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Weekend Punditry on the Race for White House

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Weekend Punditry on the Race for White House

Article excerpt

The pollsters may be down but the pundits, after a few mea culpas, are still up and delivering strong opinions on the race for the White House, with no votes being counted this weekend as Obama battles Clinton and five Republicans fight each other. Here is a selection of excerpts from across the Web.

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Frank Rich, in his Sunday column for The New York Times:

Every politician employs pollsters, but Mrs. Clinton, tellingly, has one, Mark Penn, as her top campaign strategist. As Sally Bedell Smith reminds us in her book about the Clintons, "For Love of Politics," it was Mr. Penn who helped shape the 1996 Bill Clinton campaign in which "soccer moms" were identified and wooed with such Cracker Jack prizes as school uniforms and V-chips to monitor TV violence. For Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaign four years later, it was also Mr. Penn's market testing that, in Ms. Smith's telling, "crafted anodyne, bite-sized messages for Hillary." The overall message uniting the small-bore promises, such as it was, remains unchanged today: competence, experience, wonky proficiency....

In Mrs. Clinton's down-to-earth micropolitics, polls often seem to play the leadership role. That leaves her indecisive when one potential market is pitched against another. Witness her equivocation over Iraq, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and even Cubs vs. Yankees. Add to this habitual triangulation the ugly campaigning of the men around her -- Mr. Penn's sleazy invocation of "cocaine" on MSNBC, Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" rant falsifying Mr. Obama's record on Iraq -- and you don't have change. You have the acrimonious 1990s that the Republicans are dying to refight, because that's the only real tactic they have.

It would be good for both her campaign and the presidential race in general if Mrs. Clinton does find her own voice. We'll know she has done so when it doesn't sound so uncannily like Bill Clinton and Mark Penn.*David Greenberg, in an op-ed at www.washingtonpost.com that declares in its heading that Obama is "The Great White Hope":

Obama doesn't threaten or discomfort whites. He doesn't strike them as wronged or impatient, or as the spokesman of a long-subjugated minority group or even as someone particularly culturally different from themselves. As much Kansan as Kenyan, Obama does not descend from families who suffered American slavery or Jim Crow. His family tree has fewer slaves than slaveholders, fewer chains than Cheneys.

This background may be what some people (mainly blacks) have meant when they asked the regrettable question of whether Obama is "black enough" to earn their votes. But Obama has always been black enough for his elite white enthusiasts, who would never presume to judge an African American's racial authenticity -- indeed, are all too happy to have such a question be kept, by prevailing norms, off limits to them.

Some pundits scratched their heads when Obama was trailing Clinton among black voters. (He's now pulled even or ahead.) But it made perfect sense. Clinton had a track record of working for African Americans' interests. Obama was not just skirting controversies such as the "Jena Six" -- the black Louisiana teenagers punished disproportionately last year for their role in a racial fracas -- but was aiming his appeals squarely at the white Iowans who he knew could make him the front-runner. *Megdan Daum, in her column at www.latimes.com:

What we want from Clinton is the impossible. We want her to pursue the nomination without looking like a pursuer.

We want, on some level, for her to win the White House according to the dating guide "The Rules" -- acting aloof to the point of indifference. We might even want her to borrow a page from "Bridget Jones' Diary," in which the heroine resolves not to "sulk about having no boyfriend, but develop inner poise and authority and sense of self as woman of substance, complete without boyfriend, as best way to obtain boyfriend. …

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