Fascinating. It’s been that kind of week. The Clinton-Punjab/Obama Memo provoked more than the press. It provoked tempers, panic, a flurry of emails about who was to blame and what to do about it. Finally, this message went out: “Wait a minute–everybody take a deep breath here…” and the internet chatter turned to our methods of communicating wisely in general and the Clinton/Obama memo flap in particular.
So. There’s been a lot of deep breathing going on. I wrote a friend/Obama supporter that it reminded me of nothing so much as LaMaze classes. Prepared Political Childbirth. Keep your eyes on the focal point, take a cleansing breath and don’t fight the contraction. That only makes it worse.
Take a deep breath is almost always the best advice. This time was no exception.
Clearly some folks on the Obama campaign staff were hyperventillating. Their memo was, at best, a clumsy effort and the thing backfired. Badly.
One of the smartest Obama supporters I know had this to say about it: “What’s really disappointing is that the topic of outsourcing (how, when, where, why) is now buried under the question of presentation. It’s hard to focus on the substantive issues when the spotlight is on the style (or lack thereof) of a candidate’s staff.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. The serious issue of outsourcing American jobs gets lost in a muddle of poorly chosen or unclear rhetoric. What should have been sharp analysis based on the issue involved became a perceived attack on the person involved. Worse, lack of clarity gave rise to accusations of racism, xenophobia and smear tactics. Nothing could be further from the truth about this candidate or his campaign.
That’s politics. Happens every day. It shouldn’t be such a big deal–except that it is. I watched Chris Cillizza opine on the Clinton/Obama memo this week. I hated hearing what he said because it doesn’t seem fair that this campaign can be wounded by a single ill-considered incident. But, fair or not, Cillizza had a point: When a candidate chooses to run a “different kind of campaign”, when the bar is set at our being “above the fray” of the politics-as-usual rabble, then he–and all of us involved–are held to a higher standard of behavior than that of any other campaign.
Years ago Ronald Reagan set the Republican standard with his “Golden Rule” for the Right. You don’t poison your own pond. It’s worked well for them. Our getting juiced and tainting our progressive movement with knee-jerk, taunting language or going after John Edwards’ hair or Hillary’s personality or any other liberal candidate’s foibles as we perceive them is self-destructive. That kind of angry or careless “She’s/he’s the enemy!” approach is damaging to the quest for change. And we all agree, no matter which Democrat we support, that change is the imperative. We don’t get there using the same old tactics. We, on the Left, are not the enemy. The enemy of positive change is in the White House, on the Right.
Let’s not beat ourselves. It’s about the issues. We go after the differences on those issues. We stress, again and again, the postitives of our candidate’s philosophy of governance: the common good, civil discourse, consensus, bridging the great divide between the haves and the have-nots–both here and abroad. We speak to his eloquence. His intellect. His authenticity. His ability to communicate, to a world grown intolerant of and fearful of this Aggressive America, that we are better than this. We need to rekindle the flames of a national conscience. We had one once. What we need in memo form are Obama’s policies and his vision for change.
And this point needs to be made to both the press and the public: You can’t have it both ways here, folks. You can’t criticize Barack Obama, post-debates, for his “weakness” and an implied “inability to lead” when he doesn’t go for the jugular, draw blood attacking other candidates for the nomination–then go after him with a vengeance if/when either he or his staff appears to be on the attack. It’s hypocritical and that dog won’t hunt.
As for the rest of us, let’s do a little of that deep breathing and get back to work. As my Obama supporter friend said to me, “Unless perfection is the new cut-off point, let’s move on.” She’s one smart cookie–and she’s seldom short of breath.