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February 21st, 2008

Wow. What Obama did yesterday was less of a win and more of a rout. He was supposed to be in danger in Wisconsin, with a few polls giving Hillary a lead. Obama came away with a 17.4-point landslide, almost double what even the most optimistic poll results were for the candidate. And Hawaii? A 52-point win? Okay, it’s a small state, mostly “minority” (Asian-Pacific Islander, though), and is Obama’s birth state. Still. 52 points.

And Obama is gaining in pre-Wisconsin polls in Texas and Ohio, getting to within a few points of Clinton in Texas and halving Clinton’s lead over him in Ohio over the past week. Two big unions just endorsed Obama, which will probably help him big in Ohio, and we still haven’t seen any polls that show what the score is after yesterday’s big wins.

People are already starting to call this one for Obama. I’m still waiting for it to become more definitive; even after a Texas and Ohio loss, Hillary still may not quit, even if Bill says it’ll mean they lose. Hillary could still launch a movement to count the non-counted Florida and Michigan primaries, messy and probably fruitless as such a move might be.

For all people have talked about Hillary’s experience and how she’ll be “ready from day one,” there is evidence that she’s less a sharp operator than people have presumed. Her campaign fumbled badly–maybe fatally–by not preparing for a post-Super-Tuesday challenge, assuming they’d simply walk off with the vote. Part of that showed up when Hillary did not even get all her delegates on the Pennsylvania ballot in time–something that won’t cost her any delegates if she wins the vote there, but which shows up a lack of organization and discipline. She supposed to have her act together.

Her attempts at attacks have all failed; setting Bill on Obama in South Carolina backfired badly, and the latest plagiarism ‘scandal’ is being more or less universally dismissed as trivial and meaningless. Mark Penn, her senior strategist, has been a lead weight around her neck, coming across as Rovian at times; when he said that states which don’t vote for Hillary “don’t matter,” it was seen as yet another snub-like gaffe by this political operator. And just recently, a Hillary campaign officer actually told a reporter that Hillary would try to steal Obama’s pledged delegates–a move which not only reeks of desperation, but is seen as underhanded and dishonest. That, along with most of her senior staff quitting or being fired, and having to loan herself $5 million, all adds up to make Hillary seem a lot less slick and experienced than we’ve been led to believe.

In the meantime, Obama has done pretty damned well up to this point. He has organized smartly and out-raised Hillary by as much as a 2-1 margin. Their 50-state strategy has been paying off handsomely, and despite shared language with a friend who shares the same campaign manager, despite “little experience,” despite everyone thinking that he’s “just about words,” he has made an incredible come-from-behind steamroller campaign happen and happen big.

For a guy who is supposed to be inexperienced and not ready for big-time politics, he has so far run the best campaign out there, has made the fewest mistakes, and has won the support of the most people, generating historic turnouts and massive excitement.

In a candidate for president, I’ll take that over a long Washington career.

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  1. Tim Kane
    February 21st, 2008 at 11:43 | #1

    When I was growing up I had a friend who said there were two kinds of people: Salesman and Accountant types. A salesman never let’s cost get in the way of doing something or buying something, he just figures he’ll have to go out and sell more stuff to pay for it: they tend to be optimist. Accountants on the other hand are belt tighteners by nature. If they see something or want to do something they either for go it, forgo something else or look around elsewhere to save costs. My friend was the former of the two, and not by a small margin. Though an electrician, He could sell ice to Eskimos.

    Myself, in a similar vein, I think there are two kinds of mindsets: strategic thinkers and tacticians. Strategic thinkers take the long view, they don’t want to swim against the current, they’d rather try to figure out how to make the current work with them as appossed to against them. They are along the lines of Sun Tzu’s ‘all battles are won before they are fought’ types. Tactical thinkers are the opposite. They’ll swim against the current, they’ll fight for fighting sake, they see everything as contest, and their human relations are often dominated over who will be the dominate person in the relationship. I am definitely one of the former. Perhaps I’m merely pointing out the difference between deductive and inductive thinking.

    I think what you point out here is that Hillary is a tactician. She’s a great fighter. She’s probably a hard worker and was a great lawyer. She’s also a pretty good campaigner. From what I’ve seen of her campaign, she’s lacking good strategic judgment. Everything she does is tactical.

    Here’s the thing. I think Obama is a both-er: he’s got good strategic and good tactical skills – and he’s got good judgment for balancing the two off of each other – and on top of that he’s got good oratorical skills, no doubt a function of being a both-er. He’s like a guy who sees things at street level and top down like a map, simultaneously. In a dead even street fight, Hillary might be able to take Obama by simply out working and out hustling and out fighting him. But she’s not in a dead even street fight. She’s in a fight that involves equal amounts of strategy and tactics and oratorical finesse. Hillary, despite having the obvious advantages going into this campaign as the virtual incumbent, constantly finds her self in a tactical struggle, swimming agianst the current where she is increasingly battling against greater odds. Meanwhile she keeps bumping into Obama and each time he looks as if he’s hardly broken a sweat.

    As the campaign drags on, I think Hillary is becoming a better tactical fighter but she can’t overcome her strategic shortcomings, causing her to take bigger strategic risks which increasingly results in tactical set backs. Perhaps this is becoming more and more evident, at least on an intuitive level, to the electorate.

    Obama isn’t perfect. But he’s a naturally gifted as a politician. First, He’s got the booming vocal chords, and he knows how to use them. He’s got both good tactical skills and good strategic skills and importantly, he seems to have good judgment in balancing the two off of each other. Obama obviously has the skills for becoming president, and the way he has run his campaign, it looks like he has the skills for being President as well. Increasingly it looks like we will find out.

    Meanwhile we have to cross our fingers and hope that Hillary doesn’t go nuclear and undermine the entire Democratic party in her tactical struggle to become president.

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