March 08, 2008
Okay, so I was wrong. I thought voters would see right through Senator Hillary Clinton’s fear-mongering “kitchen-sink” tactics, and particularly that deplorable “it’s 3 A.M” ad she ran, and toss her to the curb in Texas and Ohio. Instead, her tactic of literally scaring up votes still works despite the GOP’s recent overuse of Reichstagian politics. We’re sure to see more of the same from her. That’s so sad. And a tiny bit scary, because it’s beginning to look like Senator Clinton feels that to save the American political village she needs to burn it down first. I wonder if, deep down in her heart, Clinton really thinks it is a good thing, part of what she always wanted to do with her life, to spend millions of contributor dollars seeking to capitalize on the fears of the American public. That is exactly what she is doing with all those venomous ads, her many innuendos, and her increasingly personal derision of her opponent and his capacity to inspire others.
So how should Senator Obama respond? First, by NOT taking the bait and firing back tit for tat. Focusing on Clinton’s refusal to release her income tax records, for example, or taking other similar potshots at her, however well deserved, just pulls Obama and his campaign down into the gutter with Clinton.
Obama should stick to his original game plan, the one that worked so well in South Carolina, and focus his counter-attack not on Clinton per se, but instead on her tactics. More specifically, Obama should talk about what fear has done to this country. He should explain how all that works, how fear leads to a willingness to believe the worst about a situation, our options and even ourselves. And he should talk more about that hope stuff he seems to know something about, how hope can lift us up and help us see what’s best about a situation and how it can help us envision a better world and unite us more sufficiently to realize common aspirations. And finally, he should also offer more detailed and specific examples of the exact types of practical social progress that a coalition built on hope could achieve in this country.
Clinton has picked up the sword of fear. Obama can choose to fight fire with fire and everything burns. Or he can continue to develop an inspiring new language of hope that reminds America, in very specific terms, that fear is the easiest and most dangerous of political weapons. Obama needs to mount a Rooseveltian cusade against fear itself. And, in the process, he will also remind America what is now obvious to those of us who have been paying close attention: Clinton will say or do pretty much anything to get elected. What Obama needs to do now is to find a way to rise above those tired old political tactics like a big balloon. Hope is the answer.