Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


That’s why they call it “managing” a campaign

The new issue of the Atlantic arrived today in the mail. It provides interesting reading for anyone who has been following the recent presidential  campaign closely.

The Front-Runner’s Fall,”  by Joshua Green, details what went wrong with the Clinton campaign — from the inside. After it was over, Green contacted many of the people who worked on that campaign, and they were quick to oblige by supplying him with insider emails and memos that, I assume, advanced their individual agendas. (I.e., “It wasn’t my fault.”) You won’t find anything terribly surprising — the view from inside looks just like the view we all got from outside:  of a campaign at odds with itself, and hobbled early on by crippling hubris — but I did come away again relieved that Hillary Clinton has no shot at the presidency, at least not right now. If you’re disinclined to read the whole piece, allow me to pull out the single most salient insight:

Above all, this irony emerges: Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence—on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to “do the job from Day One.” In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel. What is clear from the internal documents is that Clinton’s loss derived not from any specific decision she made but rather from the preponderance of the many she did not make. Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.

We’ve currently got a quote-unquote president who makes decisions —  albeit all too quickly and poorly. Imagine following the current catastrophe with someone incapable of making any decision and incapable of managing a staff, even the rather small staff of a campaign. You can’t be “leader of the free world” if you need your husband to make the final call on whether or not to air a TV ad. (An incident revealed in Green’s piece.) Say what you will about Obama, but he has certainly managed his campaign well, mounting an effective insurgency that continues to impress.

Elsewhere in the issue, James Fallows views and critiques all 47 (!) of the primary debates.  If you thought cleaning the Augean Stables was a job unfit for most, imagine watching 60+ hours of shifting statements about Iraq, illegal aliens, and the meaning of the word “bitter.” Fallows shrewdly decides out that Obama “won” the Democratic debates by playing a consistent character, where Clinton kept redefine herself to do better. For some of us, this is an uncomfortable reminder of 2000, when George W. Bush telegraphed the boorish cluck he would prove to be, but was seen as doing “better than expected” and praised by the press for his consistency. (While Al Gore went from extravagant sighing in Debate 1, to careful reticence in Debate 2, to finally finding his voice — when it was too late — in Debate 3.) The Atlantic website carries some videos that back up Fallows’ analysis; chiefly, the video of Carter and Reagan serves to remind me why I was a supporter of John Anderson that year.

Fallows makes this forecast for the eventual McCain-Obama debate:

Once he gets on the stage, McCain will try to remind Obama of Hillary Clinton—that is, of someone he must take seriously, someone who is willing to challenge him and even insult him to his face. Obama “is vain about his idealism and ‘nobility,’” a staff member for one of Obama’s Democratic opponents (not Clinton) told me on the phone. “He is thin-skinned about having his motives and competence questioned, so that’s what you do.” Grizzled pols like Hillary Clinton or her husband would laugh off such an attempt; Obama may still be innocent enough to be shaken by it. McCain made many dismissive references to Obama after Obama became the presumptive nominee. The easy next step is to do so while looking at him.

This sounds like good advice for McCain. We’ll see if Obama is dumb enough to get rattled by it.

One Response to “That’s why they call it “managing” a campaign”

  1. Rich Roesberg Says:

    If McCain tries to rattle his opponent, Obama can play the same card by remembering the Keating Five S&L scandal. Though it was 17 years ago, I imagine it would still shake McCain. Maybe Obama will have someone else bring it up before the debates, so it will already be a topic of discussion, and it won’t appear that Obama is ‘using’ the issue.

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