7/29/2007

The Problem With Hillary vs. Obama

John Edwards recently spoke at a National Urban League forum along with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Dennis Kucinich. (Invitations were extended to all the GOP candidates as well, but they declined.) Anyway, John Edwards said the following:

If you're looking for what's wrong in Washington, why the system is broken, why the system doesn't work, one perfect example is what's been happening just over the course of the last four days. We've had two good people, Democratic candidates for president, who spent their time attacking each other instead of attacking the problems that this country's [facing]."
John Edwards chose a politically wise thing to say, but I think he's right for a different reason.

The media have effectively whittled an eight-member Democratic field down to just two, and sometimes three if Edwards is included. It does a terrible disservice to the other candidates as well as to voters as a whole because some of the more obscure candidates, particularly Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, and Chris Dodd bring certain elements to the table that Hillary Edbama doesn't. Perhaps the greatest asset those three candidates possess is experience. Each of them has more government experience that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards combined.

So why do the media focus on Clinton and Obama so much? For better or worse, media entities want to generate ratings and boost circulation. And the Hillary vs. Obama soap opera offers a treasure trove of potential news stories that are sometimes more sensational than substantive. (Case in point: Clinton's cleavage" is suddenly somehow newsworthy, much like the coverage of Obama's abs and pecs last winter while he was on vacation with his family.) Are journalists lazy? Are they giving the public what they want? Do they believe the electorate doesn't have the attention span to focus on seven or eight candidates at once? Or do they think the electorate isn't interested in hearing actual policy discussions between veteran senators? Are we truly a sound byte culture? And if so, why? Is it our fault as voters, or is it the media's fault for giving us this news diet of he said/she said?

But I digress.

There have been a lot of analyses about the recent salvos between Clinton and Obama regarding foreign policy. That pretty much sucked all the oxygen out of the room, so nobody really knew what the other six Democratic presidential candidates were doing. Edwards' quote at the beginning of this blog was a good way of grabbing voters' attention and refocusing the debate on the actual issues.

But Edwards doesn't get it. And neither does Clinton. Or Obama.

If they are not careful, they run the very real risk of falling out of favor with voters and ultimately losing the nomination. It's not about setting rhetorical traps for your political opponents, nor is it about claiming to take the high road by "focusing on the issues." It's not even about "changing Washington," as Obama commonly says on the stump.

The problem is, voters have heard politicians say stuff like that over and over again. The "politician" brand has been corrupted by accusations ("irresponsible and naive"), name-calling ("Bush-Cheney lite"), and holier than thou claims ("that's what's wrong with Washington; let's focus on the issues facing the American people"). People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Anyone who watches Lou Dobbs on CNN knows how much disconnect there is between Washington rhetoric and the painful reality confronting millions and millions of jaded Americans who see that "Washington" is broken.

This is why Biden, Dodd, and Richardson have an advantage. They seem to spend far more time talking about actual policy rather than pettiness and platitudes. I think voters may eventually reach a point when they kick the whining kids out and seek out adult supervision. And that's their ticket to the nomination.

Have you heard Hillary Edbama express their views on Iraq as clearly as Joe Biden has?

Have you heard Hillary Edbama express their views on energy as clearly as Bill Richardson has?

Have you heard Hillary Edbama express their views on health care as clearly as Chris Dodd has? (John Edwards has come close, but he seems to spend more time talking about the "crisis," but not so much time talking about the "cure.")

The politics of Hillary Edbama might have been sufficient a few years ago, but the George W. Bush presidency has changed the laws of political physics. Even though Clinton may be a legacy candidate, Obama may be the fresh candidate, and Edwards may still have a golden halo from the last election, I really think Democrats and voters in general will be looking competence in their next chief executive. Scoring gotcha points with name-calling may win a few battles (news cycles), but it might not be enough to win the war (the nomination).

The so called "second tier" candidates (Richardson, Biden, and Dodd) would do well to pick up on this. They're not out of the race at all. And they may even be in better shape than the so called "frontrunners" simply because they've been flying under the radar for so long. Richardson in particular has picked up on the "experience" void left by Hillary Edbama and has benefited from it in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Biden and Dodd have a huge opening too, in my opinion. (Notice the large number of undecided voters despite the deluge of Hillary Edbama coverage in the news.)

Nobody on the Democratic side is running as the grown-up--the capable, experienced pragmatist who is not afraid to get into the gory details of his policy proposals and truthfully explain how such proposals would be implemented. In other words, there's a huge opening for someone who wants to run as the way a "politician" should be: a competent statesman.

Joe Biden in particular would be wise to heed this advice based on his debate performances thus far.

1 comment(s):

Anonymous said...

Excellent ananlysis

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.