Much attention is being given today to an interview with Hillary Clinton's NH co-campaign chair, Bill Shaheen. Having read through it, Shaheen's (and presumably the Clinton campaign that he represents) argument against Obama borders on the delusional. At the very least, it is completely ignorant of anything resembling a fact. More importantly, though, it shows a deep condescension towards the ability of voters to separate the important from the unimportant.
Some of the more condescending points raised:
[Shaheen] remains perplexed about why, at this fraught point in history, voters and the media are not giving more attention to experienced Democratic candidates such as Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden and are instead elevating into the first tier alongside Clinton a pair of candidates with less experience in Washington, Barack Obama and John Edwards.
While I think John Edwards is scary, I certainly understand his appeal. More importantly, though, I think anyone with half a brain cell understands Obama's appeal: he represents real change. If the Clinton campaign (and other politicians/members of the MSM) learned anything from the 2006 elections, it should have been that voters- especially independents- are really fed up with the status quo in a way they haven't been for many, many years. The fact is that the relative inexperience of Obama and Edwards is in many ways precisely what makes them appealing to many voters. Put another way: from the perspective of the average Dem voter, they each represent an opportunity for the type of systemic change that many wish to see. Meanwhile, Clinton has pretty much monopolized the vote of those who think that party labels have real meaning and that the problem isn't our political system- it's just a problem of who is running the system. I know I'm not the first to point out that substantively, there is almost no difference between Hillary and Rudy; the primary difference, really, is just the letter after their names.
Continuing on with Shaheen's interview:
Shaheen also expressed his personal misgivings about whether Obama or Edwards
would be electable if they became the party's nominee.
I'm hardly the first to point this out, but both Obama and Edwards do far better against every potential Republican nominee than Hillary. Moreover, Hillary is one of the most known quantities in American politics; she's also notoriously one of the most polarizing. The idea that somehow she can do better than her current numbers in a general election, while Obama and Edwards could not possibly equal their current numbers in a general election is, to say the least, preposterous. If the Clinton campaign thinks it can win by continuing its strategy of pushing Clinton's "electability" at this point, then she will continue to lose ground as the idea that she is more "electable" continues to be proven false. Another thing with this is of course the condescending attitude of such a campaign strategy, suggesting that no matter what the facts say, Hillary is more electable; the attitude suggested with such a strategy smacks of Rumsfeldian arrogance.
Finally, there's this gem, which has been the source of the most discussion today. Shaheen says in defense of his statement about Obama's electability:
"The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight ... and one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use," said Shaheen, the husband of former N.H. governor Jeanne Shaheen, who is planning to run for the Senate next year. Billy Shaheen contrasted Obama's openness about his past drug use -- which Obama mentioned again at a recent campaign appearance in New Hampshire -- with the approach taken by George W. Bush in 1999 and 2000, when he ruled out questions about his behavior when he was "young and irresponsible." Shaheen said Obama's candor on the subject would "open the door" to further questions. "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'" Shaheen said. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."
To which I say, "Huh?" So, Obama's candor about his past drug use is MORE of a liability than Bill Clinton's patently ridiculous "I didn't inhale" statement or Dubya's various non-denial denials? As I seem to recall, both politicians managed to overcome the overall questions about their drug use; the questions that dogged them more permanently, however, were their cover-ups and half-truths. I fail to see how a politician caught in a lie/half-truth about past drug use is somehow less open to attacks than a politician who is completely honest about past drug use.
There is one other little issue here, which supporters of the war on (some) drugs like to ignore: there are a hell of a lot of people in this country who have smoked marijuana and who have tried cocaine (though far, far fewer). Officially, the number of admitted past marijuana users is around 40% (sorry- the official link is dead); of course, this ignores the fact that any studies of drug use involve an inherent propensity for underreporting. Either way, with such a high number of people who have tried illegal drugs at one point or another in their life, I fail to see how being honest about one's past drug use is a major political liability - especially for a Democrat. Let's be honest- the people who care most about a politician's past drug use aren't exactly a group that is likely to support a Democrat in the first place, and I'd be interested to see how many such people would be willing to support Hillary but not Obama.
But the lack of trust that Shaheen shows in voters' ability to "forgive" the drug use of a 42 year old man who last used drugs in college is astounding. More astounding is his suggestion that somehow voters would care more about that than they did about George Bush's drunk driving conviction at the not-so-young age of 30 or the not-really-denied allegations of Bush's own cocaine use at around that same age. There seems to be this attitude from the Clinton campaign generally, and Shaheen's comments specifically, that the Clinton campaign knows more than the voters do about which issues are important to the voters.
As someone who looks forward to celebrating the demise of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate (and who has a lot of respect for Obama), I can only say that I personally hope the Clinton campaign continues to live in its ivory tower where it thinks it knows the voters better than the voters know themselves.