Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Antitdote To the October Surprise

Johnny Camacho has a really thought provoking post up on his blog today, where Joe Trippi, writing in Politics, wonders if he did the right thing by keeping his mouth shut rather than urging John Edwards to stay in the presidential primary race.

According the article, Trippi claims he had a feeling that had Edwards stayed in the primaries, he could have picked up 300 or so delegates, forced a brokered convention, made sure that his populist ideas remained at the top of the Democratic agenda, and maybe even come out of it as the compromise candidate in the general election.

It's an intriguing thought that will probably haunt Trippi and even Camacho. Camacho says
Is Trippi right to regret not urging the continuation of Edwards’ campaign? What if Edwards had stayed in the race? Would he now be winning the electability argument? Would he be a voice of reason in the midst of the Clinton/Obama cage match, or would we simply be witnessing an equally nasty Edwards/Clinton/Obama cage match? The fact that I’m giving so much thought to these questions should serve as a pretty good indication of how fatigued I am by the entire Democratic nominating contest as it currently stands.
I sympathize with my young compatriot. But a word to the wise from somebody older and more experienced. Hindsight is always 20/20. Don't drive yourself crazy with this speculation. The primaries will end, we will have a candidate and we may even be a stronger party for it.

While it's frustrating right now, the upside is that in every contested state, citizens are flocking to register as Democrats to take part in the contest. We will have their names and be able to build a database. A ground game is built on that.

Nobody can really know at this point if the seemingly endless primary season will damage our nominee for November. I don't want to seem Pollyana-ish about this. But there is an up side to this, which is that it is building the party.

And another up side is that by the time we reach the general election, each candidate will be so thoroughly vetted that there will be no surprises. Indeed, back at the very beginning, when we had a crowded field, a politically savvy friend pointed to Hillary as the strongest candidate for one simple reason. "What is there that you don't already know about her? What could her opponents possibly dredge up to hurt her that isn't already public knowledge? What's left that would have shock value in October.?"

That's a good point. Both parties really dread the "October surprise." In fact, gleeful as Republicans are with the bloodletting in the Democratic Party right now, I'm sure that the more sophisticated among them is actually a little sad that the Reverend Wright problems have come to light this early.

After all, those videos have been advertised on the church's website for years. Sure the media were lazy and enamoured of Obama's star power and never checked. But don't tell me that Republican operatives didn't know about those tapes. In fact, I'll wager you that there is actually gnashing of teeth in Mudville that all this peaked too soon.

Long, arduous primaries - quite possibly the antidote to damaging October Surprises!


Isophorone said...

I agree with you in that it is a LONG way until the election!

Ed said...

Karen, yes the one positive thing about the long and early primary season is that it means thing shave a way of being absorbed and dealt with. Their political consequences become apparent as opposed to later.

It is after all, still May. 6 months left.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

The main thing is that knowing now about anything embarrassing in a candidate's past - and they all have something foolish back there, as would any normal adult growing up in these turbulent times - means the shock value evaporates.

Opponents on both sides will still bring these things up but the surprise factor will be gone. Most people will shrug and think, oh, I knew that; it's old hat.

Could you imagine, though, those tapes of Rev. Wright being played on October 30th, though, when there is little to no time to dispel the damage or for Obama to explain his own views on race to people?

I still think his response was too slow. That's what's more damaging. He seems to take too long to respond to attacks and damaging information; he's got to get better at rapid response.

Because the distracting stuff is getting out now, hopefully, by September and October, voters - not the shallow, elitist media, of course, but real voters - will be focused on issues that affect their lives, such as higher gas and food prices, health care reform, the state of the economy in general, and the war in Iraq. And hopefully they will be evaluating the candidates' substantive answers on those issues.

Ed said...


Obama was way too slow in getting out in front of this thing. I have too blog entries on the political blog I know write, one before his response and one afterwards.

