The Dartmouth Observer

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

More of the same for and from Clinton while Obama sharpens his message:

Did Hillary pick up staffers from the Giuliani campaign or something? I don't get this new version of "win it in Florida." that her campaign seems to be going for. It's the like the Heroes (trademark) version of presidential politicis, "Win Texas. Win the world." (duh-duh-duuuuh)

In all seriousness, things are looking particularly bad for the Clinton campaign and it's getting closer to the point where the true origins of increasing voter malaise towards Hillary need to be uncovered. Not only because it will be intellectually interesting to see how so spectacularly a major front runner can come crashing down to earth in a Presidential campaign, but also because her campaign needs to prescribe solutions for what has become a serious threat to her presidential bid.

The recent staffing changes at high levels of the Clinton campaign have done nothing to alter her message, change her speaking style or reach out to new constituencies. Why didn’t the introduction of a new campaign manager also introduce a shift in Clinton’s message? It’s not unreasonable to assume that both Hillary and Bill are less willing to delegate campaign strategy than earlier reports indicated. Whether my speculation is valid or not, her unwillingness or inability to change the tone of her campaign illustrates to Americans that she doesn't have the ability to offer "change" in Washington.

And no longer can Clinton strategists make backroom jokes about the potentially amorphous interpretation of the meaning of "change." In his nearly 45 minute victory speech in Texas, Obama explicitly reached to the left and proposed some of the most sweeping federal social policy the country has seen since the Second New Deal. While keeping the crowd energized with mini bursts of inspirational rhetoric, he began the critical process of melding images of American patriotism and nationalism with socially progressive ideas. (more on Barack’s attempt to model the U.S. on Western European Democratic Socialist states in a later entry)

Some might note that this was, in general, a comparatively reserved Obama crowd, they were presented with quite a lot to think about. The parts of the speech where specific policy proposal and rhetorical energy collided will be an important gauge for Obama's ability to wrap progressive ideas into a message of "service, honor and patriotism." His best moment dealt with his promise to give every college student a $4,000 credit for tuition. That’s a big chunk of change and, very easily, the kind of thing that the right wing could pounce on as “tax and spend” liberalism. But he brilliant countered with the requirement that students who received these grants will have to complete a certain number of hours of community service in order to receive the funds. The implications for this program are transformative and every left leaning person who supports the Clinton campaign, yes even you, needs to take a serious gander at it.

Currently, most college students survive on a combination of parental funds, student loans and a second job. Student loans are the biggest economic burden on students as high interest rates means that the larger their initial bill is, the longer their loans will be a drag on their economic future. By offering to cut the initial tuition bill by $4,000 Obama’s plan will lower the amount of interest they accrue each year, making the debt easier to pay off quickly. I also suspect this legislation will have a provision for lowered interests rates on Federal student loans.

Even more important, Obama is laying out a practical way to enact the feel good, “yay unity!” portions of his speeches. By requiring community service in hospitals, retirement homes, community gardens and so forth, Obama will put young people to work fulfilling the emotional infrastructure that can make living in poverty less psychological damaging. Enforced or not, by when community service becomes part of what America does via a mandate in federal legislation, that sends a signal to everyone. For middle class college students, close contact with economically disadvantaged people will break down some of the false cultural barriers that allow most Americans to remain apathetic about poverty and to understand poor people as suckers of the government teat. It will help to erode the physical and social distances between the suburbs and the inner city. The very thing he has been talking about throughout his campaign.

It will be interesting to see what the Clinton campaign will do to counter Obama. Exit polls indicate that nearly every one of her talking points of the last week were rejected by voters. Most notably, voters were seriously turned off by the negative attacks orchestrated by the Clinton campaign in the days leading up to the campaign. If anyone was concerned that Obama’s failure to “cite” a personal friend during an effective portion of a speech would hurt his support among Democrats, they are no longer. The next few weeks are going to be critical for Clinton, let’s she if “yes she can” enact “change” within her campaign that Americans can “believe in.”