Friday, December 07, 2007

Flop Like Vlade; Obama’s Got Game

The following excerpt from this Washington Post article is a brief but good encapsulation of the case in point in this post:

Over the weekend, the Clinton camp sent reporters a memo taking Obama to task for saying he hadn't been planning for years to run for president _ unlike "some of the other candidates."

On the contrary, the Clinton folks said, he'd made his plans clear to law school friends and even wrote an essay as a young child saying that was his ambition.
After an event in Iowa on Monday, Obama was asked to comment and said, "No."

But then he said, "It's silly season. I understand she's been quoting my kindergarten teacher in Indonesia." He then walked out of the room without responding to additional shouted questions.

Anyone reading this exchange would think that Barack Obama gave an evasive answer at best, then refused to elaborate on the Clinton camp’s charge about his longstanding ambitions (good) in that he was being less than truthful about them (bad). But that was not story that dominated the media and the blogs. Instead Mr. Obama’s countercharge was so effective that the Clinton camp had to take the purportedly offensive memo off its official web site. Fortunately, the offensive document is available on a Hillary-news web site here. If you don’t have the time to read it, imagine a stand-up comic:

Look, Obama was running for president, no s---, the moment he hit the Senate floor. I mean his biographer says so, and he must know, because Obama told his brother-in-law he wanted to run for president, and that was before he even ran for dog catcher. Hey, that’s what he was telling his classmates in law school. Oh, and speaking of classmates, get this, there’s this third-grade essay by Obama titled “I Want to Be a President”. No, wait, there’s more, there’s his kindergarten essay: title? “I Want to Become President”, natch! Ha ha HAHAHAHA ha… ha…

Okay, I bombed.”

But it was a joke, claimed the Clinton camp, and I believe those guys. The third grade and kindergarten part, that is. Nevertheless, the “she accused him of lying because he’d written an essay in kindergarten, for goodness sakes” took off like hell, though Mrs. Clinton proved, unlike John F. Kerry and Shinzō Abe, that she knew when to stop talking and cut losses.

So why did one narrative, which looks closer to the facts of the case, fail to take hold while another, less truthful countercharge stuck? For one thing, “Clinton’s Kindergarten Offensive” makes a better headline than, say, “Obama’s Presidential Ambitions Pre-Date Political Career”. But that’s what happens when the gag writers are a humorless bunch of control-freaks. And that leads to the real problem for Mrs. Clinton, which is that the media simply don’t like her.

As I’ve written before, the media will cut you little slack if they don’t like you, and, when they have competing narratives to choose from, will go with the one that hurts you most. As the 2000 Presidential election showed, this has little to do with the overall media bias*.

So why don’t they like Mrs. Clinton? In her case, I believe that the foremost reason for this is the sense (rather than the actual fact, including this case) of being controlled and manipulated. Her margin of error is correspondingly narrow.

Mr. Obama’s more casual supporters must be very happy, now that they know that he can flop like Vlade Divac**, that he can play the political game with the best of them*. He needs that as his star rises, exposing him to enemy - and friendly - fire. Moreover, it’s an indication that he (likely Mike Huckabee as well) is this presidential campaign’s Teflon candidate. There can be nothing but good coming to the Obama camp from that.

* The “liberal” media also shamelessly carried the “Al Gore invented the Internet” trope.

** His poker cronies and pickup basketball buddies probably already knew that. His years in Chicago politics also prepared him for that. The media took note of this at the beginning of his campaign but tended to forget about it as he cultivated the image of the great unifier of your hopes and dreams.

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