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On this day of sweeping post-mortems, I want to discuss a minor but mystifying element of the campaign that may soon be forgotten:  the penchant of Clinton staffers to imitate comic book villains. Penn, Wolfson, Ickes, "anonymous Clinton strategist" -- they seemed all too willing to announce, in advance, tactics sure to strike any decent Democrat as immoral and any thinking one as futile.  

Do you remember that scene from Austin Powers?

Dr. Evil: Scott, I want you to meet daddy's nemesis, Austin Powers.
Scott Evil: What? Are you feeding him? Why don't you just kill him?
Dr. Evil: I have an even better idea. I'm going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.

The Clinton campaign never suspended Obama over a shark tank or tied him to the El tracks just before rush hour. But they surely made some dastardly threats.

• To pressure superdelegates to overturn the will of the voters.
• To poach pledged delegates.
• To attack Obama "kitchen-sink" style in Ohio.
• To demand full recognition of the flawed Florida and Michigan primaries.
• To contest the nomination on the floor of the convention.

These threats appeared ruthless, but were not so. All were shoot-the-moon underdog strategies that could have worked only if planned quietly, in ways the campaign might plausibly deny.  

Let’s recall the situation. After the Potomac and Wisconsin primaries, Obama held a commanding lead in pledged delegates but was by no means assured the nomination. It was easy to predict that something like the Wright episode might burst forth, something noxious and media-driven with the potential to startle skittish superdelegates. Even trailing, Hillary would have her opportunities to strike.

Rather than make their pinky-sucking threats, Hillary’s aides should have feigned fair mindedness. Hillary could have acknowledged that she had underestimated the caucus states, embraced her underdog status, turned populist (as she did) and told Wolfson & company to pipe down about the backroom dealings (as she did not). This more skillful version of Hillary would have attacked Obama for inexperience without hinting that McCain would be better. Hit him just as she did – on experience, trade, electability – but without telegraphing the punches.

Meanwhile, in my quickly developing counterfactual scenario, seemingly neutral pundits and party leaders wonder aloud whether Obama is ready for the job.  Bizarro Harold Ickes (that is, an Ickes who can control his temper and think strategically) asks superdelegates to wait until June 3 out of respect for the voters.

When Wright’s tirades go viral, Hillary refrains from piling on and, in the infamous Stephanopolis/Gibson debate,  criticizes the media for its excess. In this scenario, the "upscale liberal" portion of Obama’s coalition fractures just a bit. Even some Kossaks are deceived by Hillary’s pretense of decency and decide that perhaps she is not so calculating after all, and probably more electable. As a result, Hillary wins Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania by wider margins and, critically, wins Indiana by seven.  It’s May 6, and Tim Russert can’t quite say the race is over yet – Hillary is finishing strong.

Now, his powder dry, his timing impeccable, Bizarro Ickes suddenly pressures the superdelegates to overturn Obama’s pledged delegate lead, now down to 100 or so. Offering the Vice Presidency in secret, Hillary lures an Obama-supporting Senator (Bizarro Daschle or Bizzaro Stabenow) to renounce the fading upstart. Sharpton is promised a sinecure and swings back to the Clintons. The pundits go wild with speculation. Are we seeing another amazing Clinton come back?  Is this Obama just like McGovern – too soft and brainy to win?  Bill Nelson demands that the full Florida delegation be seated, providing cover for establishment Dems to abandon an Obama campaign now perceived as wounded. The final 200 finger-in-the-wind supers break for Hillary, and it’s over.

Unlikely?  Yes, but at least possible. That’s how villains win in the real world – by pretending to be decent.

I don’t think Hillary is really a villain, at least no more so than other strong but flawed politicians who have helped move a progressive agenda forward. (LBJ comes to mind.)  But like Blowfeld or the Joker, she’s got too much ego and too little tactical sense to win in the end.... at least when confronted with a hero who knows it’s action that saves the world, not process talk on conference calls.

