Memo Reveals Obama’s 2008 Strategy Vs Hillary

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Conveniently timed to go online on the day of the first Democratic presidential debate, The New Yorker published Tuesday a memo written by Barack Obama’s campaign strategists in 2007. The subject of the memo? How to defeat frontrunner – then as today – Hillary Rodham Clinton.

If Obama’s campaign had been a bust, the memo might be of only marginal interest. But since it’s difficult to even remember the days when the Chicago senator was losing to Hillary, the memo could prove to be a game changer for her current opponents, most of whom can’t escape single digits in the polling. A winning strategy is a winning strategy, after all, and Clinton still has all the same weaknesses outlined in the report.

Those weaknesses all have a common root: Character. From the memo:

• The reason Clinton can’t be trusted or believed when it comes to change is that she represents, to a great degree, the three sources of discontent formulated in our premise.
• She’s driven by political calculation not conviction, regularly backing away and shifting positions on issues ranging from war, to Social Security, to trade, to reform.
• She embodies trench warfare vs. Republicans, and is consumed with beating them rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done.
• She prides herself on working the system, not changing it—rebuffing reforms on everything from lobbyist donations to budget earmarks.

Yup, sounds like the Hillary we still know and love today. Except now, she’s also saddled with charges of incompetence, secrecy, and lawbreaking. If anything, Hillary is a weaker candidate in 2016 than she was in 2008. She might have added a couple of lines to her resume, but nothing she’s done over the last eight years indicates that she’s overcome a central character flaw.

There are hints that Hillary’s challengers recognize those weaknesses. At the debate, she was taken to task for her flip-flopping and her vote on Iraq. But voters can easily brush aside these quibbles, especially when they’re blinded by the goal of electing the first female president. Those highlight mistakes, but they don’t necessarily speak to Hillary’s core character. At most, they get Democrats to lose interest in the election altogether. Eh, they’re all bums.

What Obama did, on the advice of his strategists, was take the campaign away from the policies. He wanted to show voters that he was different than Hillary. Not that his record was different or that his platform was different. That he was different. As it was put in the memo:

“Change you can believe in” was intended to frame the argument along the character fault line, and this is where we can and must win this fight. We cannot let Clinton especially blur the lines on who is the genuine agent of change in this election.

Watching the debate, you might wonder if any of the other candidates even want to win. They seemed focused on presenting America with a picture of party unity instead of focusing on their differences. Asked to contrast herself with Barack Obama, Hillary herself could only come up with a single difference.

“Well, I think that’s pretty obvious,” she said. “I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we’ve had up until this point, including President Obama.”

If that’s the best she’s got, she is still just as beatable as she was eight years ago. The question is whether the Democrats have anyone who cares enough to give it a shot.