Retail Politics, Up Close and Personal
by Robert Amoroso
January 12, 2008
published in BrooWaha New York
If anything, this primary season has proven anything but dull, what seemed to be a sure thing only a few short months ago is now at best, “unpredictable”. Both the projected front runners of their respective parties, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani have seemingly lost their air of invincibility, and what seems to be emerging is at last, an old fashion presidential horse race.
Technology not withstanding, grassroots and retail politics has once again taken hold within this primary season. While the mainstream media, political strategists, polls, slick TV ads and the internet can usually manipulate perception of a candidate’s accomplishments, the current process taking place has once again eliminated the buffers that insulate the candidates, disarming them from the traditional use of surrogates; they are forced to speak directly to the voters. With the veneer finally stripped off, they are forced to make clear their principles and their policies. Of course, not all seem to be comfortable within this environment.
Hillary Clinton’s seemingly invincible lead going into Iowa all but evaporated, as Obama’s message of “change’ began to resonate with the voters. Her campaigns ill conceived strategy of scripting in advance questions to be asked of her, at town hall meetings became a hot topic within the media, portraying her once again as less then candied and contrived. The personal attacks on Senator Obama, by key members of her staff, also quickly eroded her lead and turned the tide towards Obama.
My sense is that aside from the obvious policy differences, what sets Hillary apart from the likes of a Mike Huckabee, a John McCain or a Barack Obama can best be described as “genuine”. While Hillary Clinton is an accomplished politician and indeed a major force within the Democratic Party, she lacks that one ingredient, that of “believability”…she’s simply not genuine, and while her handlers, political strategists and focus groups can usually circumvent this character flow, this process of retail politics leaves her venerable.
Nothing seemed more apparent, then the Democratic Debate held in New Hampshire, a few weeks ago. While Obama was confident and at ease, Clinton by contrast seemed strident, and rigid in her domineer. Coming off that devastating lose in Iowa she once again tried to take the offensive by attacking Obama’s character, mockingly suggesting that he should debate himself, which drew a surprised retort not from Obama, but rather from Edwards, who took the unusual opportunity to scold Hillary, and remind her of her own short comings. Hillary however continued the attack trying to draw a distinction between her 35 years experience and Obama’s relative inexperience and youth.
Of course one might ask if being “first lady” qualifies anyone for the Presidency, in truth Senator Obama has held “elective office” longer then that of Senator Clinton. Obviously, the junior senator from New York finds herself in this place and time, not through any noteworthy accomplishments, but rather as the spouse of a popular former president. To suggest anything else would be foolish. Oddly enough, all of the presidential candidates have long and impressive resumes, most have been chief executives, balanced a budget, and have made policy dissections, and while the focus seems to be on both Senator’s Obama and Clinton, in truth, they have the least experience in governing.
Like John F. Kennedy before him, Obama brings a youthful exuberance of hope and perhaps that’s where his strength lies. His charisma, his command of the English language and his incredible speaking style has made him a formidable force within the Democratic Party. If anything, Obama seems to have redefined politics among his legends of young fans, and that’s a good thing.
However, as New Hampshire has just proved, nothing should be taken for granted this primary season. Hillary Clinton down in the polls by as much as 13% to Barack Obama, only days ago, came surging back to win the “Granite State”. Her tearful and emotional meltdown only a day before the voting seemed to have done the trick, in solidifying the uncommitted vote, and while the mini meltdown seemed genuine, one can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t perhaps scripted. Of course we’ll never know, and I would imagine that aside from Hillary, tearful and emotional meltdowns among the candidates wouldn’t play to well with the voters.
Hillary of course, is in a unique position, aside from the accepted emotional rollercoaster ride, she can also be above the fray while her surrogates and her husband, the former president savage Obama at will, as was demonstrated recently at Dartmouth College.
Bill Clinton erupted, lashing out at Senator Obama’s experience, “it is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war every year. Give me a break, this whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen”, he fumed.
For his part Obama was gracious in his assessment of Clinton’s outburst, shrugging it off, as nothing more then a husband trying to protect his wife. The advantage for the Clinton’s however, is that they can collectively attack Obama’s record, while Obama needs to be careful on how he responds to the former president.
Obviously, Obama has tapped into something special within the Democratic Party and Hillary and company are regrouping, trying to figure out how best to handle him without appearing to be mean-spirited and perhaps alienating their base. Of course they’ll use every trick in the book and will continue playing hardball, as only the Clinton’s can.
Retail politics can best be described as an endurance test, in both mind and body, the voters and the viewing public get to see the candidates up close and personal. They get to assess each candidate’s qualification. More importantly, they can gage (to some extent) how a candidate may react to the unexpected, and while domestic issues are indeed important, world events (from my perspective), still dominate the landscape.
Copyright © 2007 Robert Amoroso