Friday, January 18, 2008

Tsk, Tsk... Temper, Temper

The Campaigns are Feeling the Pressure

Short-tempered... Prickly... Overly sensitive... Thin-skinned... A bit of candid self-knowledge is a good thing. Those adjectives apply to weaknesses that I see in myself, but then again, I have no need for power either. I have no desire to dominate other people. Weaknesses that might make someone like me hard to live or work with are magnified in their potential impact for people who wish to hold the power associated with political office.

I could never run for a public office, even if my idiosyncratic views had much of a following. I wouldn't last two seconds in that game. I'd go ballistic.... One of the things that I like about Obama so much is his even demeanor and the sense that he doesn't need to be president in order to feel complete as a human being. In the debate in Las Vegas this week, he was asked to characterize his strengths and weaknesses, and he gave real, honest answers, unlike the other candidates, who came up with those phony, job-interview kinds of weaknesses along the lines of "I care too much and too passionately about what I believe in."

The stress of this campaign is already starting to wear on these candidates and their staffs as illustrated in a couple of events yesterday. Does a public display of temper hurt or help a campaign? As always, I guess it depends on who you ask.

Man, these guys are starting to look old and tired...

Mitt Under the Staple Gun

In South Carolina yesterday, Mitt Romney put in an appearance at a Staples in Columbia with a press availability period thrown in. As he claimed before the microphones that there were no Washington lobbyists running his campaign, he got called on it by AP reporter Glen Johnson, who piped up with what I thought was a fair objection, asking Mitt about the presence and influence of (Dutko Worldwide) lobbyist Ron Kaufman. Mitt immediately became testy and defensive, and the exchange got ugly as they parsed the difference between "running" a campaign and "being an advisor" to a campaign. In the aftermath, I've noticed that a lot of people thought Johnson was out of line in this encounter, and perhaps he was, such as when he interrupted rather brusquely and openly laughed at Romney's lies, but I'll just point out that it's not his job to be a candidate's buddy and to let him say whatever he wants without being challenged. Besides, as the tape shows, Mitt sought Johnson out himself after the event was wrapped up, aggressively approaching him with "Glen, Glen... Did you listen to what I said?" Then Romney's aide Eric Fehrnstrom got into it, chastising Johnson for being "unprofessional" and admonishing him not to "get aggressive with the candidate." Grrrruff!

What Happens in Vegas... Goes Worldwide

Bill Clinton's chummy smile turns quickly into pique in Nevada, as he gets asked by a reporter about the suit filed by the Nevada State Teachers Union challenging a judge's decision to let the Culinary Workers Union members caucus on-site at work on Saturday. In this case, I don't blame him too much for getting miffed. Taking into account the political loyalties associated with each union (Teachers for Clinton, Culinary for Obama), I don't blame him for considering the question provocative, but he doesn't fight quite fair either, presenting strongly-stated suppositions as facts and accusing the reporter of "holding a position" in his familiar, lawyerly fashion.

Bill really seems on edge in this primary season, which has led some people to wonder whether he is hurting or helping Hillary's campaign, as in this New York Times piece, Bill Clinton, Stumping and Simmering. He seems to want desperately to either get back into the White House or onto the Supreme Court (as rumor has it, if Hillary is elected). You can't help but wonder, looking at the raw emotions displayed by the Clintons recently, if the success of this campaign has everything to do with keeping their marriage together. From the NYT article...
Mr. Clinton’s temper has been an issue for him as long as he has been in public life. But it has played an unusual role during the current campaign, his face turning red in public nearly every week, often making headlines as he defends his wife and injects himself, whether or not intentionally, into her race in sometimes distracting ways.

Some Clinton advisers say the campaign is trying to rein him in somewhat, so that his outbursts become less of a factor to reporters, but his flashes of anger only seem to be growing. Last week, for instance, a clearly agitated Mr. Clinton told Dartmouth students that it was a “fairy tale” for Mr. Obama to contend that he had been consistently against the war in Iraq. And in December he said that voters supporting Mr. Obama were willing to “roll the dice” on the presidency.

“The bottom line is, his outbursts don’t help the campaign,” said James A. Thurber of American University, an analyst of the presidency and Congress. “They become an issue, and it can grow into a real problem. I think the campaign is worried about him right now.”

“Bubbling just below the surface is a deep resentment on his part against the press about the way he feels she is portrayed against Barack,” said David R. Gergen, a Harvard professor of public service who has been an adviser to presidents of both parties, including Mr. Clinton. “He is a bit like Mount Vesuvius: he’ll just erupt, but then it’s over, because the good thing about his temper is that he doesn’t bear grudges.”

Aides and advisers to both Clintons say he tends to explode in anger more often and more fiercely than his wife, whose temper is usually described as that of a slow-burn and clipped-tone variety.

His so-called “purple fits” and “earthquakes” have been a constant to those who have worked with him. Some have dealt with it by avoiding him, others by simply responding with silence. One senior White House aide, George Stephanopoulos, who was often a target of Mr. Clinton’s fury, has written of taking an antidepressant because the vicissitudes of the job were so intense.

Mr. Clinton has reflected on his temper over the years, perhaps most revealingly in his autobiography. At one point in it, he recalls a day in junior high school when he hit a boy who had been taunting him. It was a moment from which he came to draw lessons.

“I was a little disturbed by my anger, the currents of which would prove deeper and stronger in the years ahead,” Mr. Clinton wrote. “Because of the way Daddy behaved when he was angry and drunk, I associated anger with being out of control and I was determined not to lose control. Doing so could unleash the deeper, constant anger I kept locked away because I didn’t know where it came from.”


Liam said...

