The past week has seen some strange manoeuvrings by the campaign teams of both Presidential candidates. As the Clintons moved to back Obama and to oppose McCain, the Republican presumptive nominee appeared to align himself with the Clintons against Obama. The very nature of the Presidential race necessitates double standards, and this has been painfully apparent during the last week. Comments made by both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have come back to haunt the Democrats’ attempts to make a firm and decisive show of unity.
Most damaging have been Hillary Clinton’s concerns, made clear during her own campaign earlier this year, about Obama’s viability as commander-in-chief. Although she made clear in her speech at the DNC on Tuesday that she is throwing all her political weight behind the Democrat’s nominee, she did not take the opportunity to retract her statements concerning Obama’s foreign policy experience.
Bill Clinton, during his speech on Wednesday, compared himself to Obama, stating that the Republicans had said that he, too, lacked sufficient experience to be commander-in-chief in 1992. Yet the way in which Mr Clinton’s speech separated Obama’s competence in areas of national policy and foreign policy highlights the challenges which the nominee faces in convincing the public he is ready to lead the armed forces. Clinton stated that Obama’s “policies on the economy, on taxes, on health care, on energy, are far superior to the Republican alternatives. He has shown a clear grasp of foreign policy and national security challenges”. Why not group foreign policy together with the economy, taxes, health care and energy? Obama has a glaring chink in his armour. Unsurprisingly, McCain’s campaign team are refusing to back down on the issue.
On Wednesday, a McCain team press release condemned Obama’s suggestion that the special US envoy to Northern Ireland should be removed. The press release applauded Bill Clinton’s decision as President to instate the envoy, an action which McCain spokesperson Brian Rogers believes was “critical to fostering pace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland”. Whilst explicitly criticising Obama’s command of foreign policy, the statement simultaneously sides with the Clintons in an attempt to undermine Obama’s campaign from within.
McCain’s team are focusing not only on Obama’s inexperience in foreign policy, but also on his general lack of leadership. Curiously, Hillary Clinton is being painted as the pinnacle of strong leadership, nowhere more so than in a new online ad launched this week. It shows Debra Bartoshevick, a former Clinton delegate, speaking of Hillary’s strong “experience and judgement”, against a backdrop of Clinton looking proudly and patriotically towards the future.
But now Bartoshevick is supporting McCain, because he holds the qualities which, she believes, Clinton possessed. She reassures uncertain Democrats that “A lot of Democrats will vote McCain. It’s okay. Really”. This is a far cry from Clinton’s catchy verbal attack on Tuesday: “No way, no how, no McCain”.
It is difficult to predict how these mixed messages will be received by voters. The transparency of double standards on both sides means that cynicism is likely to abound. This week’s double standards smack of opportunism on every level, but this opportunism seems to be necessary to maintain momentum on both sides. Some commentators have dismissed the Clintons’ endorsements of Obama as self-serving PR stunts which might help pave the way to a 2012 or 2016 Clinton presidency. It is also safe to assume that McCain’s campaign team could not have been as positive about Hillary Clinton had she beaten Obama in the nomination process. No way, no how, no shame.
By Robert Black