May 31st, 2008 by Rightsideup

Obama finally has left the Church that’s been causing his campaign so many problems. Interestingly, despite all the problems with Jeremiah Wright, he didn’t feel the need to leave before now. Only when a second priest with extreme racist views showed up in the public consciousness did it become clear enough that the Church itself and not just one rogue cleric is the problem. Of course, if it isn’t just one rogue cleric, then it should have been clear to Obama long before it became clear to all the rest of us that this was not a good organization to be part of, and he should have left a long time ago.

You get the sense that he’s been trying to walk a fine line between appeasing those who agree with the teachings of the Church while not frightening off those who find its doctrines disturbing. And this is probably exactly what he has been doing. Will this lose him votes with the first group now? Does his making it clear that he’s really a mainstream politician and not a representative of the fringe that brings us Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton lose him votes? Or does the fact that he clearly has a tin ear to the negative impact of the kinds of things we’ve been hearing for months now cause problems for him with a different constituency? Will the press call him on any of it? Probably not. They more or less gave him a free pass when he gave the super-speech absolving himself of blame for Wright-gate and they’ll probably give him a free pass this time too, once again praising him for his eloquence along the way.

But with every event like this Obama becomes more damaged, and Hillary’s supporters have a little more weight behind their suggestion that it’s good for her to stay in the race.

March 25th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The recent Obama’s pastor furore has reminded everyone again how disingenuous candidates can be when they set their minds to it. It’s particularly ironic when it involves Obama because he claims to be so much above the fray, but the fact is that they all do it. They mock their competitors and seek to discredit them when they make mountains out of molehills, but then turn around and do exactly the same thing back.

Obama’s pastor problem is a problem, because he chose this man, sought his advice and blessing, and maintained a close personal asssociation with him over the years. But it was easily fixed, and by all accounts his race speech was impressive in the way it dealt with the issue (some voters have apparently not responded so well). But whether it’s this issue, or Hillary’s Geraldine Ferraro problem or now her Bosnia problem, or McCain’s Iran gaffe, everyone gleefully makes much of the shortcomings of other candidates but wails with false pain when the same dirty tricks are played on them.

These issues only really matter if they tell us something fundamental about the candidate that we didn’t already know, or only suspected. The Jeremiah Wright problem had legs because it belied Obama’s contentions that he is not running on race or on a racial platform or as the candidate or representative of a particular race, and yet there is a suspicion that he is more militant than he lets on. This is also the reason why his wife’s remarks have been so well covered – they reinforce this perception too.

The Clinton Ferraro issue didn’t matter because no-one really associated the views expressed by Ferraro with Clinton. But the Bosnia scam did because it played to a suspicion people have about Clinton: that she will say and do anything to get elected, and that she is desperate to build a false foreign policy resume by reference to the times she accompanied her husband on overseas trips. Almost entirely lacking in her own experience, she must rely on his, but can only do so by exaggerating her role in past events. The Bosnia comments – so easily disproved in this age of online video – were unwise precisely because they revealed more to us about her character than she wanted to.

For the same reason, McCain’s Iran comments didn’t matter, because no-one doubts that this man knows foreign policy. He is returning from his eighth visit to Iraq and famously served in the armed forces himself many years ago. This was an anomaly and not a revelation, and that’s the difference. But all candidates always act as if every indiscretion or revelation were an anomaly, which discredits their claims even when they’re reasonable. But there’s no real hope of any change in that department soon, unfortunately.

March 4th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Obama is now plagued by two quasi-scandals: the Rezko case and the NAFTA case. But the irony with both is that the purported scandals themselves are pretty tame – what’s really getting him is the fact that he and his campaign have not been truthful or open about them. In fact, the latest evidence suggests Obama is trying to run as far away from them both as possible. There’s a good summary of how this has panned out in relation to the NAFTA story here. It’s as if Obama has been such a carefully stage-managed candidate that the only response his campaign has when things like this come up (as they do, inevitably, even with the most squeaky clean campaign) is to deny and run.

In some ways, the timing here is similar to the Times story about McCain – it may all come together just too late to make any difference in the primary election, but it has the potential to still be out there for the general election, with the Rezko trial in particular throwing up fodder for more stories on the Rezko-Obama relationship.