Clinton Uses Political Jujitsu to Blunt Obama’s Strength

Rev Wright: “Obama Says What He Has to Say as a Politician”

The above quote is from Bill Moyer’s interview with Rev. Wright which is to air tonight. Rev. Wright, referring to Obama’s disavowal of Wright’s more controversial comments, said “He does what politicians do.”

Obama’s ambivalence about playing the political game is how the Clinton’s have successfully blunted his message.

They have used the strength of his message — that he is above politics, that he is a transformational figure — against him.

Basic Political Jujitsu.

When Obama says “I don’t play those games”… When he talks about being above politics… The Clintonistas turn it into : he is above you, he thinks he is better than you.

The Clintonistas are trying to turn Obama into an unelectable Adlai Stevenson.

But Politics Doesn’t Change: All politicians Pander and Lie. It’s part of the job.

Gail Collins has an interesting nugget buried in her NYT column yesterday:

“If you want to worry about something, worry about the way both of them have been pandering themselves over the edge. There was the dreaded read-my-lips, no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge during the Pennsylvania debate. Then Hillary tried to demonstrate her toughness by announcing she would “obliterate” Iran if it messed with Israel. And when it comes to political piñatas, we’ll always have Nafta. They both went into the tank on agricultural issues back in Iowa, so heaven knows what they’re saving for Indiana. Mandatory use of corn in highway paving materials?

Please, no more issues talk until we figure out who’s going to run against John McCain. Let’s concentrate on who’s meaner and who’s more snobbish and who had a neighbor who once belonged to one of the world’s most inept terrorist groups.”

Collins is right. But there’s no cause for worry. It would be sheer folly to expect complete honesty from politicians during an election, much less during a nominating process.

Does anyone really believe that Barack sat in a pew for twenty years not listening to Rev. Jeremiah Wright?

Does anyone really believe that Hillary likes to throw back shots of Crown Royale with a beer chaser? Or that Annie Oakley is really for assault rifles in every living room?

In the heat of battle, the last thing you can tell voters is the truth. The last thing voters want to hear the truth.

Michigan primary voters didn’t want John McCain telling them that their old manufacturing jobs are not coming back. So, instead, in January, they cast their votes for rival Mitt Romney, who promised to clean off the rust on the auto assembly lines, and start them rolling again.

You have to tell the voters in Northern Indiana — Rust Belt America — that you are going to make everything all right…

Like It Was Before.

You have to promise the workers in Gary, Indiana that you will bring back the factories and the high paying jobs. You have to tell them that you will build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out all those illegal immigrants who are taking their jobs….. even if it’s not true.

And you have to pledge to gut the free trade agreements like NAFTA and the trade agreement with Columbia. You don’t dare mention that you really can’t do this because the treaties are signed, and if you did, Canada would stop sending us their oil and natural gas.

You don’t dare tell them that if we closed our borders to all the foreign goods coming in from China …… prices would skyrocket at Wal-Mart ….. and the Chinese wouldn’t buy our wheat and farm products …. and our farmers would go crazy.

You have to promise that health care and prescription drugs will be free and that the only people paying income tax or capital gains tax will be those horrible rich people.

You have to stop all mortgage foreclosures and swear that, when you are elected, the prices of gasoline will be less than a dollar and that food will be cheap and bountiful again.

The Change theme is not going to work in Indiana. People want it like it was before. Voters don’t want to go into the future and beyond. They want go to back to the past.

Only you can restore the Good Times.

You gotta keep it simple. Blame the immigrants, the Canadians, the Mexicans, the Chinese, Al Qaeda, Iran….. Blame anyone, blame everyone, but make sure that finger is pointing away from American soil.

You can’t really be a good politician, or a good president, without being somewhat of a morally flawed human being. The too-good-for-this-world politicians — George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, Adlai Stevenson, Michael Dukakis, Jimmy Carter — have had an annoying habit of losing elections.

A Presidential candidate can’t have the same opinions and concerns during the primaries as he has in the general election … or during governing — that would be stupid.

