The Robot versus the Great Uniter


The latest buzz video on YouTube wasn’t connected to the Virginia Tech shootings, or the Iraq carnage. It wasn’t perv-core either, and it didn’t really feature cute animals.

It was about political campaigning and about the tussle over who’s going to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for President next year.

The video shows Hillary Clinton, menacingly groomed, on a tinted black and white movie screen. She’s addressing an army of controlled White-guy drones in a slightly hectoring, didactic tone. A lone, female athlete, pursued by robo-cops, runs into the theatre. With a mighty hammer throw, she shatters the screen, releasing the drones from their servitude.

The video ends with Barack Obama’s campaign site URL, and a warning that if you don’t want 2008 to end up like 1984, you’ll ‘think for yourself.’ And therefore think past Hillary to Barack.

Phil de Vellis, the guy who made the ad, says he did it to parody the Apple Orwell tribute, ‘Think Differently.’ And because he likes Obama. The problem is that he was working for online political strategy firm Blue States Digital at the time. The company which designs blogs, websites and makes videos for distribution online has been working on behalf of Obama, and the cute but divisive web ad that de Vellis knocked up in his spare time isn’t good for the Great Uniter’s image. So de Vellis is out of a job.

Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, the attack ad epitomises many of her problems. It’s not just that the media keep referring to her as ‘robotic’ (symbolised in the attack ad by the depiction of her followers as drones). It’s that she can’t run as anything but the Democrat Establishment candidate. She’s Big Sister; the Microsoft of this election season seen as too large and powerful for her own good.

Thanks to Lukas

After 12 years of the Republican Establishment’s Bushes (One and Two) separated by eight years of the Democrat Establishment’s Bill Clinton, that’s looking like a problem. Obama was in touch with public opinion when he launched his campaign by declaring that it was time to ‘turn the page’  and let a ‘new generation’ gain the presidency.

Strategically, Hillary Clinton has issues. She’s not doing as well as the front-runner for the Party favored to win should be, at this stage. The recent release of fundraising totals for the first three months of 2007 shows how serious the Obama challenge is.

Obama has raised $US25 million dollars so far, placing him only a million dollars behind Clinton. But his contributors will be able to give again this campaign season. Less than half Obama’s donors gave him the maximum allowable amount of $US2400 that’s compared to three quarters of Clinton’s. Obama led fundraising on Wall Street, too, in the city where Clinton is currently a Senator.

To make matters worse for Hillary, about a quarter of the money she raised can’t even be spent during the Primaries campaign. Seven million dollars of her overall $US25 million will only be released if she is nominated by Democrats as their Presidential candidate. That means she can’t spend that dosh attacking Obama in the lead up to the Democratic Convention in August next year.

This comes as her opinion poll lead over Obama has narrowed. She’s still leading 31 per cent to 26 per cent according to a Gallup poll released mid-April. But Obama who until recently was consistently attracting about a fifth of Democratic voters has started gaining on her. He’s reduced her lead by about two-thirds over the past month.

And, while most of the Presidential candidates Republican or Democrat are still registering high approval rates at this stage, the more Americans see Hillary, the more they dislike her. More than half the country disapproves of her performance right now. And while liberals like her more than conservatives or moderates, she’s losing support with the Democratic base as time goes on.

That’s because whenever Clinton tries to appeal to moderates and conservatives in the broader electorate, liberals who are crucial in the Primaries, which will select a Presidential candidate jump on her. Liberal Dems see her as captive to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the group that brought Americans Bill Clinton’s Presidency and the Centrist ‘Third Way.’

And in a year when Democrats are obsessed with Iraq, Hillary Clinton has consistently been out of step with the national mood. In fact, at times she’s sounded like 2004’s failed Presidential contender John Kerry, who famously declared that he had voted ‘for the $US87 billion [Iraq Authorisation Bill] before I voted against it.’

