 10 list. Some of the jokes are tasteless and naughty and we are prepared for reprimands for posting them. Apologies in advance, and here are


    10. Already selected her victory pantsuit.

    9. Canceled today’s campaign appearances; Went to see “Good Luck Chuck.”

    8. Spent most of the last debate listening to her iPod — just a reminder: The new iPod Touch is now in stock at your local Apple store.

    7. Hired Faith Hill to beat up women who’ve hit on Bill.

    6. Assembled a Las Vegas crew to steal her football memorabilia.

    5. Calling Giuliani during speeches to say she loves him.

    4. Already issuing memos about putting White House toilet seats down — the ladies know what I’m talking about!

    3. Responds to difficult questions with, “Oh no you didn’t!”

    2. Greeted Obama yesterday by saying, “Wanna be my bitch?”

    1. Told Bill he can start dating again (CBS, 10/4).


    Giuliani, Thompson, McCain and Romney ALL think that Chimpy was right to veto the expansion of the SCHIP healthcare program for kids. Nevermind that a large majority say they support expanding SCHIP’s budget by an additional $35 billion over five years as per the bipartisan Congressional legislation that was vetoed.

    Even when the costs are explained, support for reauthorization remains strong across voters from different political parties (Democrats – 86% support; INDEPENDENTS – 78% SUPPORT; and even Republicans – 64% support).

  4. Hahaha, oh man, you said it admin, some are funny, some are bordering cruel, but she can take it, she has for God knows how many years now(no offense Hillary, your a woman like wine, only gets better with age). I actually liked the first one best, her victory pantsuit! As Hill and Dave have sort of a history of that now.

    Will Hillary throw the first baseball when she is President???
    That would be a funny moment if she did, or maybe they could start a new tradition, although it would be kind of cool to see that final last barrier being broken, the classic macho hurdle! I guess she would prefer to practice beforehand, doubt she has done that many times. 🙂

  5. I think the guy is narcissistic and that’s what creeps me out so badly about him. He reminds me of George Bush – albeit with a lot more smarts and an apparently functioning conscience. His whole strategy – this idea that with just a couple years in DC, he’s going to sweep in and make the electorate swoon as they vote him into office because he’s just a Cinnabon of a human being who is going to play fair, and because he is so gooey sweet, the Pubs will be charmed into playing along as well. I don’t know if he realizes or not that he’s running on Bush’s 2000 platform, but I do. He’s either insincere or not that smart – either way, keep him away from the Oval Office.

  6. Gorto, for some reason we can perfectly imagine Hillary doing #3. Maybe it was her takedown of Tim Russert but for whatever reason we found #3 funny.

    JoeFriday, We can’t wait for the day this nomination situation is over and we can turn our loving attention to the Ripublicans. It’s difficult not commenting on those dunces now. Picture Hillary debating the loser the Ripublicans finally pick from their litter of ugly candidates – She will knock the SCHIP out of her opponent.

    In case we forget, at the point that Hillary debates her Ripublican opponent, remind us to do a post called “The SCHIP Hits The Fan”.

  7. Basement angel, what creeps us out is that he does not seem very bright.

    For instance, we take no issue with what he said about the flag lapel pin situation, but didn’t he know this non-issue about jewelry would stomp out his message of the week? Didn’t he realize how his answer, regardless of its truthfulness, was a 100% trap which if he ever won the nomination would be the stuff of millions of dollars of Ripublican campaign ads.

    It’s as if Obama is compelled to demonstrate how smart he is by being professorial about silly issues like lapel jewelry. The narcissism hides his insecurity and lack of common sense.

    Common sense – doesn’t anyone in his campaign realize that insulting voters by effectively saying “I am morally superior to you and smarter than you because I was right and you were wrong – so now acknowledge my smartness and vote for me you dummy’ is hurtful to his campaign?

    Here are excerpts from the Hotline roundup on reaction to the non-issue of flag lapel pins (again notice how Ripublican campaign ads would play this):

    How Did We Get Here?
    Obama wanted this week to be about his ’02 war speech; instead he ends it talking about lapel pins.

