Competence not Ideology II

Yglesias on the Clinton Campaign

Tons of interesting stuff in Patrick Healy’s article on Hillary Clinton supporters reconciling themselves to probable defeat. This bit lurking near the end is, if true, pretty telling:

In interviews with 15 aides and advisers to Mrs. Clinton, not a single one expressed any regrets that they were not working for Mr. Obama. Indeed, some aides said they were baffled that a candidate who had been in the United States Senate for only three years and was a state lawmaker in Illinois before that was now outpacing a seasoned figure like Mrs. Clinton.

Whether or not you think the more “seasoned” candidate ought to win presidential elections, it seems to me that any campaign staffer who could be genuinely “baffled” by experience not proving to be a winning issue is demonstrating a scary ignorance of how things work. Is her staff baffled that Joe Biden didn’t win the nomination?

Worse than that, as I’ve previously pointed out, Frank Rich demonstrates why the experience argument falls apart given the performance of her campaign:

That’s why she has been losing battle after battle by double digits in every corner of the country ever since. And no matter how much bad stuff happened, she kept to the Bush playbook, stubbornly clinging to her own Rumsfeld, her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Like his prototype, Mr. Penn is bigger on loyalty and arrogance than strategic brilliance. But he’s actually not even all that loyal. Mr. Penn, whose operation has billed several million dollars in fees to the Clinton campaign so far, has never given up his day job as chief executive of the public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller. His top client there, Microsoft, is simultaneously engaged in a demanding campaign of its own to acquire Yahoo.

Clinton fans don’t see their standard-bearer’s troubles this way. In their view, their highly substantive candidate was unfairly undone by a lightweight showboat who got a free ride from an often misogynist press and from naïve young people who lap up messianic language as if it were Jim Jones’s Kool-Aid. Or as Mrs. Clinton frames it, Senator Obama is all about empty words while she is all about action and hard work.

But it’s the Clinton strategists, not the Obama voters, who drank the Kool-Aid. The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it’s a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate’s message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama’s organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

In the last battleground, Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign was six days behind Mr. Obama in putting up ads and had only four campaign offices to his 11. Even as Mrs. Clinton clings to her latest firewall – the March 4 contests – she is still being outhustled. Last week she told reporters that she “had no idea” that the Texas primary system was “so bizarre” (it’s a primary-caucus hybrid), adding that she had “people trying to understand it as we speak.” Perhaps her people can borrow the road map from Obama’s people. In Vermont, another March 4 contest, The Burlington Free Press reported that there were four Obama offices and no Clinton offices as of five days ago. For what will no doubt be the next firewall after March 4, Pennsylvania on April 22, the Clinton campaign is sufficiently disorganized that it couldn’t file a complete slate of delegates by even an extended ballot deadline.

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What’s next? Despite Mrs. Clinton’s valedictory tone at Thursday’s debate, there remains the fear in some quarters that whether through sleights of hand involving superdelegates or bogus delegates from Michigan or Florida, the Clintons might yet game or even steal the nomination. I’m starting to wonder. An operation that has waged political war as incompetently as the Bush administration waged war in Iraq is unlikely to suddenly become smart enough to pull off that duplicitous a “victory.” Besides, after spending $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts in January alone, this campaign simply may not have the cash on hand to mount a surge.

For all the vaunted message discipline of the Clinton campaign, there has been no message.  It’s Michael Dukakis updated for 2008.  It only gets worse when she claims her experience makes her better suited to be Commander-in-Chief.

After denouncing Mr. Obama over the weekend for an anti-Clinton flier about the Nafta trade treaty, and then sarcastically portraying his message of hope Sunday as naïve, Mrs. Clinton delivered a blistering speech on Monday that compared Mr. Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience to that of the candidate George W. Bush.

“We’ve seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech on foreign policy at George Washington University. “We can’t let that happen again.”

With a crucial debate on Tuesday night in Ohio, both Mrs. Clinton’s advisers and independent political analysts said that, by going negative against Mr. Obama at a time when polls in Texas and Ohio show a tightening race, Mrs. Clinton risked alienating voters. Mrs. Clinton has always been more popular with voters when she appeared sympathetic and a fighter; her hard-edged instinct for negative politics has usually turned off the public.

“There’s a general rule in politics: A legitimate distinction which could be effective when drawn early in the campaign often backfires and could seem desperate when it happens in the final hours of a campaign,” said Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist working for neither candidate.

In Mrs. Clinton’s speech Monday, she also portrayed herself as “tested and ready” to be commander in chief, while accusing Mr. Obama of believing “that mediation and meetings without preconditions will solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.” Mr. Obama has said he would go further than Mrs. Clinton to meet with leaders of hostile nations, but he has also said he would prepare for those meetings carefully and would not be blind to the leaders’ motives.

In contrast, she appears to think that talking to the United States is a perk to be earned by good behavior. This is the very essence of the problem with Bush’s foreign policy and why she is not competent to be President.  It isn’t just experience, but ideology that matters and in this case, the experience has led to her support of failed policies.

Clinton is not competent.  She suffers the same deadly combination of arrogance and incompetence that the Bush administration has demonstrated.  Except she cannot even run a campaign.