In November 2005, Hillary was calling for a ‘Third Way in Iraq.’ She wanted the US to ask the Iraqi Government to take more responsibility for the country’s security but she was not asking for a firm withdrawal date. Anti-war activists crashed all her appearances last year, and sat in at her office while she maintained that stance.

Then, in March this year, after the 2006 Congressional elections showed Americans were angry about the failed Iraq War, Clinton told Bush that, ‘It is the height of irresponsibility’ for him to leave office with Iraq still in a mess, and that he should plan for troop withdrawals. More recently, Clinton’s been supportive of proposals for Congress to stop funding the War.

Some commentators have argued that many of Clinton’s problems come from American’s fatigue with Monica Lewinsky’s blue dresses and the impeachment dramas of the 1990s. But Hillary’s problems are as much about her as they are about her husband Bill.

For some, she simply sounds too scripted, with all her policies derived from focus groups. For others, Bill Clinton’s Presidency wasted the potential for major progressive reform. The ‘netroots’ section of the Party angry liberals like the Daily Kos‘s Markos Moulitsas insist that Bill’s Presidency was eight wasted years. They point to Hillary’s failed plans for universal health care and Bill’s welfare reforms as evidence that progressive leadership failed to materialise during the 1990s.

Hillary’s position on Iraq reminds liberals of Bill’s ‘triangulation,’ an idea devised by Bill’s former advisor, Dick Morris. It refers to trying to appeal to moderate voters in the other the Party by borrowing your opponent’s policies. After six years of a polarising Bush Presidency, liberals insist that ‘triangulation’ is dead and with it, Hillary Clinton’s careful candidacy.

Which leaves the Democrats with Barack Obama and John Edwards as potential candidates. (Despite rumours that Al Gore’s camp is secretly assembling a campaign team, his disapproval ratings are almost as high as Hillary’s.) Obama is running as the candidate who will take America beyond the Red/Blue divide. And right now, he seems like the ‘grassroots,’ rebel candidate. He’s got Oprah’s endorsement, and I’ve seen people avidly reading his book, The Audacity of Hope  on the subway. Obama is the pollie it’s okay to like.

We know the basics of his positions. He voted against the Iraq War. He’s against gay marriage, but for civil partnerships being legal. He’s generally supportive of pro-choice policies. He’s an economic populist, which means he’s against American jobs being outsourced overseas. He’s for a global community based on co-operation, but wants to reserve America’s right to act unilaterally.

But it’s Obama’s speech-making that is ultimately winning him so much support. It’s the ‘Camelot mystique,’ as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd put it, referring to a speaking style that reminds Americans of JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy) in 1960’s Presidential race.

And it’s that factor which has made Obama the Democrat candidate with momentum right now. South Carolinian John Edwards, who’s been running on firm economic populist policies, is stuck at about 15 per cent of Democrat voters in poll after poll.

That’s despite pledging to renegotiate free trade agreements to benefit American workers. And despite his proposed health care plan, which would cover all American workers partially paid for by the boss. Instead, the American media has focused on Edward’s decidedly bourgeois $400 haircuts.

Look for Edwards to get the pick as Vice Presidential Candidate, just like in 2004. He appeals to poor, White, unionised voters, who are crucial in the former strong manufacturing industry ‘Rust Belt’ States of the Midwest.

That’s if Bill Richardson, the Centrist Governor of New Mexico, isn’t picked. New Mexico will be a crucial State in 2008 and Richardson is Latino, a swing constituency for both Parties. The VP pick will show how far Left the Democrats will run. Again, it’s a contest between the net-roots Left and the DLC Right of the Party.

But who’s going to be the candidate for the top job? Hillary’s spent four years positioning herself as tough on terror; as the Security Senator. But after eight years of Bush’s ‘red alerts’ on terror, voters especially Democrats are sick of the politics of fear. They seem ready to shift emotions to Obama’s audacious hope.

Last week, Charles McPhedran looked at the frontrunners for the Republicans.  

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.