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February 25, 2008

An Increasingly Smarmy Obama Campaign

By Cody Lyon

What might be in order is more reality checking where purveyors of news may need to do some digging despite the danger that it may upset the flow of "smarmy and misleading" rhetoric flowing down this very popular river.


Cody Lyon


Once again, charges over misleading allegations are put on the back burner and met with a smarmy dismissive by spokespeople and even the candidate himself, Barack Obama. This time it’s regarding loud allegations by Hillary Clinton over a pair of recent mailings by the Obama campaign in Ohio.

CNN reported that Obama said "There's nothing in that mailing that is inaccurate," adding that he was puzzled by the sudden scrutiny since the mailers had been around for days, if not weeks.

True, some of the campaign material which Clinton blasted as “right out of Karl Rove’s playbook” had already been called into question by Clinton and others, but, as has been the case with much of this campaign, the media along with other players with platforms failed to take much notice.

One of the mailers says that "Hillary Clinton thought NAFTA was a 'boon' to the economy,” going on to say that the New York Senator is "changing her tune" now that she's campaigning in the Buckeye State,” of Ohio.

But Sam Stein at the Huffington Post wrote a piece on February 14 noting former Clinton officials and biographers like Carl Bernstein and Mickey Kantor had spoken in the media and elsewhere noting that Hillary had long held political and philosophical opposition to NAFTA, but being first lady, was unable to publicly oppose the legislation at that time it was enacted.

The other mailer, on the hot button, sensitive issue of healthcare coverage had drawn a loud condemnation from the Clinton campaign because of what it saw as a use of visual images that harkens back to the insurance industry sponsored 1993 ad campaign well known as the “Harry and Louise” commercials.

Whether or not the images of the kitchen table couple worrying over healthcare costs offers similarities to Harry and Louise is subjective to some, the text does engage in “misleading politicking 101.”

According to, the mailer opens with the claim that “Hillary’s health care plan forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can’t afford it.

But says “the mailer leaves out any information on cost reduction any information on cost reduction measures and low income help that Clinton’s plan offers, while it touts such measures found in his plan, some of which very closely mirror Clinton’s.”

Naturally, politicians in the heat of campaign are going to engage in slippery talk and a tendency to plant seeds of doubt aimed at potential voters that is often laden with fact challenged or questionable text and messages. But in the end, voters suffer because they are misled into believing messages that simply aren’t true. And that’s where the news people come in since its there job to expose that sort of material and behavior to readers, viewers and listeners for what it is, misleading.

But, as this campaign season has shown, over the past few weeks, they’ve done a pretty lame job and have according to those on the Clinton side, appeared almost biased.

In fact, some in the public forum have already spun Clinton’s attack over the mailers a desperate candidate resorting to harsher tactics to save her campaign.

Well hooray for Clinton for putting on the political hot foot because she and plenty of her supporters recognize that this is a fight for her political life and potentially a fight for a Democratic victory come November. Maybe a little drama is necessary to capture the attention of those watching the cameras. And, hopefully, those watching the footage will realize, that in November, when allegations over tactics and other questions start hurling from Republicans, it will be necessary for them to be met with answers, and not dismissive and arrogant missives. For one, the American people don’t like that sort of condescension.

Eventually, they figure out when they are being misled or hoodwinked.

So far, it’s only Hillary who’s been nailed to the cross by a host of pundits and columnists who obviously had long running axes to grind with the Clintons. Her laundry has been hung out on the line for the world to see. Interestingly, the other side has not even been to the cleaners.

It has become increasingly disturbing to watch a complacent media participate in the “what a feeling” drumbeat of the Obama campaign. Indeed, it is a powerful message of change, unity coupled with hope filled packed house led by a media darling rock star of politics. But, what might be in order is more reality checking where purveyors of news may need to do some digging despite the danger that it may upset the flow of “smarmy and misleading” rhetoric flowing down this very popular river.

Albeit a cynical observation, the Obama campaign’s message feels increasingly shallow and synthetic, where its advisors and its candidate are in fact, willing participants in the old school ways of dirty politics it likes to point to as “tired”.

As “The Chicago Tribune” reported on February 10, regarding Obama’s message that he is taking the moral high ground when it comes to taking money from lobbyist and special interests.

The “Tribune” report said “those who lobby for a living say it's not that simple, and even Obama's stance shows some flexibility. He won't take money from federal lobbyists but accepts money from employees of firms and corporations that lobby, and he uses lobbyists and other government relations professionals as advisers.”

With the exception of scattered print reporting like this, there has been no real and aggressive vetting of the man who would be President, more, a sense of blind faith in a stated message of hope and change. But, what is this change he speaks of? Who or what anointed this campaign with scrutiny Teflon?

Unfortunately, an appealing and infectious message of change is not the key to unlocking the reality that is the megalithic prickly, interest driven world of Washington DC politics where give and take is necessary to seizing that stubborn bull by its horns.

More importantly for this important moment in the race to the White House, if change is what a candidate offers potential voters on the campaign trail, the candidate might ought to be a willing participant in what he preaches in his own campaign methods and tactics less he be called out as lest than real.

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Cody Lyon is an Alabama native who is a freelance writer in New York City.