So we’re waiting for the results to come in from Wisconsin, Hawaii and drum roll… Washington. Say what? Haven’t we already heard from the home of Microsoft and the Melvins? Indeed, yes, but Washington has both a caucus and a primary, for reasons you would need to get a PhD in state politics to work out.

The Republicans are awarding around 20 of their 40 delegates from the primary, but who would care now? The Democrats dealt with the anomaly by setting the clock back to zero, awarding no delegates and holding the thing anyway – remembering of course that all primaries are for a whole slate of candidates for a wide variety of offices, down to, for example in Illinois on big Tuesday, a particularly fierce fight for the water catchment area supervisor positions.

With the landslide on, Hillary is putting up the fight of her life, and it would be foolish to write her off – which is presumably why all the pundits have done so. The op-ed section of The Australian are delphic oracles compared to these guys, who move from one infallibility to the next with nary a wink or a nod. With all her bases belonging to Obama, she has taken the policy road and shifted hard left – or as hard left as you can get in US presidential politics.

With John Edwards out of the race, she has moved to own the titles of anti-corporate warrior and defender of the middle class, the key weapon being a just-released booklet “an economic blueprint for the 21st century” (of which more tomorrow). This was an all out bid to take the crown as the principled policy focused candidate, which is why the Clinton campaign prefaced it with one of the pettiest, most desperate spoilers in political history, the latest round of plagiarism charges.

According to this malarkey, Obama is a plagiarist because he used without credit part of a speech by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick(an Obama supporter), on the power of rhetoric:


‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ – just words? Just words? … ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ – just words? ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Just words? ‘I have a dream’ – just words?


Don’t tell me words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream’ – just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ – just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ – just words? Just speeches?

In other, erm, words, Obama took a riff from a fellow speaker, itself a joined string of quotes, and used it, without the ungainly process of a verbal footnote. So what? Well team Hillary are using it to undermine the notion that Obama’s rhetoric is some deep expression of connection with the people and the time, rather than a mash of the best sounding phrases. The move also connects back in Democrat folk memory to the ’88 Joe Biden campaign, where the candidate took a chunk of a speech by, of all people, Neil Kinnock. Crediting it usually, but failing to in an Iowa stump he was hung out to dry.

The Obama plagiarism charges were leaked by the Clinton camp, and Hillary then came round the front to argue that it was the media who was raising the issue so how could she not comment? Etc. The meeja of course claim the opposite, but the pathetically uncritical manner in which even the serious media fail to analyse the process by which such a pseudo-event is constructed has been pretty pathetic.

The strategy could well rebound because, while it would be unfair to suggest that camp Obama would never do this sort of thing if on the backfoot, the mixture of cheap shots, deniability and logic chopping feels so damn Clintonesque that it can’t help but suggest the worst of times, when Bill was caught with his pants down – Hah! You see what I did there! Suck on that Henderson! – arguing about what the definition of ”is” is. It’s a measure of how utterly desperate, or kool-aided up, they are that they’ve taken what is not so much the low road as the subway. Why now on badger-ukelele primary eve (a term I just invented using Wisconsin’s state mascot) rather than droppin da bomb before the Cowboy-Buckeye-Maplesyrup-Red (let’s just hope that “Firewall” name sticks) primary? Presumably because there’s so few delegates up for grabs, and Bama owns Hawaii’s ass, bottom, no say it goddamit, owns its ass! Camp Clinton is using this one as a trial run to see how dirty they can get before there’s blowback.

Still, what really scares me is how inept Obama was in batting it back. Goddamit from brushing it off – “I prefer to think of it as homage” – to dead-bat – “the words expressed the though perfectly so I used them, you can’t footnote everything in a speech” – to a straight reversal – “well it’s a good thing Hillary wants to debate the issues” – to the Manchester approach “you want stabbing, you” – I’d thought of half a dozen cute replies as soon as I heard it, and I bet you had too. Obama hummed and haahed, stumbled over his words. Was he thinking carefully? Marking time so as not to slip up by using, say, the Manchester approach? If he was, he wasn’t covering very well. Maybe that’s the point of the whole Clinton attack – the plagiarism is irrevelant, the point is the attack and Obama’s inability to turn it around and take a point, something the Clintons can do, handcuffed in a peat bog. If primary voters are thinking like me, they’re wondering how this guy is going to cope with a McCain attack on why Obama wants to “surrender” just as the surge is “working”.

Mind you, and to put a completely different interpretation on it, maybe she’s doing it because she’s given up on Wisconsin too – a prissy state dominated by students and cheese makers, so confused it voted to the Senate both a self-proclaimed socialist, and Joe McCarthy – and aiming directly at the tougher states of Ohio and Texas.

Yes, yes. The simplest explanation is always the best. Clinton and her team just still don’t get it – how the ground has shifted. That a really juicy scandal will still work, but this stuff is as ’90s as big pants and Soundgarden, whoever he is.

Or they do. They get it better than us. Cos they’re the Clintons.

And, as we go to press, with the US exit polls, in their usual maddening style refusing to ask who people voted for, all we know is that the economy was leading the war as major concerns for the Democrats – 43% to 29%, 90% thought the economy was a mess, women dominated Democrat voting, men GOP voting, one in ten Dem voters are black, most in Milwaukee, and that – going out on a limb here – Obama will take Hawaii.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey