The Stupidity of the 'Obama is too liberal' Attack

by: Matt Stoller

Sat Jan 05, 2008 at 12:38


There are any number of criticisms that candidates could have used  against Obama. 

Since declaring for President, this person has called Social Security a 'crisis', attacked trial lawyers, associated unapologetically with vicious homophobes, portrayed Gore and Kerry as excessively polarizing losers, boasted as his central achievement an irrelevant ethics bill, ran against the DC establishment while taking huge amounts of cash from DC, undermined Ned Lamont in 2006, criticized NAFTA while voting for a NAFTA-style trade agreement, compiled opposition research on the most effective liberal pundit in the country, refused to promise that American troops would be out of Iraq by 2013, and endorsed the central plank of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy doctrine, the war on terror.

So what does Clinton do when Obama takes the lead?  She criticized, or rather, has her surrogates criticize Obama as 'too liberal' on background to reporters.  It's the sleaziest dumbest attack possible, both decrepit and musty in its form and substance.  The 'too liberal' attack was used against Democrats in 2006, and it didn't work.  More to the point, this is a Democratic primary.  What the hell?

There have been plenty of ways to puncture Obama's mystique, but they are all from the left.  And for some reason, no one will make those arguments.  What's ironic about the Clinton campaigns attacks on Obama is that Peter Daou, who coined the term 'Daou Triangle' to illustrate a process for moving narratives into the media by having candidates cooperate with internet communities, works for Clinton, and she has completely failed to move any negative narratives about Obama.  But really, this shouldn't be a surprise, as coming at someone from the left is extremely rare, even if it might be effective.

Anyway, I feel a bit like I'm sitting in the middle of the dot com boom right now, with people telling me I don't understand the new economy which operates by different rules.  Profits are no longer important, there are boundariless organizations, and it's going to be a long prosperous boom with no more business cycles.  And I'm the curmodgen saying that the rules of politics, the nasty and hyperpartisan right-wing, have not been repealed. 

Matt Stoller :: The Stupidity of the 'Obama is too liberal' Attack

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She's done a number of these Rovian, fear-mongering attacks, (0.00 / 0)
and I can't understand how she thinks it's a smart counter to Obama's optimism. I think most people are probably really burnt out on Rovian fear by now, especially Democrats.

Liberals believe that you can change things for the better (0.00 / 0)
And conservatives don't.  I think that Paul Rosenberg claimed that his liberalism was actually conservative and the fact that conservatives went for edwards reinforces that ideal I think.

Obama is a liberal because he believes he can change things for the better.  Edwards is conservative because he says you can't because you can't trust people.  They are too greedy, stupid, malicious, etc.

As far as the efficacy of the clinton attack.  I think she has nothing left.  Its funny I was just reading redstate and some people were saying that if it was Huckabee vs Obama they would sit this election out because of Obama's foriegn policy positions.


wow what a comment (4.00 / 1)
Edwards doesn't believe you can change things for the better?

I sure that will come a surprise to him.


[ Parent ]
Not really (0.00 / 0)
I doubt he has ever called himself a liberal.

The whole "Edwards is a leftist" was always an ill fitting suit.


[ Parent ]
Re: "Liberal" (0.00 / 0)
He calls himself a "Progressive" constantly, even more than Obama does. What, do synonyms not count anymore?

Former Edwards Supporter, Obama Supporter since January 30, 2008

[ Parent ]
Synonyms Are So.... I Don't Know... SECOND Millenium, You Know (0.00 / 0)
Guttenberg, and all that jazz.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Well, many of the quoted attack lines (4.00 / 3)
are just as stupid.

Called Gore and Kerry "polarizing losers"???  He did no such thing, he simply suggested that Democrats could run better campaigns than in 2000 and 2004.

"Attacked trial lawyers"????  Not really, merely said he decided to become a community organizer instead.

I could go on and on with all the other false lines of attack mentioned there, but yeah, the "he's too liberal" is probably the stupidest.


I don't think that the "Obama is too liberal" (4.00 / 2)
is a deliberate attack on Obama through surrogates. Matt Yglesias' take on it makes more sense; the Clinton campaign is in disarray, without a clear strategy in place for coming in third to Obama and Edwards in Iowa. So centrist members of her staff are grumbling to the press that Obama is just too liberal to really have a chance in the general, because that's what they really believe. If they had really planned this line of attack, it would be more focused, louder, and with a little more detail behind it.

