Sen. Clinton’s campaign commits big-time goof

When Hillary sharply disagreed with Obama’s pledge, in the South Carolina Democratic debate, that he would meet with the leaders of rogue nations like North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela, she was undoubtedly shooting from the hip. But when she and her campaign spent an entire week attacking and ridiculing Obama — and now are well into their second week of criticism — they appear to have lost their marbles.

Put very simply, Hillary is on the wrong side of this particular issue for the Democratic primary electorate. Scott Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll shows that Democrats agree with Obama that the president should meet with these foreign leaders without preconditions by 55 percent to 22. His polling shows that Democrats are outsiders who take literally JFK’s thesis that we “should never negotiate out of fear, but should never fear to negotiate.” As an insider, Hillary was blinded to this reality by her years of exposure to the conventional wisdom in both her husband’s administration and in her tenure on the Senate Armed Services Committee. To insiders, it is obvious that a summit must be earned by a rogue state by signaling a willingness to come in from the cold in order to get a presidential audience and the ensuing photo-op.

But most Americans, and especially most Democrats, think that this kind of insider-think is precisely the problem with our foreign policy. They see nothing lost by negotiating and much potential gain from coming to points of mutual understanding.

But the real question is: Why have Hillary and her people persisted in using this issue to beat Obama over the head? Aren’t they polling? Do they not know that the issue is bad for them — or, with Hillary staking out an intransigent and stubborn position, do they not care?

Even as Hillary was calling Obama “naive” and “irresponsible” for his position, her adviser, Mark Penn, was going even further. He told the New York Daily News that Hillary’s answer on meeting with rogue-state leaders was “a presidential moment” and that it “was an essential moment that showed she knows what it means to be president.” Waxing eloquent to Newsday, he went further and said, “Obama’s commitment to meeting hostile foreign leaders would haunt his campaign by pointing up his inexperience.” Newsday reports that he said that Obama’s position is “so far out of the American political mainstream that it would render him unelectable against a Republican nominee.” Since Rasmussen’s poll shows that Democrats overwhelmingly agree with Obama on the issue, one wonders if Penn is reading his own data. And since Rasmussen says that voters in general agree with the Illinois senator by 42 percent to 34, it is hard to see how such a stance makes him unelectable.

Meanwhile, Obama, correctly reading the mood of the Democratic electorate (or correctly reading his polls), mocked Hillary’s position as “Bush Cheney-lite,” emphasizing Hillary’s insider way of thinking.

Hillary’s stumbles over this issue remind one of her campaign’s knee-jerk decision to lash out at David Geffen for his attack on Bill Clinton’s administration and pardons. Both mistakes smack of appeasing the boss at the expense of making the right move politically. Each is the kind of mistake that advisers who don’t have the confidence to stand up to the Clintons often find themselves making. When Bill’s temper is aroused or Hillary stubbornly digs in on a position, it is a daunting task to confront them and convince them that they are just flat-out wrong. Few advisers are able to do it, and it appears that the current crop are helpless in the face of their candidate’s insistence on making a mistake.

But perhaps the error goes deeper. The hardest thing to do in politics is to think like an outsider when you’ve become an insider. Maybe the fat lobbying and consulting contracts have blinded the Clintons’ advisers to the thinking of the Democratic Party base. Perhaps they and their candidate have gone Washington and can’t appreciate, as easily as Obama can, what their constituents are thinking.

 
Morris, a former political adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of “Outrage.” To get all of Dick Morris’s and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to www.dickmorris.com .