Before he responded, I said in a post 'Obama must disown Wright':

"Obama cannot just reject his statements. He must now disown the man himself. Obama said the following after Wright spoke:

"Some of the comments that Rev. Wright has made offend me, and I understand why they offend the American people," Obama told reporters. "They don't represent my views and they don't represent what this campaign's about, but he's obviously free to make those statements."

That doesn't cut it, Barack. You have to categorically reject this man. But, quite honestly, the damage may be done. This could well be Obama's Waterloo. I cannot overstate the damage Wright has done.

Read Bob Herbert's Column. His analysis is the best of all pundits I have seen.

And then after he denounced Wright, I agreed with you that he was too slow. That is definitely the problem here. It goes to leadership and judgment (see blog entry here):

"I empathize with Obama because I understand his desire to analyze all the facts before reaching a conclusion. This is clearly the nature of a 'P.' It represents the P in Obama's ENTP. In the Myers-Briggs personality type framework, P stands for perceiving. This P denotes a preference for gathering data before making a judgment. While this trait may help one avoid confirmation bias, it can be a liability in situations that require a quick response.

So, I see Obama as someone who takes a measured thoughtful approach. However, some situations require an immediate decision, and, as uncomfortable as it may be, one cannot get all the facts first. This is something I believe Obama continues to struggle with."

This could be Obama's Waterloo as a general election candidate. We shall see. Thoughts, Karen? And what about Hillary? How do you see her these days?

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I couldn't agree with you more. And I read Bob Herbert's column. To my mind he and Paul Krugman are among the best political columnists we have today. Herbert is usually right on target.

Among bloggers, Vivian Paige wrote an excellent post on Wright and the historically black churches. If anybody is in a position to know about how well Wright does or doesn't represent black churches, it's Vivian, whose father was an African American minister.

I also agree, as I've already said, that Obama was far too slow in his response to all this. It's that, rather than Wright himself, which has hurt Obama.

But Wright and race are not the only problems. Obama also almost took too long to put the Tony Rezko association behind him.

I'll be the first to say that Obama did nothing wrong. Rezko was a wealthy contributor who wanted to be a political player in Chicago, and he gave money to many candidates. None of them knew about his legal difficulties.

The problem was that Obama first disavowed any knowledge of the transaction, then called it boneheaded, and then finally admitted that he made an error in judgment - one that others made too.

The problem was not that Obama did anything wrong. It's that he's not quick enough to simply own up to a mistake, defend himself and move on. That's why these things grow.

Obama is a very eloquent, talented man with a lot of promise. The media has been so enamoured of him that they've given him a pass on much of these failings. But eventually, Obama's bungling of the normal embarrassments of a campaing are going to catch up with him and the stuff is going to stick.

I think the teflon is wearing off because Obama hasn't yet learned how to deal with damaging revelations. Every candidate has embarrassing baggage. But Obama, who till now never had a really tough race, never was seriously vetted and tested. That's one reason I stopped supporting him for the presidency. He needs more experience. And this is proving it.

BTW, if he can't mount a rapid response to a campaign attack, is he going to be able to think and respond fast enough on his feet in a tough diplomatic situation or a hard negotiating situation. Presidents have to do that sometimes. Is he really ready to?

As for Hillary, she obviously has her baggage and, yes, she does have a problem with trustworthiness, not just the perception of it, but with it.

But she's been battle tested and she's a fighter. I feel more comfortable with that.

I'm not one of those who subscribes to the theory that she's going to bring the whole Democratic Party down with her if she loses the nomination.

I just think she's willing to fight for the nomination until the battle is truly over. That's what I'd trust in a president too. Somebody who will fight for the country for as long as the battle is winnable, not somebody who crumbles at the first tough challenge.

Politics is a full contact sport. All the talk about post partisan, new politics is as silly as unilateral disarmament. When the Republicans stop calling Obama "Hussein" then he can lay down his verbal arms and sing Kumbaya. But if he's not willing to fight for what he believes, why should we believe in him?

