Will Rookie Mistakes Sink Obama?

Hillary Clinton must be fuming. Only a month after sewing up the nomination, Barack Obama’s claim to be the Agent of Change is already unraveling He is proving belatedly that Bill and Hillary’s prediction was right: he is not ready for prime time.

Even the New York Times is mad at him, accusing him of false advertising. (“Mr. Obama’s shifts are striking because he was the candidate who proposed to change the face of politics, the man of passionate convictions who did not play old political games.”). For once it’s hard to quibble with the Grey Lady.

Obama has reversed course on everything from FISA to the Second Amendment to the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment to gay marriage to campaign finance reform. His Iraq policy is changing, or maybe it isn’t. Stay tuned. Even his biographical ads touting his leadership on welfare reform (which he actually opposed) and his struggle to work through school (which seems to only have amounted to two summer jobs) are being fact checked and disproved by the MSM. What an amateur, Hillary must be musing.

And she has a point. Hillary and Bill would never have made a number of the key errors which Obama has managed to rack up in just one short month.

First, after a bout of sloppy saluting as president, Bill quickly learned to snap a salute and feign respect for the military. Hillary surrounded herself during the primary with packs of generals and admirals who vouched for her. And she never had a harsh word to say about John McCain’s military service. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the last thing a Democrat wants to be accused of is lack of appreciation or respect for the military.

Well, not Obama who made multiple mistakes on this one. First, he let Wesley Clark speak in public. Then he set him loose a second time on the morning talk shows. And then Obama made clear he wasn’t apologizing for Clark, the last in the line of eight or so surrogates to disparage McCain’s military record and service. Dumb, just plain dumb, Hillary must be thinking.

Second, Obama is giving flip-floppery a bad name. He changed on too many issues (e.g. guns, FISA, campaign finance, NAFTA, gay marriage, corporate tax rates, Iraq, unconditional meetings with Ahmadinejad)  and he changed too quickly. Again, Hillary must be shaking her head. The Clintons know better: there is just so much the public will bear and if you rush them with a torrent of reversals they won’t have time to forget your old positions. (Obama set the land speed record for reversing course in less than 24 hours on an “undivided Jerusalem,” for example.) Really, was it necessary to change on all those issues in the first month of the general election campaign?

Third, Hillary knows that you don’t mess with marriage. Well, to rephrase, you adhere publically to the principle that marriage should be between a man and a woman if you are intent on getting votes from value voters. Obama, for no particular good political reason, declared himself opposed to California voters’ effort to overrule a state Supreme Court decision and ban gay marriage. It is not as if this was a major issue or as if John McCain (who issued a mild statement in favor of allowing states to pass such measures) had taken the lead in opposing gay marriage.

No, Obama quite on his own reversed his prior opposition to gay marriage and declared that those who favored the California gay marriage ban were “divisive and discriminatory.” Hearing that was all a large group of evangelical leaders needed to come out in support of McCain, who in the past had not endeared himself to them. Nice work, Barack, Hillary must be fuming.

Fourth, you don’t “retool” your spouse, at least not publicly. Hillary can certainly sympathize that an errant spouse can be an embarrassment. Still, you never publically let it slip out that your better (or worse?) half is undergoing a make-over. For starters, it is insulting (and surely won’t endear Obama to all those women voters who may resent picking on poor Michelle). Secondly it only highlights the Teresa Heinz/Bill Clinton problem (e.g. do you really want that person as First Mate?). If you want to hide your spouse, fine. But you don’t remodel your mate before the entire country.

Fifth, you never say “never.” Hillary stalled for a year in releasing White House and tax records, delaying as long as possible until she could avoid it no longer. The trick is to never appear too concerned about meeting a deadline. Obama, in rejecting (after he seemed to show interest in) the McCain invitation to hold a series of town hall meetings, made a cardinal error. It is one thing to show interest in something he never intended to carry through with, but it’s a novice error to get pinned down for an answer. If it were Hillary she’d still be “studying this very interesting proposal.” Instead, Obama has once again been caught pulling a bait and switch.

Sixth, last Thursday’s “yes, I’m changing Iraq policy; no I’m not” performance was down right embarrassing. When you flip or flop, as Hillary and Bill demonstrated time and again, you do it cleanly, with a straight face and without looking back. You don’t warn people “Here it comes” and you don’t equivocate when you jump from one stance to another. Not even the MSM could figure out what he was saying and why it took two press conferences to annoy supporters and critics alike.

In short, Obama has destroyed the credibility of his self-labeling as Change Agent. But even worse he’s been a poor and incompetent imitation of the Clintons. If you are going to feign respect for the military, flip-flop, make a play for religious voters, improve your spouse and avoid tricky situations at least do it well, or as well as the Clintons did. For Bill and Hillary it must be painful to watch. Did he learn nothing from them? Well, no.

Obama did learn their worst habit: believing that the media would provide cover regardless of how badly he performs and how craven his behavior.  That is proving to be — in the short run — a gross miscalculation as the media has called him out for mistakes large and small. Having toyed with their hopes for a new liberal idealist, he has now disappointed them. Like a scorned spouse they are letting everyone know just what a cad he has been.

But, Obama knows, they’ll flock back to them as soon as Sen. McCain engages fully.  They can’t help themselves.  Barack’s their guy, and they’ll do whatever they can to get him elected.

If this flurry of errors and media revolt keeps up Hillary might still get her comeback campaign of 2012. After all, if you trust an amateur and he lets you down, the public is going to demand to bring back the seasoned pro.