Tuesday, February 26, 2008

H-Rod's Arrogance Repaid

Heeere, voter, voter, voter!

Hillary Rodham Clinton could have learned a lesson from John McCain's stumble with controversy earlier on Tuesday. But she didn't, and went on making her characteristic mistakes in Tuesday night's debate against Barack Obama.

McCain (see below) defused a potentially embarrassing controversy by a full, free and absolute apology for nasty remarks one of his supporters made against Barack Obama. McCain offered the apology even before reporters asked him about the remarks. And Obama promptly accepted it.

McCain did even more than he had to, because the slimy remarks were not his, nor did he order them. But since the offender was speaking on his behalf, McCain forthrightly seized the initiative and left no doubt he disagreed with the statements and was sorry for them.
So we move on, and I have a renewed respect for McCain and his willingness to do the right thing without being forced to.

Contrast this with the way Hillary Rodham Clinton's continual too-clever-by-half attacks against Obama keep backfiring. Tuesday night, Clinton took umbrage that she got the first question. She tried one of her obviously scripted lines.

"Well, can I just point out that in the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don't mind. I -- you know, I'll be happy to field them," Clinton said after taking a perfectly legitimate question about the trade policy issues that are so central to the Ohio primary fight that will be decided March 4. "But I do find it curious, and if anybody saw ‘Saturday Night Live,' you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow. I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first question on all of these issues. But I'm happy to answer it."

The Web site of the hard-left The Nation headlined its account: "Clinton's Cringe-Worthy Moment"

On a night when she needed to turn in the best performance of her political career, the former frontrunner instead seemed petulant, even desperate.

"Barack, you ignorant slut!"

They weren't the only ones. The conservative Web site Town Hall also called it a blunder.

Hillary should have relished the opportunity to go first. Explaining her position wouldn't even have been as important as using the opportunity of going first and framing the views of her opponent, since Barack Obama doesn't give views on anything except the war. He's a change guy. He's a hope guy. He's a big picture/concept guy. Obama doesn't get into specificity, so Hillary could easily have put him on the defensive.

She didn't. Hillary Clinton said she was curious about the media in the last few debates always going to her first, citing Saturday Night Live and offering to give an extra pillow to Obama to make him more comfortable. Groans and boos immediately erupted from the crowd. Want to know another signal that a campaign has come completely apart at the seams? Look at the debate prep. Hillary Clinton didn't just walk into the auditorium in Cleveland tonight and throw caution to the wind. She prepared for this debate. She had people coaching her on what to say. The 'change is something you can Xerox' line was scripted. It laid an egg.

A week later, she tries again to make another sarcastic joke about the media's love afair with Obama. Again, it was an awkward egg laid by Mrs. Clinton. If I were a campaign manager, and my candidate flopped like that in two consecutive debates, whoever was prepping her wouldn't just be fired, but probably sued for oratory malpractice.

It's painfully obvious that H-Rod is trying to find the magic combination of scripted words that will deflate the Obama balloon. Perhaps she was thinking of the way Walter Mondale devastated Gary Hart in 1984 with his own scripted "Where's the beef?" line. But H-Rod is terrible at delivering such scripted attacks. Their artificiality is obvious from the get-go, which deprives them of their punch.

At this point, H-Rod needs much more than clever words. Her entire campaign is suffering from a lack of organization, attention to detail, and an arrogant, top-down mentality that plays into the worst media-spread stereotypes about her phoniness. What good is all her alleged experience if she keeps screwing up like this?

Click the photo to hear H-Rod make her case against Barack Obama.

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John McCain understands what so many people in the public sphere don't -- when you apologize, make it a real apology. Not some mealy-mouthed "If anyone was offended . . ." non-apology. Just say it and get it over with.

It happened after a McCain supporter used very inflammatory language to attack Barack Obama at a speech in Cincinnati.

Republican John McCain quickly denounced the comments of a radio talk show host who while warming up a campaign crowd referred repeatedly to Barack Hussein Obama and called the Democratic presidential candidate a "hack, Chicago-style" politician.

Hussein is Obama's middle name, but talk show host Bill Cunningham used it three times as he addressed the crowd before the likely Republican nominee's appearance. . . .

