Health Care and Economy and Media & Marketing

NOTIONS: Indiana: See Hillary run against Jack, Bill & Barack

April 28, 2008

On the eve of the allegedly crucial Ohio presidential primary, I e-mailed a friend in Columbus to ask what it's like in a state where primaries matter.

Her response spoke of endless phone calls from volunteers and machines, get-outthe-vote visits to her neighborhood, yard signs everywhere, nonstop commercials on TV and candidate visits galore.

I lamented that Indiana would never experience such a thing.

I stand corrected.

Thanks to the never-ending Democratic contest between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Indiana matters. Thus, we've gotten the up-close-and-personal treatment from Hillary, Barack, Bill, Chelsea, Michelle and assorted surrogates.

But while we're finally seeing our share of stump speeches, handshakes and sound bites, how many voters realize that, despite the apparent novelty of the 2008 campaign, we're actually witnessing a political parody on Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day," with an ironic reversal of roles?

The twist? Sen. Clinton is having to run against her husband and his hero.

Some readers of this column are old enough to remember the 1992 presidential campaign when upstart 46-year-old Gov. Bill Clinton ran against "I'm-moreexperienced" incumbent President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Clinton's campaign was directed by James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, who hung a white board on the wall of their "war room." It said:

Rules:

Change versus more of the same

The economy, stupid

Don't forget health care

Today, upstart 46-year-old Sen. Barack Obama is running against "I'm-moreexperienced" former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And if there's a white board at Obama headquarters, it might as well say the same thing.

There's more. When attacked by their opponents, Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign spun "change versus more of the same" into "hope versus fear." To wit: When Bush's campaign tried to scare voters by saying Clinton was too inexperienced to lead in a dangerous world, Clinton said voters shouldn't fall for that. They should, instead, have the courage to believe in hope and change.

Yet on the eve of the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, Hillary Clinton drew not upon her husband's rules but upon Bush's.

Deploying Fear 101, her campaign released a television ad featuring images of Osama bin Ladan, the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor, and Jack Kennedy's Cuban missile crisis-implying that Barack Obama is too inexperienced to lead in a dangerous world.

And how did Obama respond? With a video of Bill Clinton before a massive, cheering, 2004 rally, saying: "Now one of Clinton's Laws of Politics is this: If one candidate's trying to scare you, and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears, and the other one's appealing to your hopes; you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope. That's the best."

Had they preferred, Obama's people could have deployed Bill Clinton's 1992 election-eve speech from Scranton, in which he said, "Don't forget, there have been a lot of charges and countercharges and ups and downs, but when you strip it all away, this election is a race between hope and fear, between the courage to change and the comfort of the status quo."

You may choose which quote to insert here:

George Bernard Shaw: "We learn from history that we learn nothing from history."

George Santayana: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Karl Marx: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

Or we could simply settle for plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose ("The more things change, the more they remain the same").

And the irony doesn't end there. Because Sen. Clinton not only must play Bush/Fear opposite Obama's Bill/Hope, but also must counter memories of the politician Bill most revered, President John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy's daughter and brother have endorsed Obama, not Hillary.

Pundits have compared Obama's (not Hillary's) ability to inspire to that of John and Robert Kennedy.

And on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert resurrected video of former President Harry Truman saying of John Kennedy in 1960 what fearful-né-hopeful Bill and Hillary have been saying of Obama in 2008:

"Senator ... are you certain that you are quite ready for the country, or the country is ready for you in the role of president in January 1961? I have no doubt about the political heights to which you are destined to rise, but I'm deeply concerned and troubled about the situation we are up against in the world now and in the immediate future. That is why I hope that someone with the greatest possible maturity and experience would be available at this time. May I urge you to be patient."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Now sit back and enjoy the replay from a Hoosier precinct near you.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.
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