Why So Subtle?

Matthew Ygleisas wonders why Senator Obama tends to make vague, subtle digs at Senator Clinton without actually mentioning her by name.

I wound up yesterday evening covering my first ever Obama mega-rally in Washington Square Park. At some point during his address, he starts talking about experience. First he notes that he actually has a lot of experience of various sorts. So then he says that people who say he doesn’t have experience (but he never says who these people are) must mean experience in Washington. But, he notes, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld had great resumés before taking jobs in the Bush administration. “Experience,” he says, “is no guarantee of good judgment.”

At this point I heard one television reporter remark to a confused camera operator “that’s a dig at Hillary.” He then moves on to recounting the dispute with Hillary about talking with foreign dictators.

And there’s the rub. The camera operator was watching the speech. If Obama wants to make a dig at Hillary, the camera operator ought to realize that without someone else pointing it out to him.

Personally, I think there are three primary reasons as to why Obama isn’t directly attacking Clinton. The first, obviously, is that Obama’s boxed in by his “politics of hope” message. You can’t credibly go around attacking people while simultaneously promoting “hope for change and puppies.”

Second is timing: the Iowa caucuses are still many terrible weeks away, and although more people are paying attention to the Presidential race this early in the cycle than in years past, most people still aren’t paying attention at all. So if Obama ever decides to break out the guns, he’s better off waiting to do it when more people are paying attention to the election so that his ammo isn’t wasted.

The third and what I think most likely reason why Obama isn’t attacking Clinton by name, though, is that Obama doesn’t want to burn bridges. If Clinton wins the nomination, you can bet that Obama wants to be there as her running mate. He can’t do that if he attacks her too harshly or too early. And honestly, after watching Obama’s last few speeches on TV, he looks to me like someone who’s already resigned himself to the VP spot–he doesn’t really have the passion for what he’s saying or doing.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. markm says:

    “The third and what I think most likely reason why Obama isn’t attacking Clinton by name, though, is that Obama doesn’t want to burn bridges”

    DING DING DING. Spot on me thinks.

    Also, in their last debate, Hillary was asked a question and her response was something like “well, as Barak just stated…” Not Senator Obama…seemed real warm and fuzzy to me, almost creepy.

  2. johnnyraygun says:

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  3. JBJB says:

    I am not so sure that Hillary would pick Obama for VP. He would steal the spotlight for sure, and she already has that problem with Bill. Plus, Obama adds no states to the ticket. I could see her going with Richardson (putting NM, Colorado, and maybe Nevada in play), or a white dude from Iowa.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    As I’ve said before I think that Sen. Obama would be foolish to run for Vice President on the ticket with Sen. Clinton and she’d be foolish to ask him. More likely he’d like to be the machine candidate in four or eight years.

    Another possible reason is that he’s hoping to be good cop to Edwards’s bad cop. As the primaries near I expect to hear somebody going negative and my guess is it will be Edwards.