Aside from using Obama's middle name, Cunningham also mocked the Illinois senator's foreign policy statements about his willingness to meet with the leaders of rogue nations. He said he envisions a future in which "the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing Kumbaya together around the table with Barack Obama." . . .

At one point, Cunningham compared Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Madeleine Albright, whom he said "looks like death warmed over." He also commented on the difference between former Ohio Rep. Rob Portman, whose wife is named Jane, and Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay member of Congress. "Jane's the main difference. But that's a different story," Cunningham said.

McCain's response was as decent as it was emphatic:

"I apologize for it," McCain told reporters, addressing the issue before they had a chance to ask the Arizona senator about Cunningham's comments.

"I did not know about these remarks, but I take responsibility for them. I repudiate them," he said. "My entire campaign I have treated Senator Obama and Senator (Hillary Rodham) Clinton with respect. I will continue to do that throughout this campaign."

It's heartening to see McCain still has a basic core of honor, even after his nauseous pandering to the religious right. I can't imagine Hillary Rodham Clinton making anywhere near as forthright an apology.

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Click the illustration to see more great political cartoons at www.caglecartoons.com

That's as in the arrogance of Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign toward the press. An undifferentiated arrogance can come back to bite, as it did in this tale of journalism students seeking to cover various presidential campaigns. (H/T to the indispensible Romenesko).

"Because the Obama campaign treated us like pros — they called us back within minutes, set up interviews, got us press passes, went out of their way to make the campaign accessible. The Clinton campaign, in contrast, didn’t return a single phone call, didn’t provide press access, and did virtually nothing to encourage our coverage. It was either arrogance or disorganization on the Clinton campaign’s part.
Here’s one example: Jeff Giertz, the Obama team’s on-the-ground point person for the press, answered my phone call when I called to ask about press access to the Obama event on Feb. 8 at KeyArena. He said he’d check on getting passes for my students. I figured I’d wait and see if he actually did. Within five minutes he e-mailed me back, saying it was a go, and he could provide four press passes for my students. I was impressed. Clearly he had a vested interest in getting college students into the press area — and he did what a campaign person should do: He treated us well and welcomed us to his candidate. He told me to call him anytime.
So I did.
Lots of my students wanted to cover this event, so I called Giertz back six hours later and asked for four more passes. He said yes. The next day, when some of my students arrived at KeyArena after the local police had locked the doors and weren’t allowing anyone in — including reporters from local TV and radio outlets — the students dialed up Giertz and he personally came and vouched for them. He followed up the day after the event with an e-mail checking in on how I thought things went.I don’t for a moment think he did all this just to be a nice guy. He had motives, of course. Still, it’s telling that I made the exact same pitch about “access to college students” to the Clinton campaign, and they didn’t do anything to facilitate our coverage."

And it wasn't just Obama's campaign that was nice: the Ron Paul, McCain and Huckabee campaigns were also helpful:

The Obama and Clinton campaigns weren’t the only ones to come to town. On the Republican Party side, Ron Paul held a rally on the UW campus. Janet Huckabee held a rally at Northwest University, and her campaign team reached out to my students covering her husband’s candidacy — returning calls and making sure they had press access. McCain’s campaign aides went out of their way to let my students know about his press event at the Westin, and to get them in. For those scoring at home, five presidential campaigns came to town — and four reached out to my students, treating them like what they are: journalists and citizens.

Responsiveness and niceness doesn't guarantee victory. But contemptuous treatment hurts -- multiply these examples by the hundreds and word gets out. H-Rod was supposed to be inevitable, so her organization prepared for a coronation, not a campaign. This was a big miscalculation. And so when the Clinton campaign began taking on water, fewer voters were available to bail her out than she counted on.

Another factor is the role of Romenesko's Web site, widely read by journalists. What would have been just a local story of the Clinton campaign's arrogance is now known across the country. Other accounts of similar treatment will get wider notice now than before. Hillary Clinton's struggling campaign has just got a bitter lesson in the power of the Web. Had it not been Romenesko, some other Web site would have spread the tale. What's amazing is that even at this late date, a major political campaign needed this reminder.

Hillary just can't wash that Obama man out of her hair.

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