Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Campaigns and Small Flubs Matter

Part of me really belongs in New Hampshire. Especially when it comes to voting.

The voters of New Hampshire and Iowa enjoy a certain status, and as long as they take voting seriously they deserve the keep the honor. Those who take their time and have a good look at a candidate to get a measure of them as a person, are models for us.

My tendency is to look at how a candidate campaigns as a sample of how they might govern. This is not what we are taught to do: we are taught to hold our nose and shut our eyes to the sins committed on the campaign trail, which is called "silly season" by some. This is part of the larger and unspoken lesson, which is that popular campaigns don't really matter.

An example I have cited before comes from the 2000 election, when Governor Bush's campaign covertly mailed some very ugly flyers making some disgusting allegations about his rival, Senator McCain. The fliers questioned his wife's race and his own mental health. Really vile Karl Rove stuff. As the Republicans stood waiting to go onstage for a debate one night, McCain looked at Bush and just said to him: "George." Bush, not looking at McCain, only replied: "Hey, John, it's just politics." That way of thinking sends a chill down my spine. It is no surprise that that man turned out to be something far darker and deadlier than the "compassionate conservative" he presented of himself. It showed me, in 2000, that this was a man who would do anything and say anything to win an election, after which he would do whatever the hell he pleased. He revealed himself in that one backstage moment. "It's just politics."

Undaunted, I like to behave as if I believed I had a choice in selecting my leaders, and if a candidate is bullshitting me in the campaign, I have got to expect they will govern the same way. The party affiliation means little to me in the end if the candidate speaks to me truthfully, understands and respects the Constitution, and seems to have a good judgment. The campaign is their audition, if you will: a microcosm of the judgment they might exhibit in office.

* * *

Sometimes the media and/or rival campaigns will take something silly and blow it up into a silly flap, but sometimes the flap finds oxygen only because of an unnecessary slip of judgment on the politician's part. This, as I wrote here recently, has plagued the Clintons.

So there's a ruckus going on this week about a Hillary Clinton event where, it turns out, a question was planted. It seems like a silly thing. There's nothing unusual about seeding a question here or there.

But looking at the campaign as a microcosm of how Hillary Clinton might govern as President, one has to ask: what were you thinking? In matters of state, timing matters very much. A planted question stands out in 2007 because during six years of Bush's government, we have endured faked press conferences, tampering with the White House press corps, repeated instances of columnists being paid to write partisan propaganda in their editorials, and numerous other deceits.

Is this really the year to be planting questions or otherwise appearing comfortable with deceiving voters?

I do not fault Hillary for this alone - but it was her rally, and so she is the one being embarrassed about it, and I feel that familiar feeling I get with the Clintons: where is this person's judgment?
We shouldn't make "flapgate" out to be more than what it is - but for me, it brings up a recurring question.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I remember in 2000 when Bush was campaigning and he called a reporter an asshole. I don't mind a president using the term, or using it to describe a reporter. What I really didn't like was that Bush was miked at the time and in front of a large gorup of people. That shows me he either had a lack of understanding of the circumstances, or he had a lack of caring about the circumstances. Both are bad. Plus, it showed an incredible lack of tact/diplomacy, and we all know how his diplomacy efforts turned out.

I agree with you Algernon. This little gaff by Clinton is nothing new, but it might be a warning sign of things to come. I don't like the current political climate, and so seeing a candidate behave in a way to fit into that climate does not make me happy. I would much rather see her bucking the trend.