Saturday, May 3, 2008

Going New, Going Negative, Going to the White House

It continues to be assumed that Senator Clinton goes negative more often and more intensely than Senator Obama; I beg to differ because Obama has mastered the subtler skill of disguised negativity - and that's what gets a politician into the White House.

The theme of change is nothing but a coded repudiation of things past. We need change only if the status quo is corrupt and beyond repair. Woodrow Wilson declared a New Freedom, Franklin Roosevelt declared a New Deal, JFK inaugurated a New Frontier, and George H. W. Bush declared a New World Order. The message of change taps into and exploits the inherent energy embedded in the executive power; our "greatest" presidents have learnt to exploit the simultaneously destructive and creative impulses of the presidential office.

Obama's theme of change, then, is the age-old politician's attack on the corrupt ways of Washington. It is, among other things, a direct attack on the Clinton machine (and the enduring narrative that the Clintons would do anything to get what they want) and an implied attack on McCain's veteran status in the Senate.

What is new amidst this enduring pattern, however, is that Obama's attack on the old ways of Washington has historically been a message deployed by governors aspiring to the Oval Office: Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush. Obama has successfully appropriated this gubernatorial key to the White House only because of his recent move to Washington.

Because Hillary surrendered her key when she moved into the White House as First Lady, she had no choice but to play the less inspiring "experience" card. But, correspondingly, 2008 is make it or break it for Obama, because he will likely not be able to cry "change" again in 2012. And this is also why he would be ill-advised to pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate. For her part, Hillary could easily take up her "experience" card in 2012 or 2016 again, should she so choose.

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