IOW, it's a stupid strategy because it's not a real strategy at all.

Join us at the Missouri community blog Show Me Progress!


New Hampshire (0.00 / 0)
up until the last few years has been a red state. Now it is purple. There are plenty of of conservative Dems and Independent in NH. If Clinton can get them to not vote for Obama and vote for her by painting him too liberal then it's a smart strategy "for NH".

I don't think either Yglesias or you are looking past your nose on this. Clinton ran third to Edwards by .4%. In other words it was a virtual tie. And she is either leading or tied currently in NH not counting an apparent outlier poll.

I don't think they are disarray - but they are in a battle.

Everyone here ought to take note of David Brooks' favorite Democratic candidate - Obama. He did many columns on Obama pumping him up. David Brooks! If you want a guy who Brooks wants - who is campaigning on getting along with Republicans who will never try to get along and will use their minority position in the Senate to stop anything that even approaches the things Progressives want then you have all flipped your lids. Not to mention recent Obama's attack on Liberals as of late. You want a guy who has been attacking liberals and Social Security???

If the nation elects this guy on his "emotional" unity message come January 21, 2009 you will all be left at the alter with broken promises. Not only will unity fail but the republicans are going to do everything they can to show that a Democratic President is a losing proposition and they will have a good go at the WH in 2012 and probably win then and keep winning as they did for decades after they "Carter-ize" Obama.

That's why Clinon, the un-ideal progressive choice, is the better choice because with her experience she won't be run over like Obama will and will do all she can to keep us in the WH for years to come.

Personally I'd rather have a fighter in the WH that a wet behind the ears rookie who is going to get "Carter-ized" stomped to death. No emotional pleas of unity are going to save Obama from the savages. Sweet talking your way into office is one thing, but sweet talking isn't going to cut it when the shit hit the fan.


[ Parent ]
uh me and Yglesias think it's not even a strategy (0.00 / 0)
because they aren't really doing it. You think a couple of staffers grumbling to a reporter that Obama is too liberal is going to penetrate to voters? They need to push harder with this line than that, and there's no indication yet that they are doing so.

As to the wisdom of the strategy, it would have made sense if Clinton herself hadn't veered left during the primary, but attacking him by practically calling him a communist this late in the game will just make her look stupid.

Join us at the Missouri community blog Show Me Progress!


[ Parent ]
I'm Sure David Brooks (0.00 / 0)
agrees with you. Probably Tom Friedman also.

[ Parent ]
I imagine that she now sees herself caught.... (0.00 / 0)
....between trying to neutralize Obama's support among independents, while not scaring the Patrician class upon whose continued benediction she is counting (for funding, coverage, endorsements, etc).  All she has to do is look at how Edwards is being treated now, and how Gore was treated in 2000, to see what would happen to her where she to try to tack left.

I have always suspected that Obama's role all along was to suck the oxygen out of any truly populist surge in the primaries.  Is it possible that, now that Obama may be looking acceptable to the Patricians, she is as much concerned with neutralizing his appeal to them as to independents?

I presume that at least the odious Penn and assorted baggage will be jettisoned after NH.


Here's the problem (4.00 / 1)
  Liberal positions are popular positions, for the most part -- I'm sure everybody here's seen those polls that show the public tacking to the left on almost all policy issues, especially when party labels are removed from the questions.

  But the beltway anti-liberal culture in which Hillary Clinton's been marinated for the last fifteen years has so penetrated her campaign's psyche and messaging (she IS the DLC candidate, after all) that they can ONLY attack from the right. That's what they're conditioned to do. They don't really have a CHOICE; attacking someone -- anyone -- from the left is completely antithetical and foreign to High Broderism.  They wouldn't know how to go about it.

  And then there's the pesky inconvenient fact that attacking Obama from the left would cast a new spotlight on Hillary's very right-wing votes, especially on Iraq, which the beltway media has declared irrelevant but the public hasn't. Her credibility with much of the base is shaky enough as it is; she can't afford to lose any more.

  So they do the only thing they know how to do. It's a high-risk gamble; we'll see if it works...

