February 20th, 2008

Last-Minute Attacks Run Up Obama Margin

by Philip Baruth

A brilliant night. And it ain’t over yet. But with 65% or so of the Wisconsin tally in, one thing is certain: Obama not only survived a week of Clinton attacks and sniping pundits, he fattened his margin, by a good bit. And the attacks and the results are not unconnected. Exits show that Wisconsin voters heard Hillary’s negative ads — and held them against her. Which, as Cyrus said just before he was gunned down in The Warriors, is the way things ought to be.

obama, on the picket line

Some 53% told exit pollsters Obama had been “unfairly” attacked; only 33% said the same of Clinton. Which may complicate the plans to defend the Texas and Ohio firewalls, respectively.

Or not. Wolfson and Ickes and Penn haven’t got a single feeling human heart between them, and no doubt they’re already emailing out whatever oppo research they have left in the satchel.

They haven’t shown much inclination to change the three rhetorical cylinders Hillary has been firing on for the last year (35 years experience, ready on Day One, will out-Republican the Republicans) and they probably won’t see any percentage in backing off their attacks.

Not that we’re complaining, you understand.

February 20th, 2008

Bill Clinton Is Bill Clinton Is Bill Clinton

by Philip Baruth

We wrote a long post a week or two ago, dropping down into the mindset of Bill Clinton: an ex-President famed for speech-making, yet confronting a brash young competitor who seems to be out-speechifying him. We ended that post with the following longish paragraph of speculation:

“And when Clinton touches down in Boston or LA or Minneapolis or Kansas City this election cycle, and his own motorcade is snarled by traffic headed to an Obama rally that will more often than not double or triple the size of his own, he must think about that night, and it must make this election very personal to him, less about Hillary than about Bill, less about the President she or Obama or anyone else on earth might be, and more about the man Clinton himself never quite was.”

And the ex-President’s approach to campaigning this cycle continues to bear us out.

Attacking Obama’s speeches has become the Clinton campaign’s coordinated attack du jour. But just two days ago, in Nacogdoches, Texas, Clinton suddenly veered into the argument he really wanted to make: that he, not Obama, was the master orator.

“Clinton went on to tout — at length — his own speech-making abilities, as if to one-up the crowds of tens of thousands appearing at Obama’s rallies in recent weeks. ‘I’ve been told I give a pretty good speech,’ he said, grinning. He mentioned attendance of over a million at a speech in Africa, and over 100,000 when he spoke at the Brandenburg Gate after the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Not just undisciplined, although the segue is that. Not just illogical, given that the message of the day was that speeches don’t count, and clearly to the ex-President they very much do — they can be historic events in the history not just of a country but of a continent.

Not just undisciplined and illogical, but childish, finally.

That’s the word we’re looking for: the behavior of a man so used to getting his way, and so used to being lionized while he does so, that losing at his own game, played almost precisely his own way, is utterly unthinkable.

Which should make the Convention in Denver something like that last half-hour of a three-hour birthday party at Pizza Putt, when one of the six-year-olds, having lost at miniature golf, suddenly confronts the fact that someone not only ate the last slice of pepperoni but finished off the dregs of the root beer as well.

February 19th, 2008

Ben & Jerry Put The Pedal To The Metal

by Philip Baruth

Once a confirmed Edwards supporter, Ben Cohen hasn’t just switched to Barack Obama: he’s developed, and now deployed, the next generation of campaign weaponry. Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.

cow car

It’s the Barack-mobile. And Ben and Jerry have built a pair of them to make sure Obama not only wins Vermont, but wins huge.

It’s going to be like Knight Rider. But, you know, without David Hasselhoff. And the car doesn’t have a flamethrower. And the onboard navigation system doesn’t talk.

Okay, it’s a truck with a big cow on it.

But still. Pretty freaking cool.

February 16th, 2008

VDB Readers Tighten Grip on Media, Publishing: Say Hey to White River Press

by Philip Baruth

Any writer will tell you that publishing is only half the battle: keeping the damn thing in print is the other half. So how intrigued was I to hear that Vermont has a sharp new publishing house devoted to bringing out-of-print titles back into circulation? Way intrigued. But how delighted was I when I found out that the driving force behind the new press is a devoted, longtime reader of VDB? Way, way.

The venture is called White River Press, and Sonja Hakala (along with her partner Linda Roghaar) is the driving force behind it. In addition to being a good Windsor County Democrat, Sonja is a very savvy business-woman: the arrangements for bringing a text back into print sound like a true win-win, from a writer’s point of view, which should bode well for the company in the long run.

And they’re in the audio book business as well.

For working writers out there, this is one more publishing prospect in a state with lamentably few options along those lines. Worth checking out, if only to say hello to Sonja, who can talk politics with the best of them.

February 16th, 2008

Why the Primaries May Already Be Over

by Philip Baruth

Most analysis of the Presidential campaign doesn’t merit the distinction. Most of it takes the current conventional thinking, slows it down, draws it out, and delivers it in an elevated style easy to mistake for authentic wisdom. Not so with the Dan Balz piece in today’s Post: “Clinton Camp May Regret Largely Turning Its Back on Caucus States.”

Like the best analysis, it demonstrates realities still difficult to accept: that Obama won more delegates in the “tiny” state of Idaho than Clinton won in New Jersey, that Ohio and Texas will have relatively little real impact on the contest. Trust VDB: this short piece will rock your world.

In the best way.

February 14th, 2008

Photojournalist Bill Stetson Takes You To Obama’s Chicago HQ: The Post-War Room

by Philip Baruth

As regular readers know, roving Norwich photojournalist and key Obama backer Bill Stetson has been traveling America for the last six months or so, seeing a side of the campaign few people see, and even fewer people photograph. Today’s installment: Chicago headquarters.

