Friday, August 03, 2007


The Hillary-Dick Problem

Hillary Clinton can't win with Dick Morris. In his latest column, he goes after the former first lady for committing a "big-time goof" in her tiff last week with Obama on the idea of negotiating wtih U.S. "enemies":
Put very simply, Hillary is on the wrong side of this particular issue for the Democratic primary electorate. Scott Rasmussen's daily tracking poll shows that Democrats agree with Obama that the president should meet with these foreign leaders without preconditions by 55 percent to 22. His polling shows that Democrats are outsiders who take literally JFK's thesis that we "should never negotiate out of fear, but should never fear to negotiate."


But most Americans, and especially most Democrats, think that this kind of insider-think is precisely the problem with our foreign policy. They see nothing lost by negotiating and much potential gain from coming to points of mutual understanding.

But the real question is: Why have Hillary and her people persisted in using this issue to beat Obama over the head? Aren't they polling? Do they not know that the issue is bad for them -- or, with Hillary staking out an intransigent and stubborn position, do they not care?

So, in Morris' eyes, there are only two possible options for Hillary's actions -- both negative: Her campaign is either incompetent -- "Aren't they polling? Do they not know that the issue is bad for them..." -- or too intractable, "staking out an intransigent and stubborn position..."It is impossible for Morris to consider that Hillary has crafted a political image for her campaign of a strong leader, unafraid to take positions that might put her at variance with some aspects of her base -- in order to be in the strongest possible position for the general election campaign.

Andrew Sullivan has been taking Hillary to task in a similar fashion for being a Democrat scarred by the culture wars of the '70s and '80s -- and thus drafts her campaign cautiously out of fear of being branded as a "liberal."

I think something else is going on here.

Hillary has made a decision from the beginning of her campaign that, when it comes to issues of national security, she is going to be the strongest, most forceful, candidate in the field. She, too, will demonstrate "no fear", -- but lack of fear in a specific manner: No fear of using force, no fear of using nuclear weapons. Hillary recognizes that, apart from the specific problems she has to overcome as "Hillary Rodham Clinton," she recognizes that she has to overcome the perception that a woman won't be as tough as a man -- particularly in a wartime environment.

That is why she hasn't backed away from her war vote. That's why she jumped on Obama over the "negotiating with dictators." She probably knows full well that she'll take a small hit over it with Democrats -- just like she knows that she might get a small bump from Democrats if she disavowed her war vote. But she knows that backing down would have a much more damaging impact on the broader strategy she is pursuing -- a strong woman who is ready to be the commander-in-chief.

And, given Obama's arguable stumbles since that debate moment -- from invading Pakistan to use of nuclear weapons, it looks like Hillary's framing of him as "inexperienced" is ringing true. Because Morris is still obsessed by the poll-driven triangulation method of the '90s, he can't even credit Hillary for having a smart strategy that doesn't expose her to the sort of tactical landmines that Obama is inflicting upon himself.

But Dick Morris has blinders when it comes to Hillary and he can't see that she is running a very smart campaign -- which may well explain why she is consistently leading Obama.

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