Hillary's Surrogates Sling Smut at Obama

Now that we are in full primary mode and Super Tuesday is just weeks away, we've witnessed divergent interest within the Democratic Party playing their respective cards last week in New Hampshire.

If we start with the candidates, Hillary Clinton played the experience card, Barack Obama the hope card, John Edwards the populist card (but this is morphing into the desperate card), and Bill Richardson played his last card.

But other cards are being played at the same time, none more than the Clinton campaign and its surrogates.

Gloria Steinem, a Clinton supporter, in a New York Times op-ed last week played the gender card. Her hypothetical opening paragraph, where she oversimplifies Obama's background, assumed in her analogy that instead of Obama it was a woman with those qualifications. After setting up this defenseless straw man (or would it be straw woman) she asks:

Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?

On its face, it is hard to argue with Steinem's assumptions. To make her point, however, Steinem must ignore that Clinton did not possess as much experience as former candidates Dodd, Biden, or Richardson.

If Obama being male got him in the presidential sweepstakes, what was it for Clinton? Was it gender, 35-years experience, or the benefits associated with having a certain nom du famille?

But as Steinem attempts to argue that the sex barrier is not taken as seriously as the racial one, she omits that Obama must walk the constant tight rope of putting white voters at ease by not playing the vaunted race card without alienating a segment of black voters who worry that he has somehow neglected their issues.

But perhaps the most troubling card played was that of former president Bill Clinton; he played the petty card.

When it seemed that Hillary was headed for certain defeat, the former president managed to take a question about strategist Mark Penn, who sent an email to the media erroneously suggesting there was no post Iowa bounce for Obama and transform it into a 3-minute slash and burn session.

The former president manipulated two of Obama's statements and justified his position using "I," "me," and "my" several times over to describe how he was skewered, while mentioning Hillary twice, calling Obama's run the "the biggest fairy tale" that he has ever seen.

The level at which the former president is involved in a contested presidential primary charts new ground for American politics. He certainly did not look like a former president; and he did not exhibit much respect for a current member of the Senate.

Perhaps he has good reason to be frustrated, but to exhibit it in such a pathetically brazen way devalues the stature granted to former presidents.

Having fallen from the crest of inevitability the Clinton campaign was forced to quickly retool. The result: If we can't win above the fray, we'll settle for victory down in the gutter.

I found it quite telling when Clinton showed a rare sign of emotion last week, she stated: "You know, this is very personal for me." Does that include transforming into Nixon and going after Obama as if we were Helen Gahagan Douglas?

The cards played by the Clinton campaign may have been the difference in winning New Hampshire, but at what cost? Clinton's negatives consistently poll in the mid-40 percentile. In a CNN/Gallup poll taken last month she had a 48% unfavorable rating. That leaves little margin for error for victory in November should she get the nomination.

Maybe Nixon's 1968 playbook is the answer for the 2008 Clinton campaign. You don't have to be liked, just be tough, formidable, smart, and divisive enough to carve out a majority of the electorate to secure the nomination in the summer and 270 electoral votes in the fall.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. Email him at byron@byronspeaks.com.