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December 31, 2007

The Bubba Factor, And Other Maladroit Clintonisms

The Politico notes that Bill Clinton has fallen back on Bubbalistic campaigning in Iowa. The homespun wisdom of the former Rhodes scholar comes along with his wife's various regional accents, but as Ben Smith notes, usually much farther away from the press:

Before he was a silver-haired elder statesman, ex-president, and globe-trotting do-gooder, Bill Clinton was Bubba.

And out in rural Western Iowa, Bubba is back. ... While his speech differed little from the one he gives in upscale audiences, his presence there indicates both the potential his wife’s campaign sees in the West and the fact that the former president retains what many once saw as his basic political gift – his ability to connect to the small-town voters whom his party had lost, and to allow them to identify with him.

It also allows the media to lose sight of Bill. Smith noted that only one other reporter made his way to Cherokee to listen to the speech. Given the couple of items Smith notes, the Clinton campaign probably made the right choice. For instance, the blatantly racist argument that a Clinton campaigner made in Cherokee would probably not play well in the major media outlets:

In Cherokee, one Clinton precinct captain who asked that her name not be used questioned his prospects: “We’ve got to keep an eye on electability,” she said. “Is America ready for a black president?”

According to the Clintons, Maya Angelou, and Andrew Young, we've already had one -- the same man who traveled to Cherokee. Oh, wait, apparently she meant someone who actually is black, like Barack Obama, rather than someone whose upbringing apparently made him a poor black child from Hope, or the candidate who affects Southern accents when speaking to congregations at black churches. If the media caught the Clinton team questioning whether a black man should get nominated for a major-party ticket, it might create a huge political problem for Hillary. Good thing she hid Bill in Cherokee.

That made this throwaway line a little more forgettable, in which Bill came to praise Mike Huckabee and not bury him:

“We grew up in an oral culture and we like to laugh,” the former president said.

Next memo from Hillary to Bill will include an instruction to remove the word oral from the dictionary, permanently.

The Bubba persona, like Hillary's accents, are affectations for what the campaign sees as the rubes in the sticks. This kind of posturing worked well in an era where mass communications remained in the hands of a few, and where the lack of reporters meant that no one heard what was being said. This kind of politicking indicates that the Clintons may not have fully comprehended how much communications have changed politics since 1992.


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