3 Presidential Candidates: April 14, 2008

How Serious Are Their Campaign Mistakes?
How Do They Respond to Public Criticism?

By Harry Kelber

(The Fourth of Five Articles)

Presidential candidates live a tension-filled, exhausting existence; you have to be in top condition to make a half dozen speeches in three cities on the same day, and follow the same routine again and again. You have to watch what you wear and what you eat, because you will be closely scrutinized wherever you go.

You have to know about the concerns of the people you will be addressing and how to introduce the dignitaries you will meet. You have to look good-natured, friendly and sensitive to the people around you, even though you may be angry or ill-at-ease.

You have to be constantly on guard about what you say and do, in public or in private, because there are critics eager to catch you on a sentence or phrase they can exploit to embarrass you. How you handle criticism will be watched by the voters. Whether your campaign is properly staffed and operates smoothly or is in a state of turmoil will also provide at least a clue how you would manage the White House.

Voters will also watch how you behave in debate with rivals: whether you are relaxed, do not commit factual errors or avoid responding to questions that are aimed at disconcerting you. Inevitably, your private life will be invaded, and if you have any skeletons in a dark closet, enterprising reporters will ferret them out and put them on public display.

And there’s lots more. So there must be a special, arrogant breed, who consider themselves qualified to become the most powerful man or woman in the world and are willing to undergo the severest ordeals to attain that position. Our choices in 2008 have been whittled down to three candidates: Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois (both Democrats) and Senator John McCain of Arizona (Republican). Let’s comment on them, one by one.

Senator McCain

The centerpiece of Senator McCain’s campaign is Iraq, which, he insists, the United States must continue to occupy until it achieves victory — even if it takes a hundred years and at a terrible cost in lives and treasure. The motivating force of the campaign is American patriotism and national honor; the United States must never accept military defeat.

Ideally, victory would mean an end to ethnic violence; an Iraqi army and police force capable of maintaining order; a stable, well-functioning government, and an economy that can provide basic services for the population. A majority of Americans don’t believe that will happen; they want to bring our troops home now. But, Says McCain, if we “cut and run,” we’ll be inviting an even greater conflict.

McCain is the only candidate that favors victory in Iraq at all costs. However, the public attention is more focused on domestic affairs, especially the impact of the recession on jobs, housing and credit. Unless the “surge” in Iraq shows greater progress and promise. McCain’s candidacy will lose its appeal for many independent voters.

McCain has publicly admitted he doesn’t know much about economic matters, but he knows enough to adhere to President Bush’s conservative policies on tax cuts for the wealthy and hostility toward labor. He has not won an endorsement from a single union. The AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions are spending huge sums to publicize his anti-labor record. He voted against raising the minimum wage and blocked passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. He opposed bargaining rights for federal employees. He voted for NAFTA and for outsourcing federal contracts overseas. Unlike his Democratic opponents, he doesn’t favor universal health care or labor and environmental protections in international trade.

McCain is gaining a wealth of material he can use in his campaign speeches, TV and radio commercials and press releases, just by listening to the harsh exchanges between Clinton and Obama. He plans to have enough ammunition to wage a campaign that puts his Democratic Party rival on the defensive.

Senator Obama

The senator faced a major test to his candidacy when he had to explain his long-time association with his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose incendiary statements about America were widely circulated in the nation’s media. Obama responded to the challenge by making one of the truly great speeches on the problems of race in our country, a speech that was applauded even by his critics.

But Obama now faced a more serious test that threatens to derail his candidacy. At a fund-raising event in San Francisco, the senator had remarked that in Pennsylvania’s small towns, voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who are not like them” as a way to explain their frustration.

The Clinton campaign immediately pounced on the remarks as an opportunity to attack Obama. Senator Clinton and her surrogates spread heir message that Obama doesn’t understand the values of the white working class and that he would be a weak candidate in the general election. He was also charged with “elitism.” Obama, put on the defensive, acknowledged: “I didn’t say it as well as I should have.” It was not clear what damage the incident has caused his candidacy. Polls showed Obama only four percentage points behind Clinton, closing a double-digit gap.

Senator Clinton

In the past two-weeks, Senator Clinton has suffered embarrassments that raise questions about her honesty and judgment. Her account of an incident in Bosnia in 1996, when she claimed that she was under sniper fire was not true, although she had spread the story for years. Video evidence showed a peaceful airport, with Senator Clinton talking to a young girl.

The more serious charge against Clinton was that, despite the pleas of labor leaders, she insisted on retaining Mark Penn as her chief strategist and pollster. Penn is the worldwide CEO of the public relations firm, Burson Marsteller, and president of the polling firm, Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. Many of Penn’s clients were large corporations that advised them on how to deal with unions. For his work with Clinton’s 2008 campaign, Penn received $5 million.

The obvious conflict of interest came under a glaring spotlight, when Penn had to apologize for working for officials of the Colombian government for the purpose of lobbying for a free bilateral trade agreement that Clinton and the American labor movement opposes. Clinton decided to fire Penn as these revelations became widely known, but she still retains him as a pollster.

The Clinton campaign intends to exploit the Obama remarks to the hilt, figuring it provides the only real chance of wresting the nomination from Obama, who leads in the number of pledged delegates and the total number of votes, If Clinton can persuade the superdelegates that Obama would be a losing candidate, she wins the nomination by default.

Article 5: “The End Game” will be posted Monday, April 21, 2008. Visit our web site: http://www.laboredcator.org .