Sunday, November 18, 2007
Scandal MAD?Here's one way to look at Saturday's surprising campaign back-and-forth over undisclosed scandalous dark matter--all started by Robert Novak's column claiming that Hillary "agents"** were "spreading the word" that she had "scandalous information" about Obama.
Until the Novak column, all the leading Dem candidates had semi-public potential scandal hanging over them--except Obama. Edwards had the Enquirer cheating story. Hillary had all the stories about her marriage and "Bill Clinton’s postpresidential sex life" referred to by an Obama aide in Marc Ambinder's recent Atlantic piece. Richardson ... well, rumors about Richardson were so rampant he felt compelled to defend against them before they actually surfaced. (He said, "I believe in the physical side of campaigning.")
Now Obama is on notice that if he plays the Clinton marriage card, a scandal bomb might drop on him too--assuming there is a bomb to drop. It doesn't matter so much if Hillary actually has some goods on Obama as long as Obama thinks Hillary has some goods on him.
But here's a thought experiment: Suppose there are some goods to be had. And suppose that all the candidates know all the other candidate's scandals and have the capability to launch them in the press. Has Hillary achieved Mutually Assured Destruction, scandal-wise? I doubt it.
Remember that it's a three-way race. According to the current polls, Hillary's precarious position in Iowa requires that both Obama and Edwards remain strong opponents, splitting the anti-Clinton vote. Like an inexperienced karate initiate, she can take on all comers only if they attack in a precisely symmetrical formation.
But if Scandal Doomsday happens, and all the evil that lurks in the mud hatches out, the results will not be symmetrical. Suppose that what Jezebel.com speculated about Obama is true. Would it sink him? I doubt it. The Bill and Hillary rumors you hear are also wildly unshocking, given their history--though they would have the multiplier effect of reminding people of that history.
But the Edwards allegation, if confirmed, would be devastating. Edwards has made his good character in the face of his wife's illness a central part of his campaign pitch.
If the Enquirer story pans out, you'd think he'd sink fast. Which would be terrible news for Hillary.
But if Obama and Hillary are hit with scandals and the Edwards story doesn't come out, that makes Edwards the big winner in the exchange. Which is also terrible for Hillary.
I think Sid may have his work cut out for him!
**--not "operatives"! A little Plame joke. 9:33 A.M. link
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Viva Triangulation, II: Alert reader D.J. emails to note a major virtue of "triangulation" I omitted:
[T]riangulation has involved somewhat more than what you say. It seems to involve extracting, from each side, the most ridiculous and indefensible part of the position and saying that you are against that and a resolution ought to be achieved without it. If done well, this does not really hurt the politician doing it because the issue so rejected is so ridiculous that, exposed and standing alone, that position is not defensible in the MSM or elsewhere.
In the Democrats' stance on welfare, that was the position that welfare recipients should not have to work -- a position that, if forced to confront it, anyone with any sense rejected as nothing but a way of buying votes. The Republicans' view that no money ought to be spent was equally ridiculous, given the long history of the nation's willingness to spend for it, and purely ideological. And the unions have exactly the same kind of position within their stance on education reform, which is that incompetent teachers should not be fired ...
Even if you publicly support the unions, again if you are forced to confront this particular issue it is hard to defend it in a public forum. If a Clinton-like person were to triangulate on education he could easily say that, of course, teachers that can't hack it have to leave. Can you imagine the press protesting that oh, no, incompetent teachers can't be fired? [E.A.]
What he said. When solving a problem requires that a powerful interest group give up its most cherished demand, you won't solve the problem by finding "common ground," "bridge-building," or "compromise." If the "common ground" doesn't include the cherished demand, the interest group won't go along with the project. In order to break the impasse, it helps if a politician can subject the cherished demand to public scrutiny (i.e. ridicule). Turn it it into a liability. That's not finding "common ground." That's triangulatin'! Make the uncommon ground uninhabitable, and all of sudden a new "common" ground starts looking like home. ... When the interest group complains angrily that you are creating a "distraction," "smoke screen," or "scapegoat," you know you are making progress. ...
N.B.: In the 1984 Democratic primary, the issue that Gary Hart (triangulating) extracted and ridiculed Walter Mondale over was, in fact, the issue of firing incompetent teachers. Mondale finally got bludgeoned into admitting in so many words that yes, maybe they should be fired. ... Twenty-four years later, the Democratic candidates don't even dare bring up this core issue--sorry, I mean 'smokescreen.' Instead they half-squabble over the less central, less touchy issue of "merit pay." This is not progress. ... 8:19 P.M.