Ed said...

Well articulated. I don't agree with the entirety of what you have to say but I do have to give kudos to the logic behind your statements.

I do come down on Obama's side instead of Hillary's largely because of the same set of facts that gives you the opposite conclusion.

Here's my logic.

1. The world we live in and the problems we face, environmental, socioeconomic, economic, and foreign policy, are as difficult as they have been in a generation or two, perhaps since 1929.

2. In the face of this, we need leadership -- and most importantly, vision. Leadership means deft stewardship in the short-term and vision-means foresight as to long-term needs.

3. Bush is terrible. He has shown poor short and long term stewardship. We Americans need to not only do the heavy lifting required, but we also need to repair as much non-irreparable damage as we can after he leaves.

4. Given the high stakes, we need to ensure the victory of the kind of leader who can make a difference both short- and long-term. Thus, electability is as crucial as leadership and vision.

5. I never saw Hillary Clinton as a strong general election candidate because of her high negatives. In fact, I think that Obama's rise to the top has as much to do with Hillary's weakness as a potential Democratic nominee as it does with his own positive qualities.

The trustworthiness is an issue and the 'Bill' issue is negative baggage as well. There is almost no candidate who I can think of who would galvanize the Republican base as much as Hillary Clinton. That alone, means she must be able to sew up her base, and add new voters in order to win. This primary season shows that she cannot do that.

6. Therefore, I began to search for alternatives. I like Ron Paul but he is unelectable (age, party, etc). Obama has the vision, but does he have the leadership qualities? There are others, but the Democratic race quickly narrowed to three (Clinton, Obama, and Edwards). The question for me late last year was who will be as strong as Clinton within the Democratic primary process, is electable (i.e. low negatives and independent appeal), and has vision and leadership. Obama was easily the choice there. The big question mark was and is leadership.

7. So here we are in May. What have we seen.

Hillary: Honestly, Hillary's executive abilities have to be questioned because of her poor campaign. She underestimated Obama, did not have a post-Super Tuesday plan, ran out of money and ceded Red States to Obama or the Republicans. Many tactical errors.

I also believe we have seen Hillary to have questionable loyalty to party, questionable ethics, and trustworthiness. Moreover, she has economic policies which are questionable and do not resonant with Libertarians or moderate Republicans and Independents (Gas Tax, Windfall profit tax, etc.). Her hawkishness is scary (Iran singled her out for enmity because of her 'obliterate' gaffe).

All that said, Hillary is a leader. She instills confidence because she is resolute, confident, almost aggressive. She will never make a mistake because of inaction. You can count on her to act and defend what she perceives as America's interests. This is very important. I have respect for her leadership ability.

The man has great vision. He shows a clear-headed analytical understanding of economic, domestic, and foreign policy issues that America faces. I agree with almost all of his policy responses in their detail and orientation. Moreover, they are generally much more centrist, Libertarian than Clinton's, despite his liberal bias.

Obama also had run a great campaign until it all came off at the wheels with Jeremiah Wright. Rezko was fine for the most part but the Wright affair showed that he did not appreciate the need for immediate action. This is a critical error in judgment and shows poor leadership or inexperience -- take your pick.

He does not show the same number of trustworthiness issues that Clinton does.

And he is an inspirational individual in his speech and tone a la JFK, Reagan or Clinton. This is in marked contrast to Hillary Clinton.

Lastly, everyone I talk to from abroad wants Obama. Our image needs a revamping and Obama is more likely to do this with his openness to dialogue than Clinton with her saber-rattling. This is important in foreign policy.

Finally, I believe Obama is less likely to follow the status quo and is more of a true change candidate in personality. We desperately need change and a President who is not invested in the status quo.

All of this speaks to Obama. As much as I admire Clinton's leadership qualities, I do not think she has the overall package to lead the country.

Isophorone said...

All this stuff about Obama and Wright is an interesting juxtaposition on your attacks on BVBL.