    While Obama’s “naked” lapel made nat’l news 10/4, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards’ camps “steered clear of the topic” (McCormick, Chicago Tribune, 10/5).
    New York Daily News’ Saul and McAuliff write Obama’s remarks “risked a backlash, even though most” of the WH ’08ers “aren’t wearing the flag pins regularly these days” (10/5).
    NY Daily News ed board writes Obama “showed a breathtaking misunderstanding of the symbolism of the American flag.” His explanation “is the sortr of thing you’d expect to hear from the average college sophomore who has lately discovered political activism” (10/5).
    ABC’s Wright: “To be fair, most of the presidential candidates from both parties do not wear the flag pin, even when they’re all dressed up for televised debates. The only big exception is Republican Rudolph Giuliani who is never without one. … And it might have never become an issue for Senator Obama had it not been for the way he answered for the reporter’s question” (“World News,” 10/4).
    ABC’s Stephanopoulos: “The problem is not the fact he’s not a wearing a flag pin … but the problem is in that first answer he seemed to slammed people who wore the pin as we went to war with Iraq and that it was a protest on his part” (“GMA,” 10/5).
    Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute’s Kate Obenshain: “It’s a little weird … that in the middle of the campaign, the guy takes off the American flag that most people wear because they’re proud of their country. It’s a statement. … You have to say, what does that statement mean? And how do I, as a voter, feel about it?” (“Hannity & Colmes,” FNC, 10/4).
    Ex-VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro: “I also don’t walk with a yellow bracelet. I don’t walk around with a pink ribbon. But if you want to ask me if I raise money for cancer research, yes, I do. Do I care about these things? Yes, I do. I don’t need to let people know what I’m doing, and I don’t think wearing a flag on your lapel says that you’re any more patriotic than the next person” (“Hannity & Colmes,” FNC, 10/4).
    FNC’s Colmes: “Substance over symbolism, that’s what the statement is. … The troops are offended because he’s not wearing a pin on his lapel, it hurts the troops? … They’re in pain because Barack Obama took a pin off his chest? … It’s not about how loud you say the pledge of alliance” (“Hannity & Colmes,” FNC, 10/4).
    FNC’s Wallace: “I don’t wear a flag pin. … You can be a true patriot and not wear it. Having said that, I think it’s an odd thing for a presidential candidate to make a big deal about” (“Fox & Friends,” 10/5).

  8. I got TR’d to a fare-thee-well for pointing that out over at DK. I’d look both ways before I cross the street if I were you. 🙂 His supporters are wound pretty tight.

  9. admin, I think that top 10 list is great. I don’t even mind No. 1, lol. As far as Clinton infidelity jokes go, that’s pretty mild. Remember, Letterman is the one who’s mentioned several times in his monologue about how sexy Hillary is, so I think he’s got a soft spot for her.

    I also loved Nos. 2, 4 and 5. The Giuliani one really cracked me up. (The story that came out this week about his wife calling him during speeches, and him taking the calls, had me LMAO.)

  10. I like 2 as well, I admit I laughed at 1, but with a sour taste while doing so.
    I think Dave likes Hillary as well, at least respects her, he seemed a bit skeptical at first when she was running for the senate, “Why here? why not Arkansas?” But he seemed to have warmed to her.
    When she was first lady they had also met and he said he found her to be very charming and nice but that Bill seemed rather distant. He admitted this might be because of his jokes over the years. hehe. 🙂

  11. Basement Angel, i got gang banged by the BO posse the other day by whack jobs like Tempest Fugits and some Dale somebody..what a bunch of asses. They are wound really tight, any criticism no matter how inocuous and you will get TR’d. I guess they are getting really desperate. i refuse to go to any other Kos diaries except for pro-Hill ones for now on. Who needs that shit.

  12. Hillary’s 911 ad is brilliant. It has caused talking heads to talk about her role in 911. I believe her team has done a great job in walking a very fine line here. Her opponents and MSM can’t blast her ‘exploiting’ the tragedy but it gives them something to talk about.

    I’m monitoring CNN and MSNBC, and they have played this clips several times. Lots of free media!

  13. dailykooks is blasting Clinton’s pollster Mark Penn. I believe kos is very jealous of Penn. The anoimosity is because Penn basically dismissed the influence of fringe groups such as dailykos even within the democratic party. I think Penn is absolutely right here. Big Blogs’ impact has been grossly exaggerated by MSM. I read a detailed analysis on how kos intentioally exaggerated the traffic of this site by at least 60%, i’ll try to dig that out.

