Saturday, March 08, 2008

Going Negative: why are the rules different for Obama?

Jonathan Freedland was at it again in the Guardian on Thursday: Clinton won in Texas and Ohio by "going negative". The TV ad in question features children sleeping, then a 3 a.m call to the White House and asks who you would want to answer the phone in a crisis? It is fairly negative, but hardly dirty. It plays on Clinton's "experience" and, frankly, that seems fair enough to me (Although I don't think it is a good tactic, since it allows Obama to depict her as a "Washington insider". His campaign is based on the oldest trick in the book: "running against Washington" as the candidate of "change"). Obama responded with a very similar ad; asking whether you wanted someone answering the phone who has so misjudged Iraq (as had Clinton). Just as negative, but also fair enough. Why then is only the Clinton campaign castigated for being "negative"? Why is it "negative" to scrutinise Obama's actual record over Iraq or NAFTA to see if his account is wholly accurate? From what I can see he called it right originally but wobbled a bit on both and the wobbles have been air-brushed out (and mentioning them is forbidden: it's "negative"). And, again, accusing the Clintons of being racist, of dishonouring Martin Luther King and so on: isn't that negative? The "Vote Different" ad depicts Hillary Clinton as a sinister "Big Brother" figure and seems to me far more "negative" than the phone-ringing-in-the-White-House ad. Michelle Obama says that Clinton can't run the White House because she "can't run her own House". Negative? Yet for all this Freedland says "...Obama has avoided hitting back in kind". Eh? I think Hillary Clinton hit the nail on the head (although the studio audience booed) when she said, after Obama's Saturday Night Live appearance (a tad "negative"?) that the toughest question he has been asked so far is whether he wants another pillow. Why are the rules so different?


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