Winning Ugly

By: NATHAN RILEY | No sooner had the reassuring words on primary night pledging a common purpose been uttered, then New Hampshire was forgotten and the Democratic presidential contest hit a nasty phase. The message took second place, and division triumphed over unity.

The breast beating and war cries were a response to a new reality. Obama's Iowa victory changed the paradigm for black voters; they were saying this guy can win. In significant numbers these voters are leaving Hillary and backing Barack.

Clinton moved to stop her erosion in support and Obama sought to encourage it. Adding to the tension is the makeup of the South Carolina Democrats – close to a majority of the voters are African American. Obama's gains in black support could help him win this next major primary. Unhappily, the temptation to go negative could not be denied.

Obama's team raised the question of whether Hillary had given Texan Lyndon Johnson the lion's share of credit for the Civil Rights revolution when in fact Martin Luther King, Jr., had provided the fire and Johnson served merely as the government's gatekeeper.

Clinton's team cried unfair and went on the offensive. While Hillary chided Obama for raising false hopes and asked rhetorically, “How do you translate your words into deeds?” Bill upped the stakes, calling Obama's message a “fairy tale.”

In Albany, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a former member of President Clinton's cabinet, stirred an Internet firestorm when he told the New York Post's Fred Dicker in a radio interview that the retail nature of campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire means that candidates can't simply “shuck and jive at a press conference, you can't just put off reporters.”

[Editor's note: The printed version of the previous paragraph read: “… Cuomo… joined the war, dismissing Obama's style as 'shucking and jiving,' suggesting the Illinois Democrat is literally hustling for votes.” Subsequent to publication, Cuomo's office contacted Gay City News to point out that the attorney general made no reference to Obama in talking about candidates “shucking and jiving,” but was in fact referring to all the candidates. A review of the interview transcript bears out the fact that the comment did not make reference to Obama. The New York Times quotes that same Cuomo spokesman as noting that elsewhere in the Dicker interview the attorney general praised Obama as “a powerful speaker,” and added, “What he has to say is important for the Democrats to hear.”

The Cuomo spokesman, however, acknowledged that the attorney general's wording was “unfortunate,” presumably given the very widespread racial connotation attached to the phrase “shucking and jiving.” The AG's office said Cuomo meant those words in the sense of “bobbing and weaving.” The Cuomo spokesman, however, offered no insight into why the attorney general chose to use the specific phrase “shuck and jive” in making his point.]

Next, Black Entertainment Television owner Robert Johnson revived the stories about Obama's youthful drug use – referring to a time when “Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book.” And a pro-Hillary website is calling a land deal associated with Obama's purchase of a home in Chicago a scandal. The argument is as preposterous as the Republican hype about the Whitewater scandal in Arkansas, but there it is.

All of a sudden, Obama is a lying, drug-using, corrupt politician.


Clinton also took her lumps. Her polling guru, Mark Penn, is the chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, the ultimate black hat public relations firm. They started the National Smoking Alliance for Phillip Morris lampooned mercilessly in the movie “Thank You for Smoking.” When operatives of Blackwater USA, a security firm hired by the State Department, were accused of killing 17 civilians in Iraq, the company asked B-M to help control the ensuing investigation.


When a company was caught selling toy trains contaminated by lead paint, whom did they call? B-M.


Worst of all for the Clintons, B-M has many ties to the neo-cons and the propaganda scare that preceded the Iraq invasion. Should the lull in Middle East hostilities be abruptly reversed, these ties are going to be trotted out as explanations for the New York senator's support of the Iraq invasion.


The hopeful message coming out of New Hampshire is being driven underground, and the public is paying attention to the Republican theme – a tough foreign policy defeats our enemies and creates peace. GOP hopes for victory are soaring, but either renewed violence against US troops or the recession could puncture their balloon.


Yet, with the media beating the drums saying that the Democratic contest is about gender and race, it is unclear that Obama's idealistic message will survive. And with that development, he could lose his young supporters.


Clinton is still burdened with explaining how doing business the Washington way will bring about real change and her negatives remain high. Kimberley A. Strassel, a Wall Street Journal columnist, argued that a Clinton victory in November is “unlikely to result in significant Washington realignment,” while worrying that Obama might in fact change the way things are done in DC.


Barack Obama is being “swift boated” because he has shown strength not because he has shown signs of weaknesses. Should he deflect these attacks – and Iowa prove prophetic in being the start of something big – his campaign could indeed have a seismic effect on our politics.


So everyone waits, wondering if Obama peaked in Iowa and it's all downhill or if he can climb the new mountains being placed in his path and expand his support.


As this is being written, both leading Democrats have realized that they are helping the other side and reached a truce. Here's hoping it lasts.