Damaging His Brand

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Mar 21, 2008 12:10 PM
No doubt delighted to have something besides Rev. Wright to talk about, the Obama campaign is huffing and puffing in outrage about the unauthorized accessing of Barack's passport records.  This morning, Obama campaign manager Bill Burton said:

"This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years. Our government's duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes."

Make no mistake --  the breach was wrong, and it was serious.  An investigation is being launched, and at least two of the people responsible have already been fired.

But by going the predictable "outraged" route, the Obama campaign continues to damage its brand, which is supposed to be a "new kind of politics."  How refreshing -- how different and how new! -- it would be to hear the campaign manager tell reporters something like the following: "Of course, we are disturbed to hear about such a fundamental breach of any citizen's confidential information.  We believe this is a very serious situation.  We appreciate Secretary Rice's apology, and we will continue to follow the investigation as it plays out." 

It would be hard to exercise this kind of restraint -- after all, after a week like the Obama campaign's had, it's tempting to play every "outrage" and "victim" card going.  But the problem is that that's a predictable, old response from a candidate who's supposed to be all about hope for a "better way" of working through political disputes.  And to the extent it's used as a club against the Bush Administration, what's the point?  No one's running against it, and John McCain can credibly clarify that he had no knowledge of such activities, nor would he approve of them.

Why not shock everyone?  Be gracious, albeit without offering absolution -- and if you want to keep the story going, continue to talk about it, but in a way that's equal parts seriousness and graciousness.   In other words, if you're going to exploit the situation (and what campaign wouldn't?), at least be clever about it. 

One final advantage: The campaign runs less risk of looking petulant and paranoid if it turns out that the files of all three presidential contenders were accessed -- and if an investigation reveals that the perpetrators were simply nosy, and that there were no particular "political purposes" behind the snooping.