The Tipping Point on Clinton Dishonesty

At this point nobody knows who will win the Democratic nomination. Insurgent candidates typically lose to the establishment candidate. Good does not always triumph over evil. Hillary Clinton might win as a result to resorting to lies and smears. However, should Obama win, Thursday just might have been when the tipping point was reached. The campaign is not going as Obama would prefer, but he has managed to make the issue of Clinton’s dishonesty a major issue.

Making honest an issue might matter. Pollster.com shows that Obama is the candidate that voters feel is the most honest.

How important are perceptions of integrity and trust? Very. Drawing on decades of opinion poll data, political scientists identify two central traits — competence and integrity — that drive judgements about presidents and presidential candidates. “Presidents are judged,” wrote Professor Donald Kinder (with whom I once studied at the University of Michigan), ” by their intelligence, knowledge and experience on the one hand, and by their honesty, decency and ability to set a good moral example on the other” (p. 840). Candidates that are perceived to be otherwise qualified and competent lose when voters find them lacking in terms of honesty and trust. And keep in mind that the bulk of the research driving these conclusions comes from general election surveys in which perceptions of competence and integrity were sometimes strong enough to overcome partisan leanings in driving voter choices.

The media is increasingly describing the race in terms of the Clinton smear campaign and Obama’s response. Greg Sargent describes how Obama has won the “spin war.” Numerous journalists have discussed how the Clintons have responded to smears, with several of these articles discussed in previous posts here. We also find that the Clinton campaign’s response is to continue to lie, smear, and distort as they draw a false equivalency between their own smears and Obama’s response.

The Clinton campaign attempts to attack Obama regardless of how he resonds. If Obama doesn’t respond strongly the narrative is that he wouldn’t be able to stand up to similar types of attacks from Republicans. When Obama does respond they claim that he is also engaging in attacks and therefore there is no difference between Clinton and Obama. Fortunately several journalists have seen through these bogus attacks and this is reflected in the coverage.

Obama is showing that he can handle Republican attacks by handling the same types of attacks from the Clintons. There is little doubt he will criticize the Republican candidate even more strongly where there are more legitimate differences in their positions. This is far different than the Clinton strategy of inventing differences by lying about what Obama has said. Should the Republicans resort to similar lies, smears, or distortions Obama can take the higher moral ground and convince voters to reject that approach. This is something the Clintons could never do, leaving us in another cycle of the same dysfunctional partisan disputes.

By fighting back against their campaign of lies, smears, and distortions the Clintons have been forced to back down and discontinue their dishonest ad in South Carolina. Among the other accomplishments I noted yesterday, former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has criticized his old boss concluding “sadly, we’re witnessing a smear campaign against Obama that employs some of the worst aspects of the old politics.” Thursday’s must-see TV came from YouTube as Lorna Brett Howard, the former President of Chicago NOW, explains why she changed from supporting Clinton to Obama in response to the Clinton smear campaign. She explains how Obama is one hundred percent pro-choice and one hundred percent honest.

Obama has done his best to turn a bad situation to his advantage but it is not yet certain that this will be enough. Andrew Sullivan notes the problem that remains for Obama:

I think the spin war itself is a distraction from Obama’s core message – of unifying change – and distracting from that is central to the Clintons’ strategy. It seems to me that Obama needs to focus back on the case for his own candidacy, in particular, providing explicit concrete policy detail in his public presentation. The Clintons are running as prosaic general managers. Obama should not downplay his transformational potential or his broader themes. But in the battle for base voters, many people are not hearing specifics – on the economy, on healthcare, on taxes, on climate change. He has them. He needs to repeat them. With the same mind-numbing repetitiveness that the Clintons always deploy.

What Obama must do is to combine his defenses against the Clinton smear campaign with his original message. Obama has been calling for change, but not everyone was clear as to what this means. The Clintons provide an excellent example of the type of politics, and government, we need a change from. Obama must make it clear that defending himself from the Clinton smears is not only about himself, but about bringing about a necessary change in the tone of politics in this country. In contrast, Hillary Clinton offers not only a Bill Clinton third term but a third term for the ethics of George Bush and Karl Rove.

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11 Comments

  1. 1
    Luv says:

    It’s beautiful watching their wickedness continue to be exposed. But they still own the less educated/informed democratic base. Those that don’t research the lies and swallow them whole.

    I pray more light is shine on the Clintons.

  2. 2
    Nigel A says:

    I’d like to draw some comfort from this, but I think the Clintons will do to Obama’s “trust” what they’ve done with his other positives: they’ll try to drive up his negatives and blur the line between the two candidates until voters will see the two as pretty much the same and so go with the brand with more experience.

    They’ve done with his Iraq War record, his pro-choice record, and his progressive credentials. Never mind that they’re brazenly lying; low-information voters will have no idea.

    And just wait until Rezko hits. That’ll tarnish Obama’s “trust” brand enough to make it a wash between the two. And he doesn’t dare dig up any of the multiple scandals in Hillary’s past because that would mean he wasn’t transcending Washington politics.

    It’s ugly, but it’ll get the job done for Hillary.

    And, even I’m a staunch Obama supporter, part of me welcomes this challenge. He needs to prove he can take what the Republicans have waiting for him, and whining that they’re lying (sorry, but that’s how the public will see it) just won’t cut the mustard.

