Sunday, March 02, 2008

Same Strategy – Different Results?

Ned Barnett © 2008

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over …

And expecting different results."

– Benjamin Franklin

By Benjamin Franklin’s provocative definition, at the eleventh hour, Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy has gone from merely not working to one that fits his definition of insane. This is not to say that Hillary Clinton is insane – focused, to be sure, but not insane. However, her strategy of doing the same thing and expecting different results is – if not actually insane – at least counterproductive.

She’s got a new ad on TV this weekend, a new ad with a very old message. I’m referring to her “3 a.m. phone-ringing” ad. If you think about the strategy behind that ad, then clearly, Hillary is once again claiming that she has the greater foreign policy experience and, therefore – if something, somewhere in the world, goes all to hell at 3 in the morning – she is clearly the most qualified person to lead the country. Specifically, this ad says:

To the sound of a ringing phone, the Clinton ad shows children sleeping at night and a mother checking on a child as an announcer says a phone is ringing in the White House and something has happened in the world.

"Your vote will decide who answers that call," the voice says. "Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military – someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world."

It ends with an image of Clinton on the telephone as the announcer reprises the line, "It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep," and adds: “Who do you want answering the phone?"

Beyond the fact that Senator Obama was easily able to counter this ad, by focusing on judgment rather than experience, there are (at least) two things wrong with this ad.

First, and most obvious, under the criteria Senator Clinton has laid out, Republican Senator John McCain is far and away the most experienced candidate. After all, McCain has served in Congress uninterrupted since the Reagan administration, easily trumping Clinton’s 1.3 term tenure in the Senate. More important, perhaps, prior to his Congressional service, McCain had put in a long and successful (and character-validating) stint in the U.S. Navy. If foreign policy experience is indeed the primary criteria for Presidential leadership, then John McCain is clearly the most experienced, and therefore the most qualified, person to lead the country. Is that really what Hillary wanted to imply? Probably not – but this gaffe isn’t the worst strategic error to be found in this ad.

More directly important, ever since the primary campaign in Iowa, Hillary has been pounding the platform proclaiming her superior experience – and, therefore, her superior qualifications – to be the Democratic candidate for President. And ever since that primary campaign in Iowa, Democratic Party voters have repeatedly stated that they prefer a fresh face over an experienced candidate. And that choice hasn’t even been close. Overall, the relatively inexperienced Senator Barack Obama has attracted more than 1,000,000 MORE Democratic Party voters than has Senator Hillary Clinton – and, while she has effectively hammered him on experience, he’s nonetheless gone on to win (as I write this) 11 straight state primary elections.

Republicans clearly value foreign-policy experience. John McCain, who has arguably the most foreign policy experience of any Republican candidate this year, easily blew away Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, knocking them both of them out of contention early in the election cycle. However, the Democrats have chosen a different path. While Hillary has several more years in the Senate than Barack Obama, and while she lays claim to “experience” because of her ceremonial foreign policy role as First Lady, the Democrats have nonetheless gone for the fresh face and the appealing dual promises of hope and change. Foreign policy experience just doesn’t seem to matter – or, perhaps, it doesn’t seem to matter enough to change Obama supporters’ minds.

Sticking with that failed strategy when she’s right down to the make-or-break wire smacks of the kind of strategic insanity Ben Franklin was talking about. Instead of putting questions to Senator Obama that might give primary voters pause – instead of demonstrating his lack of experience, or his extremely Liberal stance on issues facing America … or even his no-show record of non-voting in the Senate, she has gone back to hammering him on experience.

Remember, you heard it here first!