Wolfson Van Winkle

I’m grateful for this Howard Wolfson column–for his willingness to wax poetic about the guy who beat his candidate.

For me, the presidential campaign began in a crowded Iowa hall, where I saw a man my age lift up a daughter around my daughter’s age and tell her that one day she could be president. Last week things came nearly full circle, when I saw another man my age lift up another child and say the very same thing.

But I find his description of the Hillary bubble even more evocative.

For many of us who were part of the Clinton campaign, Sen. Barack Obama’s appeal was something we understood only in the abstract — data in polls, faces at a televised rally.

Most of us never heard him speak in person. At work 14 hours a day in the war room, we focused on his perceived faults and deficiencies. Our time was spent sharpening and advancing arguments. Skepticism was critical to our efforts. Insulated from Obamamania, I met few Obama supporters and distanced myself from the ones I knew. I lived this way for 18 months.

From the outside, our loss may have seemed inevitable for months, but inside the campaign we simply kept going.


Once we ran out of states and the campaign ended, we were like Rip Van Winkle. We awoke to a world transformed by political currents we had stood against. There was the neighbor in an Obama T-shirt getting the morning paper. Every parked car on the street bore an Obama bumper sticker. Had they been there along, or did they pop up overnight?

I’m not surprised by Wolfson’s description of the impenetrability of the bubble–it was always clear he wasn’t aware of his surroundings. But I am curious why their oppo guys–the young kids wandering around after Obama with a camera–could never communicate this message to the campaign. I am curious why Wolfson distanced himself from his friends who supported the Obama campaign. Wolfson was studiously polite when Richardson endorsed Obama–couldn’t Wolfson have used that as an opportunity to understand this excitement? I know it’s important to assess a campaign from hard data–but does that excuse ignoring the qualitative impressions as well (though, arguably, Obama didn’t get the qualitative appeal of Hillary to working class voters until just recently).

Mostly, though, Wolfson could be speaking for the McCain campaign, which seems to be in a similar bubble. I’d love to have someone from the Obama campaign ask Wolfson about this comment–and ask how to use that realization against McCain.

Then came Thursday night at Invesco Field. During the campaign, we scoffed at events like this, mostly because we were not capable of producing them. A cross section of voters waited for hours to enter the stadium and take their seats. As one friend put it, it looked more like an American convention than the convention of any particular political party.

After all, McCain’s celebrity attacks (which presumably must be toned down now that he’s running with Ms. Veep Congeniality?) were compensation for the fact that McCain has to bus supporters in to fill out a 15,000 person Veep announcement. And much as McCain once (before he flip flopped) believed in a sane immigration policy, his events are growing whiter and older from an already lily white base. 

I’m grateful for Wolfson’s poetry in this column. It ought to be a signal to Obama’s folks to ask him for advice about vulnerabilities inherent to the bubble. 

  1. plunger says:

    Cathy Baldwin-Johnson is the doctor who is said to have delivered Trig.


    Nine years into her career as a family physician, Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, M.D., recognized her growing Alaska community needed someone with the skills to perform sexual and physical abuse exams. So in 1994, she voluntarily headed to the “Lower 48″ for extra training “with the idea that I’d just be doing a little of this,” she says. When she returned home to Wasilla, “the floodgates opened.”

    Word spread about her training, and Baldwin-Johnson says she quickly was labeled as the region’s “expert” in child and adult sexual abuse testing.

    When requests for her help in such cases mounted, Baldwin-Johnson helped form a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) for the Matanuska Susitna Borough. Mostly, the team dealt with adult victims and soon realized that approach did not work well in cases of child sexual abuse. That’s because, she says, a trip to the emergency room, law enforcement center and a counseling center creates enormous stress for children.

    Then she learned about the Children’s Advocacy Center model in which cases are processed using a child-focused approach.

    Is it more likely that this was Sarah’s choice of doctor (not an OBGYN), or Bristol’s, as a result of an awful event that led to this result?

    Who in the world chooses to put their daughter’s dilemma on such public display (by accepting rather than rejecting the VP offer)?