Where, you may well have wondered, does the real, hardcore strategy get hammered out? Where do they do the all-night brainstorming, the strategy workshopping that begins with a slogan like “In All Likelihood We Should Be Able To!” and finally hammers it into something a little more emphatic?

Right here, baby. Right here.

And lest you think they don’t have their eye on the real opponent in Chicago, let’s just blow up a key detail:

No doubt the food in the vending machines is old and dessicated, and obviously the lighting is enough to give those in the cubicles a standard campaign pallor. But this is also clearly a place full of electrical current, ideas, energy, passion, hope.

Not so much a War Room, as a Post-War Room.

And for those of you with super-delegates on the brain, particularly Vermont super-delegates, you might have seen Sam Hemingway’s excellent article in yesterday’s Free Press: “Vermont’s ‘Superdelegates’ Lean Obama’s Way.”

Hemingway points out that just one of the state’s seven superdelegates supports Hillary, one Billi Gosh of Brookfield. That’s Gosh in the photo with good friend Bill Stetson below, to the right.

Clearly this is a woman who’s not about to change her mind. But we can dream.

February 13th, 2008

Yes, Virginia, 9/11 Changed Everything, Except Winter (Still Slippery) and War Mongers (Go Down Like a Ton o’ Bricks)

by Philip Baruth

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on ice and breaks shoulder. Apparently we go to winter in the shoes we have, not necessarily in the shoes we might wish to have.

Department of Homeland security confirmed this morning that the ice storm itself has all the hallmarks of al queda involvement: symbolic targets, synchronized to yesterday’s polling, multiple locations simultaneously, unclear origins.

Breathless coverage as details warrant.

February 12th, 2008

Cue the Blame Game: Clinton Camp Now (Discreetly) Throwing Solis Doyle Under Bus

by Philip Baruth

So the official story had it that Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s now-departed campaign manager, needed to spend more time with her two kids. When it became apparent that the nomination fight would be protracted, the story went, Doyle selflessly passed the baton and headed on home. Which left the Clinton campaign without a scapegoat for problems both financial and electoral.

A problem, in the standard playbook.

Well, problem solved: the Chicago Tribune is reporting that Solis Doyle “didn’t tell Clinton that there was next to no cash on hand until after the New Hampshire primary. ‘We were lying about money,’ the source said. ‘The cash on hand was nothing.’”

That’s a pretty talky anonymous source, especially given the strong and abiding ties Solis Doyle is supposed to have with Hillary.

New official story: Hillary believed deeply in the relationship, but the other party was, unfortunately, a liar.

Well, not exactly a new story. More a classic from the late 90’s now repurposed for a new situation. Go with what you know, VDB’s old writing mentor Oakley Hall used to say.

February 12th, 2008

Hillary Clinton Finally Achieves Absolute Clarity on Caucus System: It Doesn’t Count

by Philip Baruth

Hillary Clinton held a hastily arranged meeting with reporters earlier today and graciously credited the Obama campaign with dogged grass-roots organizing and a laser-like message. [Fumbles with note cards] Oh, right. She actually did the opposite, dismissing not only Obama’s campaign but the voters who have thus far propelled it.

“These are caucus states by and large,” Hillary pointed out, “or in the case of Louisiana, you know, a very strong and very proud African-American electorate, which I totally respect and understand.”

Let’s not even go to the very proud African-Americans. Suddenly Hillary eschews the entire notion of caucusing, as a singular facet of democracy?

You got it. “[Caucuses] don’t represent the electorate, we know that.”

In other words: I’m not losing, because I plan to win three large states next month, but even if I were losing it wouldn’t mean much of anything, because any state that chooses to caucus isn’t really participating in what might be called American democracy.

Put aside the simple bad grace of this sort of denial. Put aside the reflexive spin, the inability to admit publicly that her campaign has quite obviously underperformed, allowing a well-run campaign to run up a lead. Losing the last five contests by 2:1 margins tells the world that, and a strong candidate admits it, and moves on.

But after reading the quote above, does anyone doubt that Hillary would want to put aside popular vote (since it came substantially from caucusing), or pledged delegate counts (which stem partially from same) if the only way she could win was through convention deals with superdelegates?

hillary, having it both ways

Or through a court challenge over Michigan and Florida, primaries in which she took a pledge not to participate?

Dismissing half the Democratic voters who have weighed in on this primary season thus far is only the beginning, folks.

VDB hopes all you people in the great caucus state of Hawaii take careful note. Because you’re next.


February 9th, 2008

Clinton’s Fall-Back on Taxes: Half-Step To The Now-Classic Schwarzenegger

by Philip Baruth

In light of revelations that Hillary Clinton loaned her campaign $5 million dollars — $5 million that required no liquidation of assets — the Obama campaign today suggested that releasing Clinton joint tax returns might be in order. Obama has released his own returns, and cast the issue in simple terms of transparency. “I think the American people deserve to know where you get your income from,” he told reporters.

hillary, obama

If you’re an Obama supporter, this no doubt strikes you as well and good. If you’re a Hillary supporter, it no doubt strikes you as politics as usual.

But no matter who you support, you have to agree with us on one thing. Hillary’s response to this gambit borders on the bizarre: “Clinton campaign officials said she would release her returns if she won the nomination” [emphasis VDB].

The logic escapes us.

Republicans can see the returns, but not Democrats?

At the very least, this fall-back creates the impression that something in the returns would chill a Democratic base, something or things that would pass unremarked in a more centrist general election cycle.

Clinton’s position, in a weird way, is only a half-step or so from Schwarzenegger’s now classic hedge: I’ll investigate myself for sexual harrassment after I’m Governor.

Come to think of it, though, that didn’t work out too badly for Ahnold. Curses! Foiled again.

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