The strategy of the Obama campaign thus far has been to stake claim to the moral high ground. The junior senator from Illinois has refused to resort to negative campaigning or to launch pre-emptive strikes on its opposition unless it finds itself directly challenged. What concerns me about this attitude is that it's all well and good to play fair except when one considers that there's no such thing as a fair fight. This is particularly true in politics.
In saying this, let me assert that I am firmly in Senator Obama's camp and consider him the most qualified candidate currently running. But let me also counter that statement of support by stating my concern that Obama will be effectively smeared by the Clinton machine and not respond to the inevitable negative allegations in time. Leo Durocher famously stated that nice guys finish last. I'd hate for Barack Obama to be the latest example.
Obama is trying to run a spotless campaign from now until the primaries begin but concedes that after the primaries conclude that the gloves will come off. I heartily disagree with this philosophy because my instinct is to go for the jugular as quickly as possible. This does not imply that I wish to sling unfounded suppositions and mean-spirited gossip in Rovian fashion. The reality is that in addition to being unethical, this sort of behavior is totally unnecessary. The record of the Clinton White House is ammunition enough.
I propose that the campaign strip off the veneer of fantasy and reveal the reality behind its most formidable competition. The Obama campaign is not willing to go on the record as such, which I believe to be a great mistake. Nor have I heard of any other Democratic candidate willing to reveal the truth. To wit, Bill Clinton is not the messiah that he is often perceived to be. This sentiment is often heard within the African-American community, which thus far has been hesitant to embrace Senator Obama as one of its own. Among many of African-Americans, the name Clinton by itself holds a vast amount of credibility and name recognition. The irony is that, in many ways, Bill Clinton was no friend to the Black community.
I never heard anyone refer to him as "the first black President" until the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Another major irony is inherent in the fact that everyone accepts that statement as gospel, but no one seems to have defined any uniform interpretation of what is meant by it. I've informally canvassed a large cross-section of African-Americans, asking for their own definition, and everyone I've questioned has a different answer.
Bill ran to the black community and was embraced with open arms. Perhaps an racial group all-too-familiar being vilified based on ignorance and fear felt that they could relate well to Bill's philandering. Among a few arch-conservative commentators, I heard another, more sinister interpretation which suggested that many African-American men cheated on their spouses and wives and that this made Bill's behavior that much more understandable. Naturally, this line of logic is in the same tired, racist school of thought that stereotypes Black men as amoral and sub-human.
Bill Clinton was one of the most conservative Democrats ever to hold the office of President. His eight-year tenure included passage of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act as well as the draconian three-strikes-and-you're-out legislation. Granted, both of these bills were passed under a hostile GOP-controlled Congress, but this did not obligate Clinton to play ball and acquiesce to the demands of an unfriendly legislative body. After all, has not our current President made a career out of taking a stand on often unpopular issues?
The incompetence and abuses of powers committed by the current administration have many of us yearning for the past. I think this is a particularly dangerous fantasy, especially when one considers that the placidity of those times disguised major problems that had yet to fully foment. We went through a robust period of growth in the 1990s, but if the collapse of Enron and the dot.coms have shown us anything, it has illustrated well that much of that wealth existed only on paper.
To conclude, I think it behooves any candidate currently running to explode the mythology of the Clinton years, else we will see Hillary take the Democratic nomination in a cakewalk.