Friday, February 29, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Sleeping Child Ad: It's a Good Thing

(Necessary unnecessary disclaimer: I'm voting for Obama)

I know I might not win many friends by stating this but I think its a good thing that Hillary Clinton is running the sleeping child ad that is being discussed in this diary. Please bear with me as I explain.

First of all, on the substance, the ad asks a vital question: who do you trust to keep your children safe? It is rough. It cuts right to the bone on the matter. But that doesn't mean it isn't an important question. Indeed, it is perhaps THE most important question we should ask of any leader: can you keep our children safe?

And if Barack Obama cannot answer that question in a way that assuages people's fears then does he really deserve to be President?

We talk all the time about the way the Bushies play the fear card. But, just because some people use it in order to manipulate them does not make the question an illegitimate one.

Can Barack Obama protect our children?

Can Hillary Clinton?

Can John McCain?

The ad suggests that the more experienced candidate is more naturally suited to protect our children. That is Hillary Clinton's answer to the question of whether Hillary Clinton can protect our children.

But did those years of experience inform her decision to sign on to Bush's war? Does John McCain's years of experience inform his belief that a thousand year war in Iraq is a good idea?

By asking this question in its most raw form, Hillary Clinton has opened herself up to the very same question she is trying to get people to ask of Barack Obama. And if Obama cannot respond in a way that demonstrates that she has failed her own test then does he really deserve our vote?

If John McCain can't answer the question does he deserve our vote?

Don't think that just because the Republicans will be asking essentially the same question this Fall (though in an even more ominous fashion) that that makes it off-limits for Hillary Clinton to ask the same question. In fact, Clinton is doing Obama a favor by raising the issue now.

Because, again, if Obama cannot respond in a sufficiently reassuring manner to perhaps the most vital question we should ask any leader, then does he really deserve our vote?

Don't be afraid of this debate. This is a good debate to have.

Don't be afraid of fear.


Obama responds:

"I just want to take a moment to respond to an ad that Senator Clinton is apparently running today that asks, 'Who do you want answering the phone in the White House when it’s 3am and something has happened in the world?'

"We’ve seen these ads before. They’re the kind that play on peoples’ fears to scare up votes.

"Well it won’t work this time. Because the question is not about picking up the phone. The question is – what kind of judgment will you make when you answer? We’ve had a red phone moment. It was the decision to invade Iraq. And Senator Clinton gave the wrong answer. George Bush gave the wrong answer. John McCain gave the wrong answer.

"But I stood up and said that a war in Iraq would cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars. I said that it would distract us from the real threat we face – and that we should take the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan. That’s the judgment I made on the most important foreign policy decision of our generation, and that’s the kind of judgment I’ll show when I answer that phone in the White House as President of the United States – the judgment to keep us safe, to go after our real enemies, and to provide the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States with the equipment they need when we do send them into battle, and the respect and care they have earned when they come home. And I’ll never see the threat of terrorism as a way to scare up votes, because it’s a threat that should rally this country around our common enemies. That’s the judgment we need at 3am. And that’s the judgment that I am running for President to provide."

This is a very good response. About the only change I would make would be to lead off with the "red phone" point because that's the real meat. Obama deftly turns the question back on Clinton (and McCain) and says that she (and he) failed. But by leading first with "we've seen this kind of thing before" he increases the odds that the sound bite on TV and radio will focus on him pooh-poohing the question. As I said above, I think the question is a good one. If Obama is seen as simply dismissing it then he will suffer. He doesn't, but by burying the strongest part of his counter-point he diminishes it.

I've already hear a radio report on this this morning that used the "we've seen this kind of thing before" line but did not use the "red phone" line.

Still, overall a strong response and it hits all the points I think it needed to hit.

[Update 2]

"Now one of Clinton’s laws of politics is this: If one candidate’s trying to scare you and the other one’s trying to get you to think, if one candidate’s appealing to your fears and the other one’s appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope."

-Bill Clinton, 2004


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