Tuesday :: Dec 4, 2007

A Short History of Recent U.S. Presidential Politics - Part 7: Campaign By The Textbook That Robert Reich Hasn't Read


by eriposte

In previous posts [see Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6] I discussed historical analogies comparing the 2000 and 2008 Presidential campaigns. In Part 4, I outlined Sen. Obama's textbook campaign against Hillary Clinton - a textbook that was most recently written by Bill Bradley during his mendacious campaign against Al Gore in 1999/2000. In Part 6, I pointed out how Sen. Obama is also copying the traditional media's "attack, attack, attack" script that they used against Gore - not only did the media paint Gore falsely as a liar over their own fabrications and over Bradley's false attacks on Gore's character (see Part 2 and Part 3 to see how Sen. Obama copied this tactic against Sen. Clinton), the media also painted Gore even more negatively as an "attacker" when he tried to rebut the false claims against him by Bradley (and subsequently by George Bush). In this post, I will focus on yet another "textbook" aspect of Sen. Obama's campaign against Sen. Clinton - copied from a very similar tactic used by Bradley against Gore (a tactic that literally involves books).

I must say I got pretty lucky. I was wondering how to make the introduction to this post suitably entertaining (i.e., find a way to showcase the Eeeevil Monster Sen. Clinton) and former Labor Secretary and UC-Berkeley Professor Robert Reich delivered a brilliant and extremely well researched post that helped me out. His post was basically a stinging critique of the astonishingly egregious Senator from New York (Yay! Applause all around!) - a devastating attack on her, um, how shall I put it, entirely justifiable criticisms of Sen. Obama. For example, Prof. Reich said the following on the topic of healthcare: "HRC has no grounds for alleging that [Obama's plan] would leave out 15 million people". Wow, NO grounds! In response, Taylor Marsh has a mini-roundup of some of those highly irrelevant pieces of information called "facts" that should never - let me repeat, never - be considered a burden on former Labor Secretaries, Professors at UC-Berkeley or members of the Straight-Talking Reality-Based Community.TM (A longer blog post - one that is a bit too strong for me personally - that has more such extremely irrelevant information is this one at Hillaryis44).

However, what is most fascinating to me is this particular observation by Prof. Reich that was offered as a partial defense of Sen. Obama's position on The Distressingly Pressing Problem That Is Extremely Important To Millionaires Chris Matthews And Tim RussertTM (emphasis mine):

The cap doesn’t have to be lifted all that much to keep Social Security solvent – maybe to $115,00. That’s a progressive solution to the problem. HRC wants to refer Social Security to a commission. That's avoiding the issue, and it's irresponsible...

How crazy of Hillary that she dares to "avoid the issue" by referring the problem to a bipartisan commission of the type that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill set up! Kinda sounds familiar, doesn't it? By the way, did you notice HRC is IrresponsibleTM too? If you are a reader of the humdrum TLC, rather than a reader of Rather Extraordinarily EnlightenedTM Daily Kos Recommended Diaries, you would have known about this special problem of hers. But, since Prof. Reich doesn't read TLC, it is amazingly incisive of him to point this out. I am not only impressed by his sheer genius but I am also rather thankful that he does not seem to have read an important book by another Senator who, in contrast to the Irresponsible Issue AvoiderTM Sen. Clinton, took a Highly ResponsibleTM view last year (emphasis Somerby's):

What does Obama actually think about the Social Security “crisis?” It’s perfectly clear that, just last year, he didn’t believe there was one. Last year, he published The Audacity of Hope, a superbly written compilation of his political views. But uh-oh! Here’s what he wrote in that book, just last year, concerning Social Security:

OBAMA (page 182): Just as government policies can boost workers; wages without hurting the competitiveness of U.S. firms, so can we strengthen their ability to retire with dignity. We should start with a commitment to preserve Social Security’s essential character and shore up its solvency. The problems with the Social Security trust fund are real but manageable. In 1983, when facing a similar problem, Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill got together and shaped a bipartisan plan that established the system for the next sixty years. There’s no reason we can’t do the same today.

