The Campaign Spot

Hillary and Obama, Pandering Before the Communications Workers

With Gen. David Petraeus testifying before the Senate today, Hillary’s campaign still defining itself in the post-Penn era, and Team Obama insisting that their man’s spring break trip to Pakistan in 1981 makes him more prepared to be President, Tuesday was an odd time for the Democrats to roll out their traditional here’s-what-I-will-do for unions pitch.
As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made their pitches to the Communications Workers of America, I was reminded of the two offering similar speeches just about one year ago before the Building and Trades unions. While the rhetorical talents of Hillary and Obama were both obvious then, she seemed head and shoulders ahead of him in familiarity with the nuts-and-bolts of their concerns, invoking Davis-Bacon, guest workers, the Employee Free Choice Act, access to federal contractor payrolls, and on and on.

Obama, by comparison, seemed a little light. Last year I wrote:

He repeats that the only thing preventing action is “a lack of sense of urgency.” It’s a nice line, but it’s just flat wrong. Both Republicans and Democrats feel a sense of urgency about the problems the country faces, but they have drastically different ideas about how to solve them, and each thinks the other’s ideas will make the problems worse.

 

So far Obama is not bringing the house down the way I expected. It’s a fine speech, but if this is his standard effort, I’m a bit surprised that he’s gotten all the “Obamessiah” hype. Again, there’s nothing really wrong with his remarks to the union crowd before him; but he’s perhaps a bit too intellectual, a bit too rational, to a crowd that’s enjoyed some fiery rah-rah speeches so far.

 

The firefighters’ union noticed the same dynamic. What is striking about today is how much Obama has improved his game since a year ago. Or maybe a troubled economy makes people less demanding for specifics instead of more, or maybe this is the difference between addressing a union audience as a lagging challenger vs. speaking as the frontrunner.

 

Policy-wise, the speeches were more of the same; touting the title-worthy-of-Orwell Employee Free Choice Act without describing what it does (remove the secret ballot for joining a union). The flight attendants are apparently particularly hard-hit, getting mentioned with the most frequency (who knew flight attendants count as communications workers?). Both candidates painted a picture in the most dire economic and social circumstances since the Great Depression.

 

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References to Hillary’s slipping status in the presidential race where scattered here and there. After being introduced by Barbara Easterling, a union official who is a pledged superdelegate for Hillary, the candidate warms up the crowd by noting last night’s NCAA Championship – “Great comeback last night, huh? That’s my kind of finish.” She noted that those in the room, facing adversity, have been told to give up and quit – “I hear that too, sometimes.” The closest thing she made to a jab at Obama was a line that she was offering “real solutions, not just speeches.” And lest there be any fear of any lingering impact of Mark Penn, she pledged to lead the fight against the Colombian trade deal.

 

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She also flat out promised, “when I am president, we will renegotiate NAFTA.” Heads up, Canada.

 

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She also notes the Governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin III, in the room, a shout-out to another unpledged delegate. Manchin has said he won’t decide until his state votes on May 13.

 

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Much like last year’s speech, when Hillary said that union opponents call the organizations “un-American” (by who? when? where?), today Hillary accused the Bush administration of questioning the patriotism of unions.

 

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Offering the litany of Bush’s failures, Hillary listed, “two wars,” which struck me as an interesting perspective on progress on both fronts, as well as who started the war in Afghanistan.

 

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Obama was no better, declaring that John McCain “thinks the Bush years have been pretty good.” He castigated McCain for having lobbyists as advisers. Senator, what do you think Tom Daschle has been doing since he left office? When you take $55,019 from employees at lobbying firms, what do you think that makes you?

 

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But one line from Obama stuck in my craw more than any other, his declaration that, considering how much mortgage companies spent on lobbyists, “is it any wonder that our federal government looked the other way when mortgage companies were tricking Americans into buying bigger houses than they could afford?”

 

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Americans were tricked into buying what they couldn’t afford?

 

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Apparently one of the first acts of an Obama presidency would be a preemptive nuclear strike on the concept of personal responsibility.

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