Obama’s Clark Catastrophe

Early in any well-run campaign, they strategically try out a few jabs at the opponent.  Sometimes it’s designed to figure how they will respond to particular issues. Sometimes it’s to introduce an issue so when they utilize the same controversy later in the campaign, when voters are actually paying attention, it does not appear to be out of left field. But most often these hits are introduced to generate headlines, quotes and other useful materials that can be utilized late in the campaign in TV advertising, Web ads and direct-mail pieces. The advocacy pieces will carry the newspaper headlines and therefore contain the credibility that goes along with it. It allows the campaign to show in their ads that they are not the ones introducing the attack — they're simply amplifying what the media has already said.

This week’s controversy over former general-turned-very-average-political hack Wesley Clark — a staunch supporter of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — encompasses all of the above elements.  On Sunday, Clark took to the airwaves to nastily (and stupidly) rip war veteran Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).  Among his ill-thought-out lines was his point that McCain commanded a squadron that “wasn’t a wartime squadron."  Remember that McCain was a prisoner of war in the most vile Viet Cong camps for five and half years.  He refused to be used as a propaganda device for the enemy, unlike, say, Obama political contributor Jane Fonda.  Today Sen. Jim Webb (D–Va.) reignited the controversy by going down the same feeble path.

The pressure group MoveOn (also a recipient of Jane Fonda dough) has also jumped into the controversy with a so-called online petition supporting Clark’s comments.  It is really just an attempt at fundraising, the only thing this group does well.  MoveOn is the same organization that stirred up a stink last year by slandering an honorable military figure, Iraq surge mastermind Gen. David Petraeus, by running an ad claiming he was a traitor to the United States. Every significant Democratic political figure in the presidential race at the time of the ad denounced the group's effort.

This early attack on McCain’s military service is in the Clinton campaign mode of attacking your opponent where you are the weakest.  It is also an attempt to “Swift-Boat” McCain.  In true ham-handed political fashion, Obama is trying to win today’s battle with yesterday’s tactics.  Ultimately, this poorly thought-out line of attack won’t lead to credible headlines for Obama ads in the fall.  It won’t lead to usable insight on how McCain will respond to these types of shots later in the campaign.  It has only led to a patriotic embarrassment for Obama on the eve of the nation’s most patriotic holiday and another example of Obama as a typical politician rather than, as he claims, an example of the politics of hope.

However, smart, strategic and artful are not the hallmarks of Obama’s attack campaign.  Remember his attempts to hit McCain on the age issue, where he claimed McCain had “lost his bearings"?

Obama would do well to remember his political “allies” are good publicity-seekers and fundraisers but less-than-brilliant political strategists.

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