July 2nd, 2007

About Barack Obama’s Q2 Fundraising: The Virtues of Being Neither Hatfield Nor McCoy

by Philip Baruth

The news: Barack Obama’s campaign raised around $32.5 million dollars last quarter. In so doing, they managed not only to best the Clinton campaign by four or five million dollars total, and not only to best the Clintons in primary dollars for the second quarter running.

Obama, Sanders, Welch, Bullhorn

Most importantly, the Obama campaign also managed to shatter their own stunning individual-donor numbers from the first quarter: Obama received donations from over 100,000 Americans last time out, but this time that number spiked to around 158,000.

Which makes for a total just shy of 260,000 individual donors so far, with six months to go until the first primary. And 90% of those donors can be resolicited, all but ensuring a very stable source of grassroots funding into the forseeable future.

Not too shabby when you consider that Obama is competing head to head with both Clintons and the fundraising network they built over nearly 40 years in politics.

And it’s worth asking: why are so many Americans giving so much to this relatively unknown Senator from Illinois? Yes, he’s a gifted orator; yes, he has a demonstrated ability to inspire audiences, voters.

obama tee

And yes, he’s picked some key issues as his focus over the last two years: stopping voter harrassment and ensuring equal access to the ballot; Iraq redeployment legislation that Russ Feingold endorsed over anything put forward by the other top-tier Democrats.

But there’s clearly more at work here than that.

And I honestly believe that something more boils down to message. It’s not simply that Obama is Not Hillary, but that his message thus far has been nearly the reverse of hers.

Both Clintons have hammered a single point home: that Hillary has endured every sort of attack, and proven her ability to respond. As Bill Clinton says again and again and again in his fundraising letters, “You know Hillary will never let a swift boat-style attack go unanswered.”

Hillary herself tells audiences, “Bill and I beat the Republican machine before, and we can beat it again.”

And sure, everyone on the Left remembers John Kerry and the missed opportunities of 2004. And everyone remembers the trench warfare of the ‘90s.

But that’s the point: a majority of us remember those days, and don’t want to go back.

When you listen to Bill and Hillary, you realize that these are two people who were deeply, deeply affected — which is to say traumatized, scarred — by their punishment at the hands of a vengeful Republican Congress.

Can you imagine Laura Bush being forced to go to Capitol Hill to testify? Not likely.

And Hillary and Bill Clinton fought back, and in the process of saving their own political skins, they saved us from the worst of what used to be quaintly called the Contract on America. But that warfare took its toll.

And that, more than anything, strikes me as a red flag in the Clinton campaign. In addition to embracing Bill Clinton’s legacy, the go-go 90’s and all that comes with it, the campaign has made a conscious decision to polarize the race early as a way of firing up the Democratic base.

hillary, in a nice clean shot

When you get down to it, there’s something unreasoned and not altogether pleasant in the approach. Like a Hatfield reading nasty things off a teleprompter about the McCoys: after a while, it begins to say every bit as much about the Hatfields as it does about their blood enemies.

obama, 2/10/07Now, you can make the argument — and certainly more than a few have this cycle — that Obama’s message of conciliation is substance-free, or patently hypocritical, or even disturbingly naïve. When the Clinton camp vows that Hillary won’t be Swiftboated, the reference to Kerry is more or less explicit, but the implicit reference is to Obama, and current questions about his ability to handle the rough-and-tumble.

And those questions will need to be answered.

But given the choice between a candidate who predicts all-out war — and sells herself and her husband as partisan Terminators — and a candidate who imagines not peace but something more like détente, hundreds of thousands of donating Democrats and Independents are choosing to imagine too.