Casual observers may have been annoyed by the amount of attention given to last week's spat involving Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and David Geffen, but those of us who watch politics as a blood sport couldn't help but love this first trench fight between the Democratic front runners. This skirmish wasn't just entertaining though, it was also informational; we learned a few key things about each of the players and what that means for what is sure to be the longest and most brutal Presidential campaigns in decades—and that's just on the Dems' side.
So what's the big deal about David Geffen dropping some shitty comments on Hillary Clinton? Did it really warrant the nuclear response put forth by Clinton's team who called on Democratic rival Barack Obama to renounce—renounce!—Geffen and return any money raised in his name? No, of course not, but that's not what it was all about.
Barack Obama has what nobody else does and everyone wants: magic. He has a personal charisma that enchants individuals and holds sway over crowds. He has a Story that is both inspirational and true, a rarity in the pantheon of political biographies. He has an air of righteousness that leaves him above the fray of normal, dirty in the nails politics. Or he did until last week.
Taking a page from Karl Rove's playbook, Team Clinton identified Obama's perceived strength of being beyond everyday politics and set out to destroy that image. By picking a petty fight with Obama—and more importantly, having his staff respond—they've knocked him (at least temporarily) off that pedestal and dragged him into the shit and spit of hand-to-hand politics. It didn't matter what the issue was, they just needed to get him to engage in the same old grappling as everyone else to scuff some of that shine from his reputation. And it worked. It doesn't matter that we're a year from the primaries and MOST Americans aren't even paying attention yet. The Clintons have knocked Obama off his story...at least temporarily.
It looks like Obama may have wisened up to the plot because he told the New York Times, "I told my staff that I don't want us to be a party to these kinds of distractions because I want to make sure that we're spending time talking about issues," he said. "My preference going forward is that we have to be careful not to slip into playing the game as it customarily is played."
Some pols missed the point and thought the Clinton salvo was an overreaction that was sure to confirm blockheads' perceptions that women are too emotional and irrational to hold the nuclear football. What we really saw was a political two-fer where Clinton not only knocked Obama for a doozey but also sent a message that she would be the anti-Kerry when it came to political attacks (real or imagined). No, she would not be Swift Boated, she would respond with overwhelming force to any threat. It's yet another example of Hillary Clinton campaigning beyond the primaries and into the general election.
Where is David Geffen in all this? Well, he's the loudmouth who started it all by saying the Clinton's were liars and would surely be taken out by Republicans laying in wait for the primaries to end when they could unleash a tirade of torrid stories involving Bill Clinton—thus, losing it all for Democrats once again.
It's not a bad theory, actually, and the Clintons' response didn't go far to allay anyone's fears that Geffen may be right. They did nothing to assure Democrats that there would be no stories with which to torpedo their campaign. Instead, they said it was nobody's business and "out of bounds" to address the Clinton's marriage or past infidelities. That's asinine, of course. Bill's marital transgressions were central to his impeachment. It was unreasonable character assignation by the Republicans of course, but it was also an exhausting experience for the American public, and one many aren't eager to relive. Therefore, it's entirely reasonable to wonder if it might happen again. Sure, it's unfair that the Clinton's have to pay for the dastardly actions of Newt Gingrich, et al., but life ain't fair and neither are politics.
And so, if last week's events baffled you or even if they annoyed you, I am sorry. It's going to be a looooong two years for you. For the rest of us: pour a Chivas and pop in a frozen pizza, this is going to be one hell of a fight.