When You Get That Deep In The Mud…

Throwing mud in a political campaign is a dangerous thing.  Everyone does it, of course, but few do it well, and what you often find is that by the end of the campaign voters are voting for whomever disgusted them the least.  But then, few politicians expect to walk out of a mud slinging contest looking squeaky clean; the idea being that you know you are going to damage yourself, but you do so in order to wound the other guy mortally.

This was what made Karl Rove so good at what he did for a time.  Sure, he played the game of fifty-plus-one politics perhaps just a little bit too much, but on the other hand he was rather gifted at throwing mud without getting his hands dirty.  If only the members of the current Democratic primary contest were so gifted.

My stepfather, a political junkie in his own right, had it dead on on the morning of the ninth after Iowa turned into a “W” in Obama’s column; “If you thought the Clintons were dirty now, just wait.”  The words would ring again in the back of my mind when the Clinton campaign announced that it would be getting more aggressive, even outright admitting that its attacks would become more personal.

Who admits this stuff?  Really?

Worse, the Clinton campaign has largely followed through on the promise.  I’m sorry, I disagree with Josh Marshall who believes that there are two possibilities, that Clinton is attacking through surrogates, or she’s really unlucky.  Once or twice having a surrogate say something negative and then having to clean up after him, that’s unlucky.  Strangely enough, in this manner the Clinton campaign has been very unlucky from the moment the Democratic primary looked less like a coronation and more like an actual race.

After a while, a pattern starts to develop, and with Hillary, the pattern is not only developed, but set in stone.  I will grant her some leeway; the “fairytale” remark was probably stretched a bit thin, on the other hand, “shuck and jive” was probably not the best choice of words.

Whatever the case, let’s make no mistake, the Clinton campaign has chosen to wage this war not on the field of ideas, but in the hip deep eddies of a swamp, and few people are being fooled.

Still, it does leave the focus of her ire in a precarious position.  Some things Obama can afford to let slide, but at some point he has to hit back, or else he’s going to lose support from people who want to see a president with some fight in him.  In this regard, the mudslinging of presidential politics has at least the benefit of toughening up skin.

Amaya Smith, Obama’s South Carolina press secretery, has put out a memo outlining in detail the negative blitz coming from his leading opponent.  On the surface, this is initially pretty good.  It’s the one thing Kerry didn’t do in the 2004 election that could have seen President Bush ousted from office.  Losing by a mere three points, one could reasonably assume that had Kerry simply addressed the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth swiftly and definitively, the race could have gone the other way.

But he didn’t, and now Kerry is relegated to endorsing Democratic presidential candidates as opposed to being president.

In 2005, I saw then Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine get it right here in Virginia; quickly and sternly he countered virtually every negative ad put out by the Kilgore campaign with his own ad correcting the claims, or adding context that negative ads typically tend to omit.

Now, to Obama’s credit, the negativity coming from the Clinton campaign is a little trickier to combat.  You won’t see Hillary Clinton lending her “I’m Hillary Clinton and I approve of this message” clip to an overtly negative tv spot.  In fact, most of her ad buys are of the touchy-feely variety allowing, as discussed above, her delegates to do the dirty work.

However, I think the campaign gets it wrong in this memo by doing a little overreaching itself.  Particularly by furthering the narrative that the Clinton’s are race bating.  Few people were pleased when it looked like Hillary was playing the gender card, and I’m not so sure that they will be pleased at Obama for playing the race card.

This especially at a time when Obama went through apparently great pains to make his candidacy not about race.  What should be realized is that if the Hillary truly wishes to sink so low as to make this about race, I think that new low will be her own political grave.  Helping her on her way down only leaves room for Obama to find himself in the same six foot deep ditch.

But ultimately, we must return to the idea that the art of mud slinging is destroying your opponent without destroying yourself at the same time.  Had the race between Hillary and Obama been the General Election, than perhaps Mrs. Clinton’s gamble in these murky waters might pay off.  But it’s not, it’s the primary, and she has a whole other race to run should she win the nomination (still the likely outcome as of now).

She may be able to damage Obama enough to win the primary, but the entire time, she’s also doing damage to herself.  Right now people may say that a Democratic president is virtually a lock, but keep in mind that Senator John McCain is seriously on the rise, and this is one Republican that some Democrats wouldn’t mind voting for.

In other words, Clinton could just be spinning for herself that perfect storm, winning the Democratic primary in an election year where Democrats are guaranteed to win the White House, and then turning around and losing the general election.  That’s the kind of risks you take when you get that deep in the mud.

3 Responses to “When You Get That Deep In The Mud…”

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Aaron Wakling

  2. Thank you kindly sir. We truly appreciate it.

  3. Brian Bucher says:

    I think you’re exactly right about the perfect storm of Hillary’s campaign. If she and McCain win their parties’ nominations, I would imagine he’d trounse her in the general, owing to his popularity with independent/moderate voters.

    Losing that might just end her political career all together. We New Yorkers have always been a little suspicious of her, and if she blows the presidency, I think she’d be hard pressed to hold her Senate seat in the next election.

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