Hillary Clinton has been at the center of several unsavory news stories over the past month or so. However, the past two weeks have been particularly brutal.
First, her campaign rhetoric reached a whole new level of ridiculousness when they dredged up Barack Obama's old writings from kindergarten and accused him of wanting "to fulfill some long-held plans" to be President. When this tactic backfired, the Clinton campaign criticized the media for overreacting to "a joke."
Then it was revealed that some of Clinton's campaign staffers were behind the false rumor campaign about Barack Obama's religion. The staffers claim to have acted alone, but this exposed Clinton as engaging in the same "politics of personal destruction" that she commonly rails against on the campaign trail.
As if that weren't enough, the latest brouhaha between Clinton and Obama involves one of Clinton's major supporters, Bill Shaheen. Shaheen, husband of probable New Hampshire Senate candidate and former governor Jeanne Shaheen, brought up Obama's past drug use, which he had admitted long ago. Shaheen then (eagerly) wondered how Republicans will use this a potent weapon:
"It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?' There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."Of course, these kinds of comments reek of the stench a phrase like "I'm not saying you beat your wife, but that's just what I heard" has. While the actual charges might not be true, it still leaves a lingering impression in voters' minds.
Pundits have been quick to sound the death knell for Clinton. They are saying that Clinton has become desperate because she's truly worried about Obama's rise in the polls and are speculating that Shaheen had to be acting alone because of how reckless his comments were. This may all be true, but I can't help but wonder if there's more to the equation than this.
Could Clinton's attacks on Obama actually benefit Clinton by sacrificing short term grief for long term gain?
Conventional wisdom says that John Edwards will be the beneficiary of the sniping between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This thinking is based on the principle that "If A attacks B, C will be the nominee." Voters will get tired of the two leading candidates going back and forth with each other and will reward the candidate on the sidelines who is seen as taking the high road.
Of course, Obama is not the one slinging mud here. However, because the "Hillary vs. Obama" storyline has been so ingrained in voters' minds for so long thanks to the way the media have framed the Democratic presidential race, Obama may unfairly be seen as rolling through the mud with Clinton even if Obama is merely parrying Clinton's attacks.
But here's how these over-the-top attacks benefit Clinton. By sliming Obama, she is elevating Edwards. (Of course, Edwards is all too happy to let the food fight between his two rivals go on.) But an Edwards victory in Iowa would be far better for the Clinton campaign than an Obama victory would be. John Edwards is trailing Clinton worse than Obama in almost all state and national polls. He also has less money available in his campaign coffers. So Clinton could more easily overtake him later on. An Obama victory in Iowa, however, would ignite Obama's campaign so much that voters who like him but have reservations about his electoral chances would have these fears extinguished. Obama could then take advantage of his huge campaign staff, couple that with his deep pockets, and go the distance. That's a much more difficult task for Edwards, but the longer Edwards stays alive, the more advantageous it is for Clinton. So it is in her interest to ensure his viability.
Of course, there is the issue of whether the Clinton campaign can even survive yet another negative news story or mini-scandal. I would venture that they probably can because this campaign has been able to maintain its frontrunner status since its inception despite the stigma of Clintonian sleaziness. This latest stinkbomb about Obama and drugs may be embarrassing, but it also may very well be part of the overall Clinton plan.