Originally posted to dcdanny on Sun Jun 08, 2008 at 04:56 PM PDT.


HRC strategists acted like cartoon villains because...

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| 58 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

    •  Yeah, okay, interesting take. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dcdanny, alizard, cfk, DCGirl

      And, you've got a good point -- if you're planning a sneak attack, the last thing you want to do is announce to the world, "Look, guys, see how smart I am? I'm launching a sneak attack!"

      Cuz when everybody knows you're doing it, it isn't a sneak attack any more.

      Folly is fractal: the closer you look at it, the more of it there is.

      by Canadian Reader on Sun Jun 08, 2008 at 05:15:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  thanks (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        object16, DCGirl

        Obama is actually the ruthless one (in a good way).  His campaign made as little fuss and noise as possible while they organized the hell out of the caucus states.

        •  The story Hillary's campaign was (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dcdanny, DCGirl

          pushing, again and again, was that she would find a way -- SOMEHOW -- to win. That she was still inevitable. That sense we had, dreadful though it was, that she was a vampire that would keep rising from the dead, again and again, until someone finally put a silver stake through her heart.

          I believe that was the plan, an extension of the inevitability mem. And it existed because Hillary, Penn and the rest of her team believed it.

          That's why they kept saying, behind the scenes, that Obama was inevitably going to stumble, something would turn up that would blow him out of the water, and that (if by some miracle) he got the nomination, he would surely go down in flames to McCane.  

          •  "inevitability" had stopped working... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            alizard, cfk, DCGirl

            if it ever had worked.  They should have switched to "fighting, plucky underdog" and "comeback kid."  

            If they had admitted she was behind, they wouldn't have sounded so weird and out of touch and anti-democratic.

    •  Love counterfactuals like this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      History's "what might have beens" is always a fascinating topic of discussion, at least when based on realistic alternatives, and especially when the contesting outcomes were so close in "the final analysis".

  •  Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Canadian Reader, dcdanny, alizard, DCGirl

    Very astute.  What they don't get is that the strategy of giving reporters a little inside skinny to try to get in their good graces that worked in the 1990s doesn't cut it in today's interactive Internet era.  What was good gossip for Inside Washington and cable news doesn't translate well when written down for the whole world to read and read and read again (and email to their friends).

    •  Yes, I think that's right (0+ / 0-)

      If Hillary was running against a lesser candidate, the 90's era tactics might have worked. But Obama has built the new model....

      Plus, after Super Tuesday the whole campaign was in such denial. They really couldn't believe they were at risk of losing...

  •  They lost because they assumed they already won. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It's as easy as that.  It was purely a strategic error, with no moral/ethical content.  

    -5.38/-3.74 I've suffered for my country. Now it's your turn! --John McCain with apologies to Monty Python's "Protest Song"

    by Rich in PA on Sun Jun 08, 2008 at 05:38:50 PM PDT

    •  not so sure about that (0+ / 0-)

      In one sense I agree with you, and meant to suggest in this diary that Hillary unintentionally appeared villainous due to the ineptitude of her advisors.

      But I think I think the errors were ethical on two counts:

      They really did intend to get superdelegates to overturn the primary results, if possible, which is problematic at best;  and

      It was pride, ego and a sense of entitlement that kept them (and here I mean HRC's aids more than the candidate herself) from seeing that the "inevitability" theme was no longer working.

    •  No moral/ethical content = (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      No moral or ethical standards.

      That's pretty much what I saw...though I'm sure there were some standards, it's just that they were way out of bounds for my taste.  What they actually did was out of bounds, but they could have done much worse, so I'll give them the benifit of the doubt here.  The "Hillary will do anything to win" meme is wrong.  She wouldn't do anything, but she did do too much.

  •  being a jerk will not unify the party! (0+ / 0-)


  •  I'm recommending because... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alizard is a disservice to the future to neglect the lessons of the past.  The Clinton campaign did some bad stuff, and it is better to examine and learn from those errors than to brush them under the rug.

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