Parsing Obama’s ‘Punjab’ Flub

Especially in primary contests for the support of many blue-collar and union voters, it’s reasonable—and politically astute—to highlight Mrs. Clinton’s support for the H1-B program and other measures benefiting footloose capital at the expense of U.S. workers beings squeezed out of jobs, pensions and benefits.

Where the Obama camp went astray, it seems, was the oafish self-distancing presentation of the memo. One can’t unilaterally declare a press release (of all things) “not for attribution” and launch it into cyberspace with any hope of concealing its real origins. “That’s amateur hour,” says David Mark, author of Going Dirty: The Art of Negative Campaigning and a senior editor for The Politico. “Particularly if you’re sending it out on e-mail. It’s amazing the Obama people would have had their name on a document like that.”

Mr. Mark adds that the subsequent coverage of the dust-up—also, for all intents and purposes, headlined “D-Punjab”—played right into Mrs. Clinton’s hands. “I think it’s allowed Hillary to play the victim. That’s often the best strategy of countering negative campaigning—the best way to take the probably legitimate issue being raised off the table.” He likens the contretemps to the 2004 Presidential debates, “when John Kerry went after Dick Cheney’s daughter,” Mary, who had been a corporate-diversity flack for the Coors brewing concern and a lesbian. Instantly, Mr. Mark continues, “the story was ‘He’s going after a member of the Vice President’s family.’ But there, too, there were absolutely legitimate federalism-versus-state’s-rights questions about how gay marriage is treated.”

Funny thing, that—the press bypassed the whole reason that Mr. Kerry was invoking the sainted name of Mary Cheney—to point out a genuine instance of hypocrisy, whereby the most powerful member of the Bush administration recognized the de facto civil rights of his daughter while strenuously denying them to same-sex couples on the campaign trail. By focusing only on the vapid frame of the discussion—had Mr. Kerry hurt himself by going after Mary Cheney? How were the right-wing talk shows and blogs reacting?—the media enabled the larger Bush-Rove strategy of demagoging the gay-marriage issue so as to ensure maximum turnout in swing states among religious right voters at the fulcrum of the conservative base. And now we’re at it again: Ooh, look, Mr. Obama may not actually possess a perfect character! And the African-American candidate is dissing Indians! And no one bothers even to note that these are not victims of concerted anti–South Asian discrimination, but rather exceedingly wealthy campaign donors astride the new global economy, plugging cash into the Clinton machine and pulling the lever for optimal policy gains. It’s business as usual in the D.C. press, and it would make Sidney Falco beam with pleasure.

Parsing Obama’s ‘Punjab’ Flub