The Obama Campaign’s biggest strength entering the Iowa Caucus was its ability to dodge traditional political rhetoric and engage in a seemingly ethical manner. When Hillary Clinton’s Campaign went negative on Obama during the competition for Iowa, Obama remained stoic. His tactic was to frame Clinton’s negativity as part of the “same old politics” of Washington. He embodied change by engaging in a different form of politics.
Entering into March 4’s primaries, Clinton’s negative campaigning has intensified. Take for example the actions of an alleged Clinton supporter, who leaked a photo of Obama in Somali garb, not Kenyan, unlike the assertion of Ohio Representative Stephanie Tubman– who argued that Barack Obama was in his native clothing, the clothing of his country. It took the Clinton camp a day to come out and claim they had no part in it (let alone issue a retraction of Tubman’s erroneous comments).
The attacks continued with accusations of Obama’s involvment with Tony Rezko, currently on trial for secretive financial transactions. And then there is the recent “3AM” commerical by the Hillary Clinton Campaign, which injected fear into the discussion of the Democratic nomination.
Obama and his top advisers have altered their rhetoric in these recent proceedings. They could have remained steadfast to the different politics that were working with the voters. Obama could have embraced his photo wearing Somali garb and argued that Clinton was simply trying to smear a typical foreign relations moment. Although reportedly giving back the money Rezko gave his campaign, Obama could have issued the complete ‘transparency’ his campaign has championed, divulging to the public all the financial details to his relationship to Rezko. Finally, he could have called out the “3AM” commercial as fear mongering, and left it at that. This would have worked– as it has for the past several months. Instead, he has changed course.
Obama attacked Clinton for linking the Somali photo. His campaign manager David Plouffe accused the Clinton campaign of “shameful offensive fear-mongering.” Chief adviser David Axelrod flatout refused to divulge all financial details involving Barack Obama and Tony Rezok– a clear rejection of the transparency model the Obama campaign has maintained, and Obama’s response to “3AM” was simply to mimic it, trying to one-up Clinton with an emphasis on judgment over experience.
These responses are, at best, lukewarm. They did not reflect the highroad, nor the strength of retort necessary to dismount Clinton’s charges. If Obama wanted to be aggressive, he could have simply issued photos of Clinton wearing different Islamic garb. In response to the Rezko charges, Obama could have played up the Clinton relationship to the Kazakhstan deal that has led to $30 million donation. Or cite Clinton’s ties to convicted Norman Hsu and the near million dollar donations he has made. Lastly, he could have drummed up the “3AM” ads by Bush and shown a clear parallel between Rove tactics and the current Clinton administration.
But Obama neither held his ground, nor executed force. Barack Obama may have 11 wins under his belt and a 7% popular vote advantage, but he is by no means safe from losing his lead. And if he continues to fumble his responses, he may very well lose the nomination. He is caught in the headlights of possibily– and this is dangerous. Perhaps the most emblematic of this came during the 19th debate between Clinton and Obama at the CNN debate in Texas. After suffering accusations of plagiarism from Hillary Clinton, Obama simply shook his head as she then plagiarized one of John Edwards’ speech in her closing remarks…