Dear Reuters: Criticizing Opponent != Negative Tone

How utterly clueless is Steve Holland?  Candidates firing back at each other over the age old “experience vs new direction” battle is to be expected in a Presidential race.  We saw it when Cheney and Edwards debated (which was actually a very enjoyable debate to watch, much more evenly matched than Kerry vs Bush).  We are seeing it now with Hillary vs Barack.

Just calling your opponent naive or linking your opponent’s stance to an unpopular administration hardly counts as “negative” campaigning.  It is smart campaigning.  Hillary is doing the best she can without changing her position.  She is spinning her unpopular, more hawkish stance as derivitive from experience Obama lacks.  Its really the only card she can play here.  Obama is rightly firing back by comparing her to the current administration.  That’s just good campaigning.

None of this stops Steve from breathlessly relating the “nastiness” of the “flap”:

Neither side was backing down from a dispute that erupted at a debate on Monday and turned nastier as the week went on, wrapping up with bitter exchanges between top Clinton strategist Howard Wolfson and his Obama counterpart, David Axelrod.

Clinton considers the first-term senator from Illinois naive for saying he would be willing to meet leaders of hostile nations like Iran and Cuba, while Obama thinks Clinton is sticking to the foreign policy status quo of the much-criticized Bush administration.

Note to Reuters.  This is not a “feud”.  It is a policy difference, and two candidates are using the implications and the context of that difference to paint their opponents as less qualified.

“If you’re looking for what’s wrong in Washington, why the system is broken, one perfect example is what’s been happening over the last four days. We’ve had two good people, Democratic candidates for president, who’ve spent their time attacking each other instead of attacking the problems facing our country,” Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential candidate, told an Urban League annual conference in St. Louis.

Actually, Edwards is wrong here.  This is an important debate to be having.  Given a candidate who seems to finally understand you need to fight to control the discourse, you’d think he’d grasp that this battle of identity and purpose over foreign policy is an example of what Washington needs more of:  Democrats who take a stand.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said both sides got out of it what they wanted.

But he said he believed Clinton came out the winner. Obama’s attack on Clinton as “Bush-Cheney lite” undermined his message that his campaign represents politics of hope over negativity — “the exact elements that made him interesting in the first place,” said Lehane.

You can’t utterly avoid the negative and run a campaign of sunshine and candy apples.  Pointing out a vital policy difference, and then explaining why that sets you apart from your opponent is an inescapable and necessary part of a political campaign.

Kudos to both the Clinton and Obama camps for ignoring the concern trolls and sticking to their guns.

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2 Responses

  1. Exactly. Its a policy difference not a feud and I, for one, am glad to see it taking place. I am guessing that journalists are so used to seeing Democrats being wusses that when they pointedly clarify their positions its seen as going negative.

    There will be a time that both campaigns will have to play harder if they want to when the primaries and definitely the general election. The Republican candidates are going to throw every below the punch they can and the Democratic nominee will need to be ready.

  2. They will have to play harder. It boggles the mind to think of what the coverage will look like then. Journalists have framed themselves to the wall in their descriptions of this policy debate, and anything more aggressive will have to seem like out and out assault in their observations.

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