    • plunger says:

      Loo Hoo: Give it up. The daughter delivered in April and is not pregnant at all.

      Soon there will be a report that Bristol has sadly suffered a miscarriage, and Sarah will graciously offer Trig for Bristol’s “adoption.”

      None of which will have any bearing on the VP selection issue, because in the next two days, it will be announced that Sarah Palin has withdrawn her name from consideration, and that McCain’s new choice for VP is Lieberman.

      I read Karl’s playbook.

      He’s Sooooo transparent.

  2. Loo Hoo. says:

    What’s in it for Wolfson? I wonder if this will help with Hillary die-hards, if they really still exist.

  3. klynn says:


    This is why I thought you would enjoy my email about the Dublin, Ohio Obama-Biden rally. Dublin is only 55 minutes east from where McC made his VP announcement in Dayton. Only 48 hours notice on a football Saturday from the Obama campaign…No “people” bused in and over 25,000 almost 30,000 showed up.

  4. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Group think the Alpha Moron Marc Penn laid down the party line and everyone rushed to say yes.
    Loyalty does speed a groups decision making process and helps stops acts of sabotage from within.
    But taking away dissent by having yesmen follow an Alpha Moron takes away a check on the the Alpha Moron being wrong.

  5. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Mostly, though, Wolfson could be speaking for the McCain campaign, which seems to be in a similar bubble. I’d love to have someone from the Obama campaign ask Wolfson about this comment–and ask how to use that realization against McCain.

    Top Down Management theory runs both campaigns TDM is very unresponsive to change as the decider in TDM is the furthest away from the change and the most isolated from the change by levels of people more suited to implementing orders from above.
    Obama is the change but I do not know if Obama’s campaign is organized in TDM or more organically.

    • bmaz says:

      Yes, those uber-villains the Clintons are plotting with Putin, Iran and Idi Amin Daba to screw the whole world; it’s just what they do. Must be on the constant lookout for that. They were actually sending out evil subliminal messages when most people thought they were praising Obama at the convention. Thank god we have our best and brightest on the ever vigilant evil Clinton watch and crusade.

  6. MadDog says:

    I’m not surprised by Wolfson’s description of the impenetrability of the bubble–it was always clear he wasn’t aware of his surroundings.

    Reminds me a lot of the same bubble-block mentality that swamped Brownie/FEMA during Katrina.

    What is it with these political folks that they loose touch with reality so readily?

    I’m not arguing that they don’t. This same political disease seems to permeate many, if not a majority, of Congresscritters, their staffs, their consultants, the leadership of Federal agencies/departments, etc.

    How is it that when one burrows into the Beltway, they suddenly find themselves in a “No-seeing, No-hearing, No-knowing Zone”?

    And how is it that they don’t even recognize the symptoms of the disease?

  7. Ishmael says:

    CNN “breaking news” –

    Just watching a telephone report (no pictures) from CNN’s Joe Johns at 3:03 eastern about “anarchists” protesting and breaking windows outside the Republican National Convention, and praising the restrained police response and the bemused response of the “Midwesterners” watching the whole display….. right on cue.

  8. Ishmael says:

    …..updating at 3:21 Eastern – now Soledad O’Brien is taking over, with video, noting that the pictures show a more “peaceful” protest, but that police only estimate 2000 people, and not the 50,000 that were expected (no source given). The video shows people holding signs and engaged in a peaceful demonstration. No pictures of the broken windows or bus benches that were said to have been thrown in the street.

    • Ishmael says:

      …updating, apparently there is confirmation over at FDL and DKos on the violence by some demonstrators, with dumpster fires and tire slashing, although the vast majority of the protesters are peaceful.

  9. Teddy Partridge says:

    Wolfson’s is a good report. Campaigns are almost impervious to bad news, in my experience. News that doesn’t comport with the optimistic view from the top (”we’re RIGHT and we’re WINNING”) is discarded. Sometimes the people bearing the news are discarded too.

    Don’t you wonder why Patti Solis Doyle REALLY got fired? I know I do.

  10. WilliamOckham says:

    I don’t think Obama needs to ask Wolson about the vulnerabilities of a bubble. The answer is obvious: Keep your head down and work your own strategy in the confidence that your opponent won’t be able to react.

  11. 4jkb4ia says:

    Why would you give your teenage daughter a baby with Down’s syndrome to raise when she has got her whole life ahead of her, or give out that you had? That is a horrific act. It sacrifices Palin’s entire political future as Governor, Senator, or whatever else.

    The version of Occam’s Razor most people without an obsession with Israel use says that Palin was chosen because of abortion. Continuing the subject of Eli Evans, part of what galus is is knowing that you are part of their narrative (in Evans’s case, an evangelical Christianity claiming that “The New is in the Old contained, the Old is in the New explained”) and having to make an effort to hold on to and claim your own story. This is true even if physically you are perfectly comfortable and safe and if Evans takes some pains in a later chapter to say that the measures of anti-Semitism he knows are flawed in the context of the South. If someone like George Bush or Sarah Palin, with their religious beliefs, is in power, they don’t represent a community which has varying ideas about the religious significance of the State of Israel the way that American Jews do. There is the possibility that their Christian narratives about Israel will be the tail which wags the tail which wags the dog. An example might be pressuring Israel to give up less land in the West Bank than they might otherwise do.

    • Ishmael says:

      I think Barack Obama had the best response to the Palin pregnancy questions, one which emphasizes both his empathy and the obstacles that he had to overcome to reach national prominence with his own talents and determination, and not family connections (not unlike Bill Clinton):


      “You know, my mother had me when she was 18. How family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics. I hope that anybody who’s supported me understands that’s off limits.”

    • Sara says:

      We are being treated to some 527 Advertising here in the Twin Cities by something called “The Israel Project” — have not yet googled to see what might be behind it. Anyhow, the ad begins with the question, what would happen if Minneapolis started launching rockets into St. Paul. Then the whole thing resolves to a map of the middle east, with the rockets flying, and then on to pictures of the Iranian President, people in ninja type black masks, with voice over that Iran should never get Nuclear technology. Obviously no candidate advocacy — but this ad is Twin Cities specific, and I wonder what’s really up. The other ad from the Israel Project shows Israeli produced electric cars, and advocates the US buying that technology from Israel. These were running back to back on MSNBC all during the 2 hour Olbermann program this evening, and during part of the daytime program in the breaks from Gustav coverage.

      Minneapolis and St. Paul have a long history of one-upping each other, though both are now essentially liberal-progressive DFL strongholds. They just have different styles, and thus ways of continuning this now more than 100 year competition as two cities that are part of the same metro. And yes, there once was a time when Minneapolis blockaded all the streets that link the two cities — back during the Teamsters Strike of 1934. But the labor movement in both cities contributed to manning the baricades. I was reminded of that bit of Minnesota History as I watched the rockets fly in the current TV ad. I don’t know if whoever created the ad had any knowledge of the cities’ history, but superimposing the Middle East issues on our metro seems to me a bit gross. Look — St. Paul has a Winter Carnival — they celebrate Frozen Water. Minneapolis has the Aquatennial, they celebrate Liquid Water. We have lots and lots of both.

  12. 4jkb4ia says:

    Also, the McCain camp is giving out that they knew about the pregnancy when Palin was selected. They are sticking by her.

  13. bobschacht says:

    Good morning from Hawaii, EW!

    This bubble is not a new thing, and is one of the things that drove me away from the Hillary campaign: They are so busy doing their own thing that they are just impervious to outside information. Her campaign never listened very well, unless they were the ones asking the questions, and they were the ones framing the answers one could choose.

    Very different from the Obama campaign.

    Bob in HI

  14. masaccio says:

    …though, arguably, Obama didn’t get the qualitative appeal of Hillary to working class voters until just recently.

    The democrats have to discover the importance of populist economics every four years. It gets trotted out during the last few weeks of each campaign season, and then the corporatist influence takes over as they govern. Obama has made a number of statements during the campaign and in his acceptance speech about the workers of the country, and offers a tax break and some words about globalization. But there is no effort to explain how it could have happened that we could have 5 years of supposedly improving economy, and no improvement in the inflation-adjusted incomes of 90% of Americans.

    Americans enjoyed higher average income in 2006 for the first time since 2000, when the last economic expansion ended, the latest tax data show.
    Adjusted gross income reported on tax returns in 2006 averaged $58,029. In 2006 dollars that was an increase of $739, or 1.2 percent, from the $57,289 average in 2000, analysis of Internal Revenue Service data showed.
    Total income increased by $619.2 billion or 8.3 percent, all of which went to those making more than $75,000, and 42 percent of which went to the roughly one in 400 taxpayers who made more than $1 million in 2006.

    Maybe Obama doesn’t go there because it would expose corporate and big money influence over the government and society, and Obama doesn’t think he can win by running against money.

    Or maybe Obama agrees with this article in the New Yorker. Ryan Lizza interviews a couple of Colorado politicians, and argues that the old Democratic FDR coalition is giving way to a new coalition:

    It would be more oriented to the haves than to the have-nots. It would rely more on educated voters. Its approach to social issues would be more matter-of-fact, and candidates would be less fearful of alienating the most reactionary evangelicals. It would be more oriented toward small businesses and thus more skeptical of workplace regulations. It might become a party that puts more emphasis on achieving energy independence and combatting global warming than on providing universal health care and social justice. “It’s a party that becomes more Hispanic, and less African-American,” Kenneth Baer, the co-founder of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, said. “More oriented toward high-tech workers and less towards labor. It’s the end of the New Deal coalition.”

  15. MarkH says:

    We awoke to a world transformed by political currents we had stood against.

    — Wolfson

    I have to say that as an Edwards supporter I didn’t have my head down so much that I didn’t see the other candidates and their progress. What was frustrating to me was to see Obama gathering strength, but not hearing the voices of his supporters on the blogs I read. I couldn’t hear what they were saying about Obama and his candidacy. That meant there was no way to engage them, no way to debate with them. They were in that vortex and unreachable, just as Hillary’s supporters were.

    I think people simply glommed onto a candidate because they somehow connected at a very low level very quickly. Sure there were policy positions and ideas which fleshed out those candidacies, but I think they only completed the picture which was already drawn.

    Why Obama and not Clinton? In the beginning I think it was simply ‘past’ and ‘future’ and all the past votes and positions and all the new policies simply shored that up. Identity voting was probably part of it, but what was surprising there was how little skin color or funny ears had to do with it. That was nice to see, though it made Edwards job virtually impossible.

    I still wonder whether there was ever really ANY chance for a 3rd candidate beyond Clinton & Obama. Can the electorate sort through more than a couple of high name recognition candidates to really consider others?

    • Loo Hoo. says:

      Seems to me bmaz was a Hillary supporter, as was I until the Bosnia lie. I think Hillary’s refusal to admit that her Iraq invasion vote was a mistake was her undoing. It showed stubbornness much like you-know-who.

    • bobschacht says:

      What was frustrating to me was to see Obama gathering strength, but not hearing the voices of his supporters on the blogs I read. I couldn’t hear what they were saying about Obama and his candidacy.

      Well, you must not be aware of the SenatorObama-PleaseVoteAgainstFISA group on the Obama website, with almost 37,000 blog posts and a record number of members, or any of the other groups on the Obama website. What blogs were you reading???

      In fact, it seems that the truth is exactly opposite of what you are alleging. The Obama community seems more open than any presidential campaign that I have been aware of. Or do I misunderstand your point?

      Bob in HI

      • bmaz says:

        But Bob, Obama blew that giant group off completely in a rush go violate his early pledge on FISA and support the Hoyer/Telco clan. Not sure that example supports your point.

        • PJEvans says:

          bmaz, the group still exists, although all the activity has gone elsewhere. There are still blogs going up – I just posted one myself. I don’t know if anyone out there actually reads them, though. (The biggest problem I have is that I don’t really connect with the people in any of the groups there.)

        • bobschacht says:

          MarkH said,

          What was frustrating to me was to see Obama gathering strength, but not hearing the voices of his supporters on the blogs I read. I couldn’t hear what they were saying about Obama and his candidacy.

          If MarkH wanted to hear what Obama supporters were saying, all he had to do was tune into the blogs on the Obama website. As the FISA group showed, they do not always agree with Obama, even if they support him.

          If MarkH wanted to “engage” Obama supporters, these blogs are where he could do so.

          Those were my only points. Obviously, in the case of FISA, Obama decided to disagree with this group of his supporters. So, even though I opposed his vote on FISA, I respect his engagement with the grassroots.

          Bob in HI

          • bmaz says:

            Agreed. And I do give Obama credit for giving people the reasonably unfettered ability to address the campaign as they have. Don’t know that the campaign pays any attention whatsoever, but just giving the access and discussion with other supporters mechanism is a lot more than really existed in the past; so that is a positive thing.

      • Rayne says:

        You know, I think the blindness Wolfson describes is part and parcel of the generational shift between an old school, partially wired, top-down push-media campaign, and a fully-wired, flat organization fully utilizing social networking to control messaging while engaging supporters.

        This smells like the frustration we had with Kerry in 2004, their blindness to problems we could see readily with the internet-mediated tools we had at our disposal, the Kerry machine’s top-down only approach to communications bottlenecking valuable opposition research from supporters while throttling back Kerry’s humanity.

        That you can point to an internet resource as a place where Obama’s supporters could be heard exemplifies the shift that has taken place since 2004. Wide open, no bottlenecks.

        Why couldn’t Wolfson see or hear the Obama supporters? because he was unfamiliar with all our internet customs, all snark aside. He did not know where this nation of digital tribes resides; he is not (yet) one of us.

  16. bmaz says:

    I was never a Hillary supporter; however, I did, and do still, recoil from the mindless hating on them. It is counterproductive beyond a point, and we are well beyond that point. Why keep beating on them when you need them to win? I have said this many, many times, and I will repeat it again just so that it is clear. My preference when the campaign started was Gore and then Edwards and Dodd. I now kind of regret holding Edwards in even standing with Dodd, but there you have it. Oh, and by the way, I voted for Obama in our primary for a variety of reasons that are not now relevant or germane.

  17. rosalind says:

    for anyone else in need of a mental health break, some cool video of an albino dolphin spotted off newport beach yesterday:


    • MadDog says:

      Same here.

      And it only seems to be The Lake. I can get everywhere else just fine (Glenn’s place, Digby’s, Dependable Renegade’s, etc.).

      At first I thought it was because I’m in St. Paul and the Feds were slowing things down as they warrantlessly vacuumed up all the Toobz here.

      But it just seems to be The Lake. I checked the Site Meter to see how the traffic looked, and while it is up, it’s not at its peak over 12 months.

      And not just tonite. This has been taking place since Saturday.

  18. Loo Hoo. says:

    If time permits, and I know you guys are working overtime, The Campaign Silo might think about getting Sarah and Joe up top with Obama and McCain real quick. Then they could X her out if she’s replaced.

  19. freepatriot says:

    did anybody in hillary’s bubble figure out that it was the war vote that doomed her candidacy ???

    and what do you guys think of palin now ???

    a seccessionist mother of a knocked up teenage daughter

    told ya she had MORE trainwreck in her

    guess that repuglitard “Abstinence Only” sex education program can be officially labeled a GIANT FUCKING FAILURE

    anybody know the odds on who mcsame is gonna pick to be his second choice for veep ???

    let’s not wait until this goofy woman shuffles off stage right

    we need to start the betting pool now

    can mcsame run without a veep nomineee

    that might be better for him …

    • hackworth says:

      From http://www.ehrnesteinland.com
      “The 17-year-old daughter of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant, Palin said on Monday in an announcement intended to knock down rumors by liberal bloggers that Palin faked her own pregnancy to cover up for her child.
      Bristol Palin, one of Alaska Gov. Palin’s five children with her husband, Todd, is about five months pregnant and is going to keep the child and marry the father, the Palins said in a statement released by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.”

      Lets’ go over this carefully. To “knock down rumors” of a scandal, we are served another scandal.

      • Rayne says:

        Lets’ go over this carefully. To “knock down rumors” of a scandal, we are served another scandal.


        That’s kind of a hybrid between a non-denial denial and a pointed redirection of attention.

        I remain skeptical; I have seen nothing yet that instills in me a feeling of trust in regards to Palin.

      • freepatriot says:

        they’re two different topics, cept for the fact that mcsame thought this joke of a candidate from Alaska would win over hillary supporters

        I was making a reference to ew’s post about palin, where I predicted that palin had more scandals to come


        and I stand by my statement

        discussing hillary’s campaign, I wanna know if any of her campaign workers figured out that her campaign died in October of 2003, or made the connection between Obama’s rise and hillary’s demise

        and I wanted to find out how hard people are laughin at mcsame at the same time

    • Sara says:

      freepatriot — if Hillary’s people had known how to organize in a caucus state — really understood the rules, and put the right kind of resources into these states, they would have won. All they needed was about 200 delegates beyond what they actually got, and that would not have been all that difficult. I know they were told, advised, warned and all that, but they had wax in their ears.

      I am glad that Wolfson finally had the opportunity to relax and actually witness a live Obama event, and get something of the attraction, but given his relationship with his employer, he should have taken the time out to do it a year earlier. But they didn’t, and it was Hubris.

      • freepatriot says:

        have to disagree here:

        if Hillary’s people had known how to organize in a caucus state …

        I don’t think it was organizational problems. In 2002, Hillary had high negative numbers among Democratic voters. the AUMF vote was the tipping point for a majority of Democrats. Before the vote, Hillary might have won a deeply divided primary in 2008. her vote for bush in 2003, which most people now recognize as an act of political cowardice, sealed the deal against her

        the only suspense for me in this primary season was figuring out who would dethrone Hillary (I knew she wouldn’t get the nomination) Obama took advantage of the opportunity. If he hadn’t run, somebody else would have defeated Hillary*. Barack Obama was the favorite new face, but any other Democrat could have beaten Hillary this year. The only reason Hillary was able to pull out a close race at the end was probably more related to the color of Obama’s skin than the content of Hillary’s heart

        (*thank GODDESS I didn’t get my wish, I was favoring Edwards)

  20. Rayne says:

    EW — OT, don’t know if you saw this yet:

    Lawyers: Gonzales mishandled classified data

    Any time now somebody’s going to start yelling, “But Sandy Berger!”

    Nice how they label it “mishandled” rather than hidden or controlled outside of established chain of control. Hmmm…

  21. 4jkb4ia says:

    I thought the anger and sarcasm I had in mind as I wrote 23 came through. As I read it many hours later, I don’t see it. And Obama’s response was pitch perfect.

  22. 4jkb4ia says:

    Also please see the comment I wrote on John Cole’s open thread Saturday night in case there is any danger you think I agree with plunger about any of this or anything at all.

  23. yonodeler says:

    Hillary Clinton could have owned up to—better yet apologized for—giving Bush more than he was entitled to, particularly giving him carte blanche to invade Iraq. Public capacity to forgive should not be underestimated.

    By spending more time and resources speaking in detail to significant needs in several areas, the Clinton campaign could have dared to risk being called too wonky; they could have called out the Obama campaign every time Obama would not engage on specifics of an issue, possibly with considerable success. They could have done better than the reductionistic, oversimplified demographic breakdown that shaped their strategy and informed their language. They could have refrained from making extreme attacks concerning Barack Obama’s experience and personal readiness, and from making puffed-up claims of Hillary Clinton’s experience and personal readiness. They could have chosen not to rely on favorable opinions of the Bill Clinton presidential years, instead going for a freshened-up public image. They could have gone easy on playing the victim when caucus and primary results, and treatment by journalists and bloggers, were not as they expected.

    Hillary Clinton could have been much more formidable as a candidate. Guess what—we needed that, we including those of us who at no point favored her as a candidate but who felt the need for every candidate’s campaign to thoroughly address the issues facing us. Better competition in addressing those issues would have helped the voting public, and would have tested and shaped-up the winning candidate.