 

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


Clinton's campaign .. (0.00 / 0)
is obviously very unprepared for what happened in Iowa .. they never planned for the possibility of losing in Iowa .. so now they are screwed

[ Parent ]
Well, maybe "screwed" is too strong... (0.00 / 0)
  ...but I DO agree that I think they really did believe that this was all going to be one long Hillary coronation.

  If they were arrogant enough to not even CONSIDER that they MIGHT lose, and have a backup plan in place, then they DESERVED to lose.

  But Hillary's vaunted organization has not gone anywhere. It would be very dangerous for Obama and Edwards to underestmate her. And remember she's the DLC candidate -- there are likely some dirty tricks waiting in the wings.

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


[ Parent ]
I don't under estimate her ... (0.00 / 0)
it's just that Obama outflanked her ... so far ... Obama has been good at getting new people to the polls(or caucus in this case) .. we'll see if Hillary can counter it now

[ Parent ]
I think they only planned on losing to Edwards (0.00 / 0)
Losing to Obama was much worse for her because he is stronger in NH than Edwards.

[ Parent ]
Another thought... (4.00 / 1)
  For an "establishment" candidate to attack another one from the left would give mass circulation to progressive arguments -- that the Iraq war was wrong and dumb, that the Bush administration is the most radically lawless and extreme in American history, that the economy is only working for elites, that our health-care system is a trainwreck. And that's something the media gatekeepers aren't going to allow. Note that the one "mainstream" candidate who HAS been making those kinds of arguments, John Edwards, has been blacked out by the media.

  I'd submit that's what makes attacks from the left so comparatively rare among candidates, even when they're warranted. And it does cast John Edwards as a man of unusual courage in this particular regard -- and Mike Huckabee, for that matter. He's no progressive, but he IS making populist arguments, which the for-profit media doesn't permit.

  The attacks from the left are reserved for the Kucinich types -- they're easily dismissed as "kooks".

"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn


Plus, it doesn't work because of Edwards... (0.00 / 0)
Clinton: Obama is too liberal!
Edwards: Obama is not progressive enough!


Further Reading

You DON'T Understand! 2+2=22! (4.00 / 1)
Anyway, I feel a bit like I'm sitting in the middle of the dot com boom right now, with people telling me I don't understand the new economy which operates by different rules.

It's the new new math!  Rhymes with "Shining Path"!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


Though Clinton on CNN says right things (4.00 / 2)
I'll have to take Matt's word (and that of others) that the surrogates are making stupid attacks on Obama.  But CNN this morning was broadcasting a clip of Hilary speaking in NH which was something we need candidates to do a lot more of: namely, to criticize the Republican party, Bush, and the current candidates for having screwed up the country.  She actually said they need to take responsibility for having done so, and predicted that they wouldn't.  This is very good messaging for the democrats, and the Obama and Edwards are not on the TV saying the same things right now.  So kudos to Clinton at least for this one-day move to make the right attack on the right people.

Ump.


Obama isn't saying it ... (0.00 / 0)
because he doesn't want to discourage new voters ... but I thought Edwards could have capitalized on it

[ Parent ]
Good Analogy (0.00 / 0)
Anyway, I feel a bit like I'm sitting in the middle of the dot com boom right now, with people telling me I don't understand the new economy which operates by different rules.  Profits are no longer important, there are boundariless organizations, and it's going to be a long prosperous boom with no more business cycles.  And I'm the curmodgen saying that the rules of politics, the nasty and hyperpartisan right-wing, have not been repealed.

I'm an Obama supporter (was leaning, now very strong) but I think this analogy is really good.  In the long term, you are correct.

But also like the dot com boom, it really did hold up for several years.  I think Obama's approach really will work for the first few years of his presidency.  Although the special interest will be the same, the climate in the country after an Obama win will be quite different.  It is hard for a Republican senator to block progressive legislation when his own voters don't want him to.

Eventually, of course, the honeymoon is over and the old rules come back, but a whole lot can be done in the meantime.

The dot com bust was painful and we won't like it when politics return to normal in Washington.  However, just like the dot com bust, the remaining internet will be real.  The Democratic majority built by Obama will last far longer than his actual ability to bring the country together.


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