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Campaign cowboys and idiots

The presidential campaigns were overshadowed the past week by outspoken surrogates who made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
/ Source: National Journal

The blockbuster movie has ended, it seems, to great applause from an enthusiastic crowd. But before the audience can leave the theater, it's forced to watch a bonus reel of bloopers, B-roll, director's interviews, actor bios, credits and miscellaneous scenes that landed on the cutting room floor.

That's how the Democratic presidential campaign started to feel this week.

With that in mind, here's a crazy idea: Howzabout the only people who can speak for Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are... Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Impossible, of course. But after the past week, it's starting to sound like the only way to avoid turning this campaign into a surrogate circus.

Getting the ball rolling last week, an Obama foreign policy adviser called Clinton a "monster" and was promptly forced to quit. But at least Samantha Power didn't blurt out that "Ken Starr" boomerang, single-handedly dredging up the roaring '90s and, thus, Clinton's biggest weakness. If Democrats needed more proof that Clinton's campaign is still haunted by ghosts from past battles with the vast right-wing conspiracy, Howard Wolfson seemed more than happy to give it to them.

What's next, running ads that morph Obama into Newt Gingrich? Oh wait -- they already tried that with Ronald Reagan.

And then there's Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, who remains a political force 24 years after she last held elected office (three terms in the House) because she was the first woman to be a major-party vice presidential candidate. So it's with some knowledge and appreciation of identity politics that Ferraro argued in an interview with the Torrance Daily Breeze that if Obama "was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

Still smarting from the fresh wounds of Power's resignation, Obama pounced, calling her remarks "ridiculous." Ferraro has tenaciously defended her point, but relinquished her honorary post on Clinton's finance committee, as she should have. She was giving identity politics a bad name.

But here's the irony: Ferraro was right. Of course Obama is drawing special attention in this year's presidential campaign because he's black. And of course Ferraro drew similar attention in 1984 because she was a woman, much like Clinton is this year. Bill Clinton gained favor in 1992 in large part because he was a Southern governor at a time when his party was trying to change its image. George W. Bush... well, you get the picture.

Indeed, would any of the past 43 presidents have "been in that position" if they hadn't been white men?  Perhaps. But you can be sure that their race, and gender, played a big role in shaping their political success.

Advantage: John McCain -- although his surrogates haven't exactly been altar boys this week either. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, claimed that if Obama is elected president, radical Muslims "will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name." Then there was Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, a McCain surrogate, who told a Las Vegas audience that "when Hillary gets the call at 3 a.m., the call is, 'Do you know where your husband is?'" Shurtleff also referred to "Obama's fathers -- one was African, one was Indonesian."

Cowboy diplomacy
And so it was this week as the Democratic race rolled through Mississippi and Wyoming, two ruby-red states where local Democrats both celebrated their rare moment on the national stage and winced at the state of the campaign that arrived on their doorsteps. Democrats in those states were both relevant, for once, and irrelevant, as usual, since their primaries were largely dominated by talk of how Democrats plan to fix headaches caused elsewhere by Michigan and Florida -- states that, you know, really "matter."

So let's get this straight: Michigan and Florida decided to leapfrog other early states on the primary calendar this year with the full knowledge that they were violating Democratic National Committee rules -- but with some quiet assumption that, given their size, clout and "importance" to the party's prospects this fall, DNC officials would eventually rescue them. Which is what they're trying to do now to the detriment of the rest of the party.

Democrats like to talk about ending "cowboy diplomacy," their name for a foreign policy in which big, swaggering nations bigfoot smaller ones for no particular reason other than that they can. But as we look at Michigan and Florida today, I can't help but wonder, who's the cowboy now?