I do think Bill Clinton's visibility and outbursts aren't helping his wife's campaign. His temper though seems more authentic than gee-whiz Mr. Nice Romney.

I remember during the Olympics (the claim that he "saved" the Olympics is absurd -- all of the contracts were already in place when he showed up) he yelled at a bus driver "What the f--k is going on?" Later he was very careful to explain that he didn't use the "f" word, but he didn't apologize for losing his temper. What a d*******g.

Jeff said...

OK, OK, let's clean it up... :-)

Although this is what a quick lookup on the incident comes up with:

The brouhaha in blue began when Romney drove up to a traffic jam involving dozens of busloads of Olympic spectators, jumped out of his car and began directing traffic. He then weighed in on [Shaun] Knopp, who was hired by a SLOC contractor to help with security. Later, Knopp said Romney asked who the 'f---' he was and what the 'f---' he was doing. Romney added -- in Knopp's version -- 'We got the Olympics going on and we don't need this s--- going on.'

Willard won big in Nevada today... For what it's worth.

crystal said...

It doesn't seem fair to hold Bill's demeanor against Hillary. I'm not so put off by his temper - it at least seems like an honest expression of his fee;ings, and given his situation, it's not so surprising he'd be peeved often. He may feel guilty of hindering rather than helping his wife. Let he who has never used the ef word cast the first stone :-)

cowboyangel said...

It's been a rough week for the Democrats. I think they hammered out - and I use that verb intentionally - enough of a truce for now, but this is going to be a rough and ugly process all the way through to the convention.

Because that's the way the Clintons want it. All of the little comments and actions over the last two weeks - Bob Kerrey and the madrassa quote, Bill's "fairy tale" quote, the Steinem op-ed, Ferraro's comments, Bob Johnson, Hillary's King comment, etc. - these aren't isolated, coincidental events. This is how the Clintons are going to do business from here on out. The only question is: HOw will Obama respond? He's caught between a rock and a hard place. If he doesn't respond, he seems weak. If he does, he doesn't seem any different. Team Clinton knows this.

I was surprised to see that the New York Times went as far as to publish an editorial this week on these things. "It was clearly her side that first stoked the race and gender issue. . . . The presence of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton should have made talk of race or gender academic. But Mr. Obama seized the mantle of change and upset Mrs. Clinton in Iowa in part by drawing away her support among women. By the time the campaigns got to New Hampshire, the Clinton team was panicking. Mrs. Clinton had to win or risk being out of the primaries entirely."

The Clintons are nothing if not ferocious political animals. I'm not surprised at all by the way this is playing out. And Bill's definitely a part of it. In fact, I imagine he's the one who came up with the strategy.

I've never really liked the guy, but I think he's acting pretty poorly for an ex-President. Granted, it's a new situation - out there supporting a wife who's now running for president, but some of his actions and attitude have been pretty low for someone who represents such a lofty position. His actions at the caucus yesterday were out of line. (Bill Clinton Ignites Ruckus Inside Casino Caucus.)

But not out of character. What kills me are comments like this: "Amelia Morland, also speaking in Spanish, said: 'Everything's changed about Clinton. He's not the man he used to be.'"

Yeah, right. He's always been like this. I knew that during the primaries in 1992. I mean, people started calling him Slick Willie for a reason.

Is the stress getting to him? Maybe. I think he can't believe people aren't falling down to worship him and Hillary. For the life of me, I still can't figure out why so many Americans have warm memories of these people. Just goes to show how traumatized the country was under Reagan and now Bush II. If the Clintons represent our better selves, we as a people are in trouble.

Actually, I thought Edwards seemed energetic during the debate. And though Hillary did seem tired at the beginning, she perked up after the first half-hour and did very well after that. Obama's the one who seemed really tired to me. The guy needs to take some time off before the debates. He's looked exhausted during the last two. He better pay more attention to his big televised appearances, because he's not going to reach people one-on-one the rest of the way, like he did in Iowa and NH. One only needs to look at Bill Richardson to see that debate performances matter.

Jeff said...

Unfortunately for her, Hillary's position and her feminist bona fides are complicated by the fact that her husband was a two-term president. It's starting to look to a lot of people like he's making this election about him. It's "two-for-the-price-of-one" again.

I tend to see it the way William sees it. I think the Clintons are venal and corrupt, and I won't be able to get behind them under any circumstances. They'll do anything they can to win this nomination, which is one of the reasons why they'll be unelectable in November.

A case in point is the recent flap over what Obama said in a bit of political analysis in a recent interview.

"I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what is different is the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing... I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it has to do with the times. I think we are in one of those fundamentally different times right now were people think that things, the way they are going, just aren’t working. We’re bogged down in the same arguments that we’ve been having, and they’re not useful. And, you know, the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out. I think it’s fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last ten, fifteen years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you’ve heard it all before. You look at the economic policies when they’re being debated among the Presidential candidates and it’s all tax cuts. Well, you know, we’ve done that, we tried it.”

Yes, he gave Bill Clinton a dig, and the way the Clintons should have responded was to make a case that Bill did change the trajectory of the country. But that's not how they responded...

Obama's remark was a simple statement of fact. We might not like that fact, we may lament it, but it is true that Bill Clinton did not change this country like Reagan did, and he was not able to break the grip of the ascendancy of Reaganism either. He did not, and that is all Obama was saying. He wasn't endorsing Reagan's views and policies.

What Hillary said, however, was:

I have to say, you know, my leading opponent the other day said that he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last ten to fifteen years. That’s not the way I remember the last ten to fifteen years.

And Bill said from the stump:

“Her principal opponent said that since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas.”

That's disgraceful. Those are flat out lies they're telling people out on the campaign stump, and they know it.