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Barack Obama In Iowa . . . Or Oz

Is Barack Obama suggesting to voters in Iowa that the major reason the Clintons are seen as “divisive” is that they themselves said and did things that divided the country? That would mean the Republican Party of Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove had nothing to do with that perception.

The Des Moines Register’s David Yepsen reported on Obama’s speech [h/t Susan in Iowa] at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, which Yepsen thought was the best of the bunch:

*He said . . . “we have a chance to bring the country together to tackle problems that George Bush made far worse and that festered long before George Bush took office.” Translation: Clinton is divisive and there were problems the Clinton era didn’t solve.

*He said “the same old Washington textbook campaigns just won’t do it in this election.” Translation: Democrats can’t win running a Bill Clinton campaign again.

. . .

*He said “triangulating and poll-driven positions because we’re worried what Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won’t do it.” He said he offers “change that is not just a slogan” and “change we can believe in.” Polls were a hallmark of the Clinton era.

*He said he wanted to “stop talking about the outrage of 47 million Americans without health care and start actually doing something about it.” That was a smooth way to remind the audience how Clinton’s effort at national health care failed.

*. . . And he said “I am running for president because I am sick and tired of Democrats thinking the only way to look tough on national security is talking and acting and voting like George Bush Republicans.” Ouch.

His coup de grace came with this: “When I am the nominee of this party, the Republican nominee will not be able to say I voted for the war in Iraq, or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, or that I support Bush-Cheney policies of not talking to leaders that we don’t like.”

“I don’t want to spend the next year or the next four years refighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s,” a reference to the polarization of the Clinton years. “I don’t want to pit red America against blue America.”

Some of this is legitimate criticism of Clinton’s votes and campaign strategy. But how does he propose to avoid the divisiveness of the last decade? The extreme partisanship of the last decade, and particularly during the Bush Administration, is a result of a deliberate Rovian policy to govern from the extreme right wing while retaining just enough rubber stamps in Congress to keep a bare majority. The Republicans show every sign of continuing that deliberately divisive strategy. And health care reform didn’t fail merely because Hillary was . . . whatever she was. It failed because of a concerted negative and dishonest campaign by Republicans and the insurance industry, among others. And they’ll be back.

If Obama has any doubt where the divisiveness comes from, all he has to do is watch the White House and their obstructionist loyalists in Congress. Or he could turn on cable news shows, and not just Fox, but MSNBC and CNN too. Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson have been personally attacking Hillary Clinton every night on such weighty matters as how she laughs, or why she claps when introduced. CNN guests routinely criticize Hillary for defending herself or they criticize Bill for deflecting the blame. Yesterday, on ABC’s “This Week,” George Will pontificated that Hillary Clinton “has a computer chip where her soul should be.” Yep, it’s all Clinton’s fault.

If Obama thinks such malicious attacks are only directed at Hillary, and wouldn’t be directed at him the moment he became the frontrunner, or he thinks it’s Clinton’s fault, he has no clue what the Democratic nominee will face next year.

Obama called on his audience to “stand up” against the politics of the past, and that’s right. But the politics of the past were designed by Newt and Karl and capitalized by Georgy and Dick’s fear mongering. If Obama (or any candidate) wants to be taken seriously, he first needs to convince Americans he understands what the Bush/Cheney regime, its radical followers and a complicit media have done to America and its political discourse and realizes how hard it’s going to be to repair the damage. Blaming the Clintons for everything is not just missing the point; it means you’re not ready.



John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley