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Shipp: Campaign rumors, spin detract from issues

POSTED: May 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Try this hot scoop for a piece of outright absurdity: Knowing she has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton continues to run full speed ahead against Barack Obama for president. She hopes to damage Obama so badly that she will have a clear shot for the presidency in 2012. Detailed planning for that faraway campaign is already in the works.

This tale is spreading like wildfire across the cable TV networks and the eastern corridor newspapers.
This tale tells us something about the sorry state of political strategizing and journalism.

This tale is nuts. In the real world, any candidate who tries to plan a campaign more than 15 minutes ahead is off one's rocker. A month in American-style politics is considered the distant future. A year is an eternity. You can't ever tell which shining star will suddenly go Eliot Spitzer on you and implode on the launch pad.

A chin-stroking analyst who spreads a story of Clinton's campaign of the future is more a dopey dramatist than a serious political writer. I phoned a widely known campaign consultant last week to share a laugh on the latest Clinton rumor.

"There's no doubt about it. Hillary is getting ready for 2012," he said without a trace of a chuckle. OK, so he's lost his mind, too.

The Obama campaign seems the likely source for bulletins on the first shot fired by Hillary in the 2012 presidential battle. Examples abound of Clinton's backroom operatives spreading similar wild stuff about Obama: He's really a Muslim. If he's elected, he will turn the country over to whirling dervishes. He does not love America. He runs with Chicago gangsters. So it goes, with an old-time minstrel band playing blues in the background.

Both sides talk about anything and everything, except what matters. The presidential campaign of 2008 would fit right in with nearly any Georgia governor's campaign in the first 70 years of the 20th century. The Georgia rules of politics in the era of white-dominated elections: Stress race and the perils of equal opportunity. Forget the state's poverty-ridden economy, a transportation system that appeared to be a long-running sight gag and public schools without enough textbooks or teachers to justify opening-day bells.

Fast forward from the last century to the present one. Some of the issues have changed but not completely. Racist campaigns are now played by both races instead of just one as in the old days. Talk about equal opportunity.

Ironies abound. The Clintons, Bill & Hill, kept their political machine running for decades on the strength of black support. Now they use Obama's attraction to black voters to depict him as a candidate who probably cannot win a white-majority presidential election.

Obama counters by hinting broadly that the Clintons, especially Bill, are racist rubes pretending to be cool liberals. The press follows the spinmeisters' lead: Find out what Obama's preacher said last Sunday. Play back Bill Clinton's Jesse Jackson slur.

Neither the Clintons nor Obama is most responsible for the 21st century retrogression in politics. Blame it on the press.

The media giants have polled their audiences and decided to change the playing field to fit the polls. People magazine-style entertainment always wins over PowerPoint presentations of news and information.

Sex remains the most popular topic for questions from gotcha reporters.

And as I said at the beginning of this piece, no rational candidate dares plan years or even months ahead for the next big campaign, although campaign consultants can and will make up anything.

Take former Gov. Roy Barnes, for instance. Though he has seldom appeared in public since his 2002 election defeat, Barnes showed up last weekend to observe Confederate Memorial Day at historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. He delivered a stem-winding speech to about 100 members and supporters of the Daughters of the Confederacy.

Was the Oakland/UDC appearance a carefully orchestrated occurrence to prepare for the future? Was it the start of another Barnes campaign for governor in 2010, and a chance to heal old wounds left by Barnes' decision to downsize the Confederate emblem on the official Georgia flag?

"I have always attended Confederate Memorial services," Barnes explained. "But for the last few years, I have not been invited."

In other words, Roy is not getting ready for more politics. It just seems that way.

Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can contact him at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30160; Web site, billshipponline.com. First published April 30, 2008.



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