Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bill's spinning role out of line?

Monday night’s debate, which had the three top Democrats in the presidential race on a Myrtle Beach stage for CNN’s cameras, was entertaining and revealing. The three candidates, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, all had their moments to shine. Their similarities and differences were presented in a way that should have made supporters of all three candidates feel good.

However, most of all, the two-hour-plus presentation made the Democratic Party look pretty good. Today the mainstream media are dwelling on the moments of friction, but that approach distorts the picture somewhat. For the most part, the candidates were more jovial than not.

The differences in their plans for health care or getting out of Iraq were less apparent than the differences in their styles and personal histories.

All of which leads this observer to believe that voters in South Carolina, as well as the other upcoming primaries, will decide which one to support based mostly on two things:
  • The candidate perceived to be most likely to be able to win in November, and have coattails to get other Democrats elected.
  • The candidate demonstrating the strongest leadership ability, based on their personality and personal history.
Then, of course, there is another way to look at it -- the nagging worries, the negatives:
  • Which candidate seems most capable of blowing a contest that today seems like the Democrats should win with a landslide?
  • Which candidate has the most troublesome past, and which can be the most annoying?
Then there are the X factors. Unless John Edwards wins in South Carolina, his goose is probably ready to come out of the oven. So, how and when he exits could be important. Should Edwards withdraw and throw his support behind either of the other two, soon, that could be important. If he slowly fades for two or three months, his endorsement may be inconsequential by then.

Yet, the biggest X factor for Democrats to deal with right now is the role of Bill Clinton on the campaign trail. No one can remember when a former president rolled up his sleeves during the primary season and took on the role of spin doctor, as has Bill Clinton in recent weeks.

For instance: Both Clintons have been deliberately distorting what Obama said about Ronald Reagan last week. Hillary laughs and shrugs off criticism of Bill’s unusual advocacy on her behalf. She praises his, ahem, "passion." It’s no wonder Obama muttered a quick line about his not knowing, sometimes, which Clinton he’s running against.

Still, such problems for the Democrats seem rather small compared to what Republican voters are facing. With President George Bush’s unpopularity looming heavily over the landscape, all four of their leading candidates -- Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Mitt Romney -- seem quite capable of further dividing an already fractured GOP.

Barack Obama surely needs to be careful with his criticism of the former president’s stumping for his candidate wife. But there’s no denying that some Democrats are seeing Bill Clinton’s spinning words to do injury to fellow Democrats as unseemly, even out of line, for a former commander-in-chief.

How this tricky aspect of the campaign plays out may prove to be the deciding factor.

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--Words and art by F.T. Rea

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