Funny things keep happening as the campaign season stumbles along. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say – – strange silly things that make candidates and their supporters seem like squabbling children even as they educate voters in ways unanticipated by campaign gurus. Events have a way of defining opinion quite unexpectedly. And comments that may be intended to bury an opponent or make a partisan point can come off seeming spiteful or just plain stupid.
The whole flap about Barack Obama’s use of the same rhetorical examples about “words” used in a speech by Massachusetts Governor Patrick has made the Clinton campaign look desperate rather than politically astute. By attempting to create a character issue out of something about which the governor and most of the public do not have a problem they have captured headlines without gaining ground. And the fact that in both cases the men were responding to criticism about the irrelevance of words compared to actions, or what has become the Clinton favorite, “solutions”, serves to highlight the impact words often have.
Senator McCain, old Mr. Straight-shooter, has also attacked the character of Obama by trying to sucker him into accepting public funds for the general election should he become the nominee. Obama had spoken before the campaign was at full tilt that he would be open to discussing with his opponent the details of a mutual funding agreement. But McCain’s attempt to call Obama a flip-flopper because he hasn’t agreed to accept public funds now is just a bit disingenuous. Far from capturing the high ground in this debate, McCain, it turns out, promised to use public financing of a presidential run as a form of collateral in a loan application made during his run for the nomination.
Just when it seemed that candidates would steer clear of ad hominem attacks and stick to issues, the same old same old is on the rise. Actually people most knowledgeable about the ways of Washington never believed the campaign would be a primer on high-minded political discourse. And it isn’t only candidates who might agree or disagree about appropriate tactics. Surrogates abound, popping up without warning, filling the airwaves and hogging the stage with verbal attacks that do little to add to the decorum such as it is.
In this regard President Clinton has become something of an embarrassment on the campaign trail. There he is in the spotlight and on the front pages, even though his habit of ‘sticking up’ for his wife tends to make her seem weak and his behavior diminishes him as a person and is unbecoming in a former president. It’s as if he hasn’t realized that, while his personal touch and his intelligence keep him a hot property on the lecture circuit he can’t just show up anywhere and make a difference. And by criticizing Obama for not giving the ‘90s their due, he comes across as petty and self-serving. Better to stay active with his environmental and charitable endeavors and just make an occasional comment about how great he thinks Hillary is.
But Republicans always come through with the ultimate in partisan foolishness. Senator Mitch McConnell, who has spearheaded much of the filibustering that has kept the Senate in a state of inertia, remarked the other day that the Democrats were now down to two candidates – – “a New York Senator who was born in Illinois and a Senator from Illinois who was apparently born in a manger.” One can imagine his fellow partisans howling with laughter at such cleverness. Others of us just cringe.
Interestingly there was some unexpected political fallout after the House hearings at which Roger Clemens appeared. There was a partisan tilt on the committee, Republican members seeing fit to defend Clemens and attack the trainer McNamee who testified he had injected Clemens with steroids and HGH. As it happens, people who might not ordinarily attend to such arcane matters as congressional committee hearings were listening this time. And calls to radio’s Mike and the Mad Dog program on The Fan were almost without exception enraged by the partisan display of a party they ordinarily supported, many of them saying they would no longer vote Republican.
All of which may be an indication that the public, when it is paying attention, is able to be convinced by facts and by people they see as trustworthy who rise above the spinners of deceit and confusion.