Sunday :: Mar 23, 2008

How an Election Campaign Works - Part 2: The Dehumanizing of Hillary Clinton


by eriposte

[Part 1 is here]

We've all heard endless negative stories about Sen. Clinton's pollster Mark Penn. Howard Wolinsky of Business Week looks at Sen. Obama's chief strategist (and former Exelon consultant) David Axelrod - "the master of astroturfing" - and his public relations and astroturfing firm (ASK Public Strategies) that is behind, among other things, this stuff (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

ASK's relationship with ComEd goes back much further: The Chicago-based utility says ASK has been an adviser since at least 2002. ASK's workload picked up in 2005, as the Exelon subsidiary was nearing the end of a 10-year rate freeze and preparing to ask state regulators for higher electricity prices. Based on ASK's advice, ComEd formed Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity (CORE) to win support.

The reason I'm bringing up David Axelrod is to discuss this NYT article from April 2007 in context (via this MyDD diary by roseeriter, via MTA). Here are the sections relevant to this post:

From some advisory work he did for Bill Clinton during the 1996 campaign, when he wrote the memo that introduced the phrase “Bridge to the 21st century” into the political vernacular, Axelrod learned that for a Democrat the future always trumps the past. He says he also learned from Clinton that a pol’s biggest task is “to narrow the distance between the people and government.”

[...]

Today, as Axelrod basks in his profession’s highest glory — shaping a historical presidential campaign — he is experiencing one of its nastiest turns: in a tiny and ideologically promiscuous world, you often need to go to war with your friends. (If Obama hadn’t run, Axelrod says, he would have sat out this presidential race, and he says he told all of his other former clients that early on; he hasn’t had much interaction with them since.) There is Dodd, and there is Edwards, but perhaps most poignantly, there is Hillary Clinton. It’s a matter of epilepsy. David and Susan Axelrod have three children in their late teens and early 20s. Their eldest, Lauren, has developmental disabilities associated with chronic epileptic seizures and now lives in a group home in Chicago. But for years her illness required enough of her parents’ time that it kept Susan Axelrod out of the work force and kept David from moving to Little Rock during the 1992 presidential campaign. Susan and two other mothers of children with epilepsy started a foundation, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE), which Susan runs, to promote research and raise funds for a cure. Because of David’s political work, they have had political celebrities do fund-raisers: Bill Clinton, Tim Russert, Obama. But few have done as much for the foundation as Hillary Clinton.

It was January 1999, President Clinton’s impeachment trial was just beginning in the Senate and Hillary Clinton was scheduled to speak at the foundation’s fund-raiser in Chicago. Despite all the fuss back in Washington, Clinton kept the appointment. She spent hours that day in the epilepsy ward at Rush Presbyterian hospital, visiting children hooked up to machines by electrodes so that doctors might diagram their seizure activity and decide which portion of the brain to remove. At the hospital, a local reporter pressed her about the trial in Washington, asked her about that woman. At the organization’s reception at the Drake Hotel that evening, Clinton stood backstage looking over her remarks, figuring out where to insert anecdotes about the kids. “She couldn’t stop talking about what she had seen,” Susan Axelrod recalled. Later, at Hillary Clinton’s behest, the National Institutes of Health convened a conference on finding a cure for epilepsy. Susan Axelrod told me it was “one of the most important things anyone has done for epilepsy.” And this is how politics works: David Axelrod is now dedicated to derailing this woman’s career.

Here's the thing. I completely understand that Axelrod's job requires him to take down Sen. Clinton and "derail her career", if you will. This is an election and sometimes friends run against each other in elections. Issue-based assaults on an opponent and occasional stupid statements and attacks are part of life in a hard fought election campaign. None of that bothers me. What disturbs me and other Clinton supporters I know is the completely dehumanizing campaign that Axelrod and his boss have run against Sen. Clinton - a person who is the exact opposite, in many respects, of the false stereotypes they have propagated about her. Again, this is not to say Sen. Clinton has run a completely positive campaign against Sen. Obama - I know the Obama campaign has its own complaints against Sen. Clinton and her campaign and I don't condone anything that is offensive or inappropriate. However, the attacks from the Clinton campaign against Sen. Obama pale in comparison to the scale of dehumanizing attacks against Sen. Clinton*. Sen. Clinton has been falsely painted as a race-baiter, racist, divisive, calculating, unprincipled, someone who will say or do anything to win, and one of the most secretive (see Joe Conason's must-read post on this) - to name just a sample of the character attacks against her. Sen. Obama and some of his surrogates have also attacked her in either borderline sexist or outright sexist terms (even ignoring this crap or this crap which Sen. Obama has distanceed himself from). Going to such lengths to win is the irony of a campaign that asserts that Clinton will say or do anything to win.

As MyDD diarist roseeriter said: "Sweet dreams David".

*Sentence corrected.

eriposte :: 10:09 AM :: Comments (23) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!