You have to win the nomination first, and do whatever it takes, then you can think about what kind of campaign you want to run in the general election, how you want to govern, and what you want to, and can, accomplish.

The history of the successful candidates of yesteryear —- Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson– has shown that campaign themes/promises and subsequent governing often have little to do with one another.

All of our great presidents have shown — for lack of a better phrase — a great deal of “ideological malleability” and pragmatism.

So, don’t worry about the pandering and the mendacity…it’s all part of the game.

[Crossposted at Huffington Post]

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About Blake Fleetwood

Blake Fleetwood Blake Fleetwood was formerly on the staff of The New York Times and has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The New York Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Village Voice, Atlantic and the Washington Monthly on a number of issues. He was born in Santiago, Chile and moved to New York City at the age of three. He graduated from Bard College and did graduate work in political science and comparative politics at Columbia University. He has also taught politics at New York University. He can be reached at
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8 Responses to Clinton Uses Political Jujitsu to Blunt Obama’s Strength

  1. atdleft says:

    Wow, Blake. You’re so cynical… And I guess, so honest. Sure, I won’t delude myself into thinking that anyone’s perfect. I guess I just appreciate Hillary Clinton presenting herself as more of a person while Barack Obama so often portrays himself as “The Second Coming”. But ultimately, each candidate has his/her own construct to attract voters.

  2. Janis says:

    I wouldn’t call it jujitsu. She’s not even paying him out the rope to hang himself with; he’s providing the rope to himself just fine. It’s not like she introduced him to Ayers and Wright …

    And I’m not reading “he’s above you” the same way you are. He’s coming across as elitist and snobbish all on his own; she’s simply leaping on it, as it to be expected from her position as credible #2 candidate who has smelled blood in her opponent at last. If her campaign had backed the release of that tape, that’d be different.

    Again, I’m … not seeing the jujitsu comparison.

  3. Gilbert Martinez says:

    I don’t think Hillary ever said she wanted assault weapons in every living room.

    Say what you will about Hillary, but she is pretty damn consistent on the issues. Hillary isn’t making grand promises of having the world swoon in her mere presence. She is promising one thing: To work hard for the issues she talks about. That’s why she resonates with the working class. It’s not about magically making the world into some sort of love-fest. It’s about working to solve problems. Very few poor people I know believe they will wake up after winning the lottery. They succeed based on whether or not they work hard.

  4. DET says:

    Um, now there’s some far fetched thinking. I cannot think of anything Hillary has “made” Obama do. Nor do I consider him so weak that he can be “made” into whatever Hillary wants him to be. The fraudulent gimmick worked for him for awhile and once any vetting whatsoever took place, there were some surprises, period. The left rallied behind Obama out of their Clinton hatred and nothing less. I disagree with Geraldine Ferraro, no matter his skin color, he’d be nothing except he’s running against the evil bitch hated by all sides and especially the press but apparently not a hell of a lot of voters. I think that same hatred leads people to fabricate things like what the Clintonistas are trying to turn someone in to, whatever. She is what she is and that’s something to a lot of folks, no mysteries or empty suits. Rohr spot anyone?

  5. Sadly this time around we are left with two center right Democrats, at least on the face of it, and forced to speculate on which is most likely to become who we left wing political junkies hope we are supporting.

    I wish Sen. Clinton felt she has the option to present a less “traditional” approach to foreign policy matters, and appreciate the fact that Sen. Obama lets slip slight glimpses of what might be a far more creative and expansive approach to the 6.6 billion of our fellow humans who are not “Americans”.

  6. bill says:

    I heard on my car radio today some commentator saying how if Hillary doesn’t win the nomination she will sabotage Obama so that she can run against McCain in 2112. Has anyone else heard this? What upset me most about it was my own response (that I wouldn’t put it past her)!

  7. Darrell

    Traditionally we always have candidates who run centrist and FYI the other side runs more centrist too, that’s how candidates win with middle of the road positions.

  8. Bill

    Senator Clinton has said repeatedly she will support the nominee and has urged her supporters to do the same.