10 December 2007

On the trail

Matt Taibbi has a new article from the campaign trail in Iowa. It's all worth a look, but I think I few graphs warrant their own attention.

Downstairs, John Edwards is being even more explicit. After whipping the crowd into a frenzy with an impassioned speech blasting the influence of lobbyists and corporate campaign contributors, he turns the gun on his own party. "The presidential candidate who has raised the most money from Washington lobbyists is not a Republican," he says. "The candidate who has raised the most money from insurance companies isn't a Republican. The presidential candidate who has raised the most money from defense contractors isn't a Republican."

He pauses, then smiles. "The answer to all those questions, you probably already know, is Hillary Clinton," he says.

This is an important message for progressives who may be swayed by Clinton's periodic overtures to the left: Follow the money. Every 12-year old knows politicians "forget" what they say on the campaign trail, but they never forget who their real owners are.

Obama is a tough guy to figure. He's a tremendous, magnetic speaker when he is facing a big crowd and has a prepared address in his pocket, but his extemporaneous stumpery in smaller settings is sometimes weirdly nervous and maladroit (in Grundy Center, he recently barked at an elderly town-hall questioner, insisting that he takes terrorism "deadly serious"). His much-hyped decision to take a "forceful stand" against Hillary in recent weeks smacked of the worst kind of hot-air horse-racing bullshit, with the candidate suddenly jumping through hoops to prove to the media that he could exhibit the requisite "aggressiveness" before he'd even decided what issues to "take a stand" about. The overall impression is of a soft-spoken intellectual who's suddenly desperate to show that he's ready to be as full of shit as it takes to win the White House -- a psychological state that put Mike Dukakis in a tank, John Kerry in a duck-hunting costume and killed off many a highbrow candidate who blinked in the punishing glare of The Process.
This is a great peg of Obama, whose progressivism is often taken for granted and similarly overrated--by me, among others, when I carelessly lumped him together with Edwards in the earlier post. Obama has been caught in a number of bizarre maneuvers since the start of the campaign, most recently clashing with Paul Krugman over his healthcare proposal. Obama has pitched himself as a Washington outsider, and he may have started the game with that reputation, but his messages of transcending Washington partisanship is beginning to show its recycled Broderist root.

The trouble for Hillary actually started in early October, at a campaign stop in New Hampton, Iowa. Clinton teed off on an audience member named Randall Rolph, who asked her a pointed question about her vote to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. "The premise of the question is wrong," Clinton snapped. "Somebody obviously sent it to you." Rolph angrily objected to the implication that he was a plant, leading to a poisonous exchange.
Well, if anyone knows a planted question, it would be the Clinton campaign.

And I love Taibbi's metaphor for them.

And when Hillary errs, as she has done many times in recent weeks, she tends to err on the side of burning the ordinary schmuck and sticking to the inside play. You don't see too many Fortune 500 CEOs complaining that Hillary stiffed them on a tip; no, that only happens to some Iowa diner waitress, at the same time the lavishly funded Hillary is out on the trail trying to explain her support of the Wall Street crowd's sweetheart Peru Free Trade Agreement (to Midwest audiences that already know all they need to know about the NAFTA her husband passed). This is the significance of all the stumbling and audience-rigging and Rove-ing of debate opponents and carping at the Randall Rolphs of the world that we saw in recent weeks; they have exposed Hillary as a New York Yankees-style villain who buys all the best players but seems to resent having to actually win it between the lines.
There's a lot more I like in there, but that's enough lengthy quoting for one day.