There has been a high level of concern expressed by many Obama supporters about the tone and temperament of the Clinton campaign. Believing her win in Ohio was, at least in part, the result of a strategy that called Obama's readiness into question, the Clinton campaign has continued to press the commander in chief conversation. She has now, on several occasions, explicitly judged John McCain has more capable of being commander in chief than Barack Obama.
For plenty of worthy reasons, Obama supporters and Democratic Party loyalists are furious. At this point, Obama's pledged delegate lead is insurmountable, and his popular vote lead is nearly out of reach. The idea that Hillary Clinton, a legend in her party, would willingly jeopardize the Democratic frontrunner's chances in November is surprising enough. That she would go out of her way to compliment John McCain's experience and leadership was, at least until now, truly unthinkable. Framing an argument to suggest that Obama is less qualified for the presidency than Clinton is one thing. Suggesting that he doesn't measure up to John McCain is quite another.
But for all the commotion, there is reason to believe that the Clinton kitchen sink strategy will actually be quite beneficial for Obama.
There can be little doubt that the bulk of John McCain's campaign against Barack Obama will focus on two prongs: Obama's inexperience and his readiness. There is no other direction from which McCain can successfully attack. The American people side with Obama on foreign policy issues, whether it's withdrawing from Iraq, muting the saber rattling against Iran, or revaluating our strategy toward Pakistan. They side with him on domestic issues as well, preferring Democrats over Republicans on economic issues, and preferring a plan that strives for universal health care over McCain's plan to do nothing all. As a result, McCain will continue, as he has already begun, to hammer Obama on his only perceived weakness -- his readiness to lead.
Counter-intuitively, Clinton's aggressive strategy and questionable tactics may, therefore, be quite helpful to Obama's long term interests. For the next six weeks, and perhaps until June, Obama is playing in what has become, for better or worse, an exhibition game. Despite the Clinton campaign's denial -- and the media's enthusiastic willingness to enable it -- Clinton lacks any conceivable path to the nomination. Her attacks on him cannot, as a result, prevent him from the nomination. They can, however, allow him the opportunity to practice responding to attacks he can expect down the line. He can try a series of trial balloons -- different messages, rhetoric, and posture -- learning which defensive and offensive strategies are most effective.
We have already seen that with time, the Obama campaign learns how to diffuse opposing arguments. The experience message that became the centerpiece of the Clinton campaign has now become, at best, a punch line. With precision, Obama responded, time and again, that it is judgment and not longevity that the presidency requires. By now, the experience argument appears to be Clinton's least effective.
The readiness issue will likely achieve a similar fate. Can there be any doubt that, at the conclusion of the Democratic race, Obama will have become far more agile in responding to these kinds of attacks?
The Clinton campaign's regrettable strategy will have been ironically beneficial for Obama; he will have mastered his message and minimized his primary weakness, all while his real opponent, John McCain, struggles to get noticed at all.