    I’ve said it before: he needs to rise above the fray by using humor — just the way the old Gipper did it.

  3. 3
    battlebob says:

    Nigel,
    I agree with you. Dean whined a lot in 2004 about how “dirty” the 2004 campaign season was. If you can’t take the heat winning your own nomination, then just wait until the real Roveians tear into you.
    Because of the Clintons past scandels, any contendor has a lot of ammo to use against Hillary. Obamo needs to stop complaining and start attacking.
    If Hillary wins, McCain wins in a cake walk. We need to increase our majority in Congress to counteract the spineless group we have now.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Nigel,

    Obama was using humor in his campaign before the Nevada caucus. Hopefully he can expand upon that as it might be the most effective way to both bring out Clinton’s negatives without looking like he is stooping to her level in attacking.

    Battlebob,

    There’s a fine line here between whining and using the dishonesty as a campaign issue. If it was just a matter of Bill and Hillary saying mean things then Obama would come across as whining. The important difference is that they are outright lying–as the right wing noise machine typically does. Obama needs to make dishonest campaigning, and by extension, dishonest government, the issue here. He also needs to convince primary voters that he can take down the Republican noise machine the same way as he is trying to take down the Clintons by exposing their dishonesty.

    That is the only way to end this current trend towards campaigning against how you redefine the opposition instead of campaigning against what the opposition is actually saying.

  5. 5
    I've seen the light says:

    I think both Clinton and Obama would be very capable Presidents, and their policies don’t differ dramatically, as compared with those of the Republicans. So the deciding factors for me were:

    1) ELECTABILITY- Obama has the upper hand on this as he doesn’t carry the same divisive baggage that Clinton does. He is also able to woo Independents as well as some Republicans. many Independents

    2) INTEGRITY- I’ve watched each campaign closely and have done my own fact-checking on the accusations being thrown by both sides. I’m disappointed, to put it mildly, by the Clinton’s gross misrepresentation of Obama’s positions and records. To compare and contrast eachother’s records is one thing, but to make up falsehoods to demonize the other candidate and earn votes is Karl-rovesque, and this is the dirty politics I’m sick and tired of. It is also obvious to me that the Clintons are playing the race card and trying to marginalize Obama as a black candidate, so that they (the Clintons) can secure the Caucasian vote.

    As a Democrat and a huge supporter of the Clintons in the 90s, I have now seen the light and seen through their machinations. Hillary (and Bill) have lost my vote, and tomorrow, I will go to South Carolina to “Get out the Vote” for Obama. Should Hillary Clinton win the nomination, I will stay home during the general election.

  6. 6
    The Charters Of Dreams says:

    Looks like the NYTimes tipped in favor of Clinton:

    The New York Times on Thursday endorsed Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton and Republican Sen. John McCain for their party’s nominations to contest the U.S. presidential election in November,” reports Reuters. “In selecting Clinton, a New York senator, the influential newspaper’s editorial board said her experience gave her an advantage over her chief rival in the Democratic race, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, though on the major issues they were not that different. … In backing McCain, the Times editorial board said it had strong disagreements with all the Republicans running for the presidency, but among them the Arizona senator was an easy choice.”

    I’m not sure what type of experience the NYTimes is backing here — that HC is an out-of-her-godd**mn mind extreme leftist?

    OK — while Hillary Clinton is no socialist, she makes her rejection of liberal values explicit – dismissing “freedom and opportunity [and] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as irrelevant to people’s real lives – she is far too reminiscent of some of the most authoritarian figures of the 20th century. Lenin, for instance, wrote, “Bourgeois democracy is democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, exuberant promises and the high-sounding slogans of freedom and equality.”

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    I never expected the NY Times to endorse anyone other than the Senator from New York.

    The manner in which she has often dismissed liberal values has long been a concern of mine about her. Even if one supports government solutions to a problem I would hope that they would at least show some understanding of the objections based upon a decrease in individual choice, as Obama has. To the Clintons the government is a gigantic tool to use as they see fit without regard to the principles involved. We see this in Clinton’s ideas ranging to how extremely regimented HillaryCare was to her support for various nanny state policies.

  8. 8
    Dave Stickler says:

    I’m calling all three campaigns to tell them that, if Hillary is the nominee, I’ll either throw my support behind McCain or Bloomberg, or, if neither is there, I’ll stay home.

    I hope anyone else who feels the same way will do the same. Phone numbers are on the campaign sites.

  9. 9
    Jeanette Wolter says:

    I’ll be voting for McCain if Hillary gets the nomination, too.

    I’ll be calling the Campaigns, too.

  10. 10
    Trollfighter says:

    Voting for McCain if Hillary wins is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    (At least her husband balanced the budget….)

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:

    Her husband balanced the budget when there was a Republican Congress. Having Hillary as president without a Congress from the opposing party to keep her in line is a totally different matter.

    I doubt I could actually vote for McCain, but there are certainly advantages (as well as disadvantages) to having McCain as president along with a Democratic Congress. Considering how conservative Clinton is on social issues and civil liberties issues, her support for the war, and her lack of integrity, I don’t see any strong reasons to get out to vote for Clinton over McCain.

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