That passage is slightly shaky on the facts; Social Security was in much worse shape in 1983 than it is today. But in that passage, Obama seems to propose the very thing Clinton is proposing today; he says we should craft a “bipartisan plan” to address this “manageable problem.” On the next page, he continues to sketch his view of the situation:

[Continued below the fold]

OBAMA (page 183): As vital as it may be to raise the wages of American workers and improve their retirement security, perhaps our most pressing task is to fix our broken health-care system. Unlike Social Security, the two main government-funded health-care programs—Medicare and Medicaid—really are broken; without any changes by 2050, these two entitlements, along with Social Security, could grow to consume as large a share of our national economy as the entire federal budget does today.
Unlike Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid really are broken, he says. This is exactly what Clinton says now—and Obama attacks her for it. Just last year, this outlook displayed the audacity of hope. Today, it’s a sign of bad character.

Now, you may be wondering what in the world this has to do with Bill Bradley. Here's what it has to do with Bradley (bold text is my emphasis):

We’re sorry, but we’ve seen this movie before; it played in 1999 and 2000, and it did massive harm to this country. At that time, Bill Bradley had launched a self-consciously high-minded run for the White House, just as Obama has done this year; Bradley faced a strongly-entrenched front-runner, just as Obama does. But uh-oh! When Bradley failed to gain sufficient traction against his opponent, he and his campaign began launching bogus attacks on this fellow’s character—and he used reams of old RNC spin in launching these punishing sorties. Indeed, by the late fall of 1999, Bradley’s campaign was using every old RNC attack-line that could be found in that org’s butcher shop. (The “mainstream” press corps loved these scripts, and was quite happy to pimp them.) With Bradley, this process even descended to the point where he claimed that his opponent, Al Gore, was responsible for the 1988 Willie Horton race-sliming—an ugly, ludicrous, inexcusable charge which the RNC had brainlessly pimped since July 1992. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/01/02, for a fairly detailed account of this matter. You’ll see George Will making this ludicrous charge against Gore during the 1992 Dem convention.)

What makes this eight-year-old episode so much like the current one? Just this: In his own 1997 best-seller, Time Present, Time Past, Bradley had explicitly said, in substantial detail, that Gore did not racialize the Willie Horton matter. Needless to say, everyone with half a brain already knew this. But you know how these high-minded White House campaigns can be! Having told the truth in 1997, Bradley began to “misstate” in 1999—and the mainstream press, which was now jeering Gore during debates, was perfectly happy to let him. (Except Mort Kondracke. See link above.)

It’s hard to watch high-minded Obama now without thinking of high-minded Bradley back then. In Obama’s book, published last year, he proposes Clinton’s current plan! But today, when she takes this stance, he attacks her character. It’s the same stance he promoted last year. (And on This Week, just this May.)

This is how Bradley helped Bush reach the White House. His claims that Gore was a hit-man and a liar were recited by the press corps all through the 2000 general election. Now Obama is calling a front-runner names—contradicting what he said in his best-seller. Unless you want a Republican successor to Bush, it’s very bad news to see this bad movie back in the theaters again.

Note on history: Yes. Sometimes, strategists do recommend such conduct. And ambitious candidates do sometimes accede. We’re sorry to have to speak frankly today. But this is your recent, sad history.

We're not done. Prof. Reich has another Brilliant Pearl of WisdomTM embedded in his post:

If there’s anyone in the race whose history shows unique courage and character, it's Barack Obama.

Let's just say that I am in total agreement with Sen. Reich that Sen. Obama, who:

...has, by definition, demonstrated Unique Courage and Character.TM In other words, the logic and brilliance in Prof. Reich's conclusion is entirely consistent with the logic and brilliance elsewhere in his post that I have discussed above.

P.S. Sarcasm aside, I do commend Sen. Obama for taking a stand on raising Social Security taxes for the most wealthy in an environment where the notion of raising taxes is considered blasphemy. That said, it is hard for me to endorse Robert Reich's conclusions given Sen. Obama's negative approach to campaigning that raises at least as many questions about his character as it might raise about his opponent's.

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