Friday, December 07, 2007

Clinton Attacks On Obama Could Easily Backfire

Iowa is sophisticated politically, and presidential candidates there have found in the past that attacks by one candidate against another have backfired, redounding sometimes to the benefit of the candidates attacked, or other candidates not involved in the exchanges.

In the 2004 Iowa caucuses, the sniping between Howard Dean and Dick Gebhardt ended up contributing to Sen. John Kerry's victory. When Dean screamed in a vulgar manner on getting the results the night of the caucuses, in effect, his tantrum marked the end of his presidential campaign.

All this is pertinent now as Sen. Hillary Clinton, desperately concerned that she is slipping in the runup to the caucuses, has begun questioning the integrity of Sen. Barack Obama. Obama so far has not responded in kind. He knows that a bitter exchange between Clinton and himself in the tight race could spin the caucus victory to former Sen. John Edwards. Edwards, observing what is going on, has actually sweetened the tone of his rhetoric.

Clinton, by beginning to panic, is, in the minds of many voters, questioning her own suitability for the presidency.

But, based on my political reporting experience back in 1969, when incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty of Los Angeles launched racist attacks against his challenger Tom Bradley and ended up beating him in the election, I am fully aware that the question of how to respond to negative attacks is particularly difficult for a black candidate.

The problem is, if he responds too vehemently, he worries voters. But if he doesn't respond at all, he also worries voters. Many voters want assurance that a black candidates is going to be tough enough to handle the job, and this is a concern about the often reasonable Obama.

In other words, Obama is between a rock and a hard place here. His response must be a careful one.

But so far, Obama has struck about the right tone, I think. He is handling the Clinton attacks with some humor, while dismissing them.

Another aspect of the situation is that, as the first African-American with a good chance of actually being elected president, Obama has to be concerned about his security. He has to remember that other "golden figures" in American politics, Abraham Lincoln, President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were all assassinated by deranged oddballs obsessed with the leaders' fame and seeking their own notoriety.

In short, every precaution must be taken against a violent assault during this campaign against Obama, especially if he prevails in Iowa and seems on the road to the presidency.

I've actually been surprised by Mrs. Clinton's new tone. It seems that she should be under better control. It's true that when an Iowa campaign worker for Clinton again raised the old canard, which has been firmly disproven, that Obama is a Muslim, she was quickly fired by Clinton campaign manager Patty Solis Doyle, as she should have been. But attacks by Clinton on alleged lack of integrity by Obama are also highly improper, especially since they are so clearly untrue.

We're now within four weeks of the Iowa caucuses, and the race in both parties is a close and uncertain. As I've noted before, Sen. Eugene McCarthy once observed that, "Nothing so powerfully concentrates the mind as an election or a hanging." It is obvious that tremendous attention is now focused on the proceedings in Iowa, and any little campaign tactic can tip the balance.


I find it encouraging that one of the first definite acts of the Sam Zell era at the Tribune Co. is the announcement that $500 million in available cash will be used to reduce the debt being incurred by the sale to Zell.

This may be an advance indication that the real estate magnate is not enthused about one of the cardinal features of the domain of Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimon, who has scarcely ever missed an opportunity to spin the company into great debt.

When the Tribune deal with Zell closes, hje will become chairman of the company. One of the most critical questions which immediately will confront him is whether to keep FitzSimons on to run the company.

It will not come as a surprise to readers of this blog that my view is he ought to give FitzSimons his walking papers. FitzSimons does not have a good record at the company, and he and many of his appointees have too often run it into the ground. To create a different impression, it's important, I think, that Zell come in with a new broom and sweep aside the managerial flotsam. I wouldn't be surprised if FitzSimons' middle name is "Flotsam."



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