Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Clinton '92 -v- Obama '08

Bernard has been running a poll to try to identify the best post-war presidential election campaign. For me it comes down to a choice between Clinton's victory over the older Bush in 1992 to the amazing movement Barack Obama has built over the last 17 months.

If you can't listen to Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow without a tingle, then you will know how captivating and exciting Clinton's rollercoaster ride to the Presidency was in '92. Led by the wild Cajun genius that is James Carville, the phrase "It's the Economy, stoopid" became synonymous with a disciplined, professional and captivating campaign that defeated an incumbent president who, a year before had been at 91% approval ratings following the first Gulf War.

This defeat happened despite the campaign having to deal with what were termed by a Republican staffer in a wine enhanced moment as "bimbo eruptions" throughout the campaign. The Gennifer Flowers scenario would have put paid to a lesser candidate and a lesser campaign - look at Gary Hart, for example. Barack Obama, in contrast, has barely put a foot wrong since his bid for the presidency began.

One feature of the Clinton campaign was their rapid rebuttal operation - no opposition lie or allegation was allowed to go unanswered.

The remarkable feature of Obama's campaign is, of course, the way he has engaged with a whole new set of people, encouraging them to vote for the first time. He's had a really good, solid ground operation too. And he's disciplined, too - expecting the same of his volunteers. I was trawling through his website the other day looking for some faqs on telephone canvassing. One question read "What if I need to return my calls cos I won't hae time for them?" Basically the answer was, "you can't, only you can do them, so get on with it - but you'll help make history." Maybe we're too nice in our Party.

Obama also managed to win through after a fairly lengthy and bruising primary battle which almost went to the wire. He managed to retain his dignity in the process. However, his opponent was ready and primed from April and in a much better position than the older Bush was in '92. Bush had had to deal with a brief but unnerving primary battle with Pat Buchanan and then his campaign was pretty much in disarray.

Both Clinton and Obama had some good sticks to beat their opponents with. For Clinton it was the "Read my lips, no new taxes" promise from George H W Bush - a rash thing to say, and one which was bound to cause him trouble. For Obama, it was McCain's choice of VP, an untested, untried Governor of a small state who knows less than my hamster does about foreign policy and who believed that the French President would ring her up for a chat without extensive discussions between their respective people, and his complete manic panic over the economy. He flew in to save the world and ended up with egg on his face. He clearly hadn't been taking advice from Vince Cable.

Clinton and Obama were both relative unknowns when they started their journey to the White House. Both had spoken at the Democratic Convention 4 years before their campaign - Clinton at great length and at great boredom, Obama with great promise for the future. Clinton had extensive executive experience but he wasn't so well known while Obama was a freshman Senator. The achievements of both campaigns were spectacular - and I hope that Obama does indeed win through tonight.

However, for me it's the Clinton campaign which captivated me the most - and I voted for that on Bernie's poll. So far I'm in a minority of one, but c'est la vie.

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