So - - what in the world happened to Hillary Rodham Clinton last week?
The one-time frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination faced a slue of bad news, and committed a series of what where perceived to have been “blunders” in her campaign. By the end of the week, her campaign had sustained a key resignation, a key defection, and a growing chorus of commentators saying that her campaign was in trouble, and that Mrs. Clinton could end up losing all four early primary races.
After changing her approach with rival Barack Obama back in November to one of “hitting back,” in early December Mrs. Clinton took to criticizing Obama for having written of his presidential ambitions when he was in kindergarten, and in the third grade. Then when Mrs. Clinton faced criticism for being “petty,” she had her aides insist that the criticisms of Obama’s childhood were a “joke,” and express disbelief that anybody would take them seriously.
But back to last week - - on Wednesday, heavyweight New Hampshire Hillary campaign operative Bill Shaheen told the Washington Post that, if he were to become the Democratic nominee for President, Obama would be constantly nagged about his past marijuana usage, and therefore would be a liability to the party. This led to Shaheen’s resignation from the campaign the next day, and a swift apology from Hillary.
Now, let’s examine this “Obama liability” thing very carefully. When it comes to Democratic party politics, Bill Shaheen, if you’re not familiar, is most certainly a New Hampshire heavyweight. He is a much sought-after guy when it comes to primary election campaigns, and has been helping candidates win in his state since the days of Jimmy Carter. And as if those aren’t sufficient credentials, he is himself a former U.S. Attorney, and his wife is former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen.
Call me crazy, but I find it difficult to believe that a political veteran like Bill Shaheen would make such strong statements about his candidate’s opponent, without being authorized and directed to do so by the candidate’s “inner circle,” or perhaps by the candidate herself. If my analysis is correct and indeed Mr. Shaheen was directed to do this by, say, Mr. or Mrs. Clinton, only to have the Clinton’s tender his resignation after the tactic blew-up in Mrs. Clinton’s face, then this would seem consistent with some of the worst things we know about the Clintons. They are no strangers to brazen political tactics, but worse yet, they are often highly hurtful and destructive to the closest and most loyal people around them.
But let’s consider what the real “blunders” are here. The attack on Obama’s kindergarten dreams was petty and “knee-jerk,” by most any objective measure. Yet it came shortly after polling numbers had shown for the first time that the former President’s wife had lost her lead in Iowa. The timing of these two events made Mrs. Clinton appear as though she was acting out of a sense of disbelief, and desperation, and it cost her a very public and embarrassing defection of an Iowa campaign worker who disapproved of her negativity and joined-up with the Obama campaign.
But if the Clinton’s seemed panicked when attacking Obama’s childhood, they now seem to be something worse than panicked having raised the issue of Obama’s “pot smoking.” Certainly, drudging-up negative details about another person’s personal past can be perceived as bad form, no matter what the circumstances.
But in this case, Obama has already addressed this negative part of his past, and has handled it about as skillfully as anybody could - - he has admitted to smoking pot, has admitted that it was a wrong choice on his part, and has expressed regret for what his decision cost him. It’s difficult to be critical of a “sinner” who has confessed his sin, especially when the “sin” is perceived my many to be minimal, yet the Clinton’s have chosen precisely this very course of action.
Worse still for the Clinton’s, Obama has done what Bill Clinton has heretofore been unable to do; he has said in no uncertain terms that, yes, he did smoke pot, and he has taken full responsibility for doing so. Obama’s approach to the “pot problem” bares a striking contrast to Clinton’s approach to the same dilemma fifteen years ago, when he stated that he “experimented” with marijuana “a time or two,” but that he “didn’t inhale.” Bill Clinton was unbelievable then, and remains so today. To once again criticize Obama for his admitted pot usage draws further attention to the Clinton’s problem of trustworthiness.
Mrs. Clinton is adept at playing the role of victim. In announcing her new, more aggressive campaign tactics earlier this month in an interview with Katie Couric for CBS Television, she explained that she had endured many months of attacks herself, and therefore needed to begin responding.
Yet, in light of last week’s events, it would seem that the Clintons became victims not of other people’s attacks, but of their own miscalculations and missteps.