    Think about this. Edwards regularly polls 40% on dailykos. However, his online fundraising is anemic compared to Clinton, Obama, even Ron Paul, Thompson!

  14. Kostner, the whining from the head kook is funny. He would be more credible without those Chevron ads above his anti-corporate rants. When profits are involved Kos rationalizes taking corporate money, but only for himself. When Democrats are caught doing naughty things Kos gets on his high horse. When Kos’ friends are caught by the SEC in pump and dump schemes, Kos demands and enforces silence from his blogger cohort.

    BTW, we have a big article in several parts lined up discussing the Big Blogs and the damage they do. The article you are writing about is linked below. You are right, the inflated figures for Dailykooks is 60%. The amount of registered users is also inflated because so many people leave or are banned but when it comes time to boast about influence they are still counted as registered users.

    Basement Angel, your common sense is rejected by the dailykooks – good. If they would be listening to you then we would worry. Bottom line is they are in a delusion required bubble community, while claiming to be reality based. It’s like an insane asylum in which everyone claims to be Napoleon – every Napoleon claims they are the real Napoleon and that everyone else is kooky.

    We believe we are a reality based Big Pink blog not because we make the claim but because there is empirical scientific evidence which we can point to which proves our claim. Over at the cuckoos’ nest they walk around in strait jackets sneering that they are reality based while wearing their Napoleon outfits. To Napoleon Obama/Edwards is winning.

    Good article, and hard facts, not theories:

  15. That article is not correct in describing how sitemeter works.

    DK traffic stats are inflated, but not for the reasons cited in that article.

  16. Hillary Clinton’s upcoming Iowa swing

    Here is a fuller schedule:

    * 10/7: New Hampton Event with Hillary
    * 10/7: Anamosa Event with Hillary
    * 10/7: Maquoketa Event with Hillary

    Middle Class Express Bus Tour

    * 10/8: Speech in Cedar Rapids
    * 10/8: Marshalltown Event with Hillary
    * 10/8: Boone Event with Hillary
    * 10/8: Ames Rally with Hillary
    * 10/9: Webster City Event with Hillary
    * 10/9: Dakota City Event with Hillary

  17. How so HillaryLandRocks?

    Ruffini, is a rightie, but he is no dummy in tech matters. Ruffini discusses a “source” for getting him on the investigative track but he describes sitemeter rather accurately.

    How is Ruffini mistating or misunderstanding sitemeter?

    BTW, the anecdotal evidence cited as to low impact from DK has been privately told to us as well.

    The discussions and comments on the article appear to confirm what Ruffini wrote.

    Why do you surmise, if Ruffini is wrong, that DK traffic stats are inflated?

    We suspect this article is going to have some big ramifications down the road and want to educate ourselves as much as possible.

    It might be a boring topic so our email is always open to information.

  18. what about this mark penn. he is brilliant, but some of the stuff out about him lately concerns me. hillary doesnt need the distraction for sure. just a concern i guess-and im growing more nervous as iowa approaches. that caucus is wild…

  19. Mark Penn is an important team member. All the noise about him these past few days, these past few months, is an attempt by other campaigns to divide and conquer.

    Knowing they can’t knock Hillary off her stride, opposition campaigns are trying to knock team members off their stride, thereby hurting Hillary.

    Opposition supporters have been advising for a long time that the campaigns should attack Bill Clinton. Some attempts at this tactic were done but Bill’s popularity effectively ended that tactic. It will be tried again. Target #2 has been Mark Penn who is a background guy. The same results will be achieved – nothing. There will be other targets as the campaign heats up.

    We sweetly mock Axelrod and the rest of Obama’s campaign staff but we do not want Obama to let go of any of them. We know, much like Obama’s big money donors, that Obama needs a top to bottom staff shake-up. Obama has done some staff changes at the top but it is too little too late. We want the Obama team to stay intact because frankly they are doing such a rotten job.

    The Hillary Team is doing a good job.

  20. i agree admin. what bonehead advised them to attack a former DEMOCRATIC president with a 88% approval ratings in the dem party? maybe sucking up to the other 12%? maybe they are forgetting this is the dem primaries, not the gop thuglican party.

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