E.J. Dionne today put his finger on an aspect of the Obama-Clinton rivalry that’s been percolating under the surface for a while. Noting the similarities between Obama’s frequent beyond-left-and-right talk–and more specifically, the tribute to Ronald Reagan’s leadership qualities that Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been pounding him about–and the 1992 campaign message of one Bill Clinton, Dionne concludes:
In many ways, Obama is running the 2008 version of the 1992 Clinton campaign. You have the feeling that if Bill Clinton did not have another candidate in this contest, he’d be advising Obama and cheering him on.
E.J. might have added another parallel: Bill Clinton’s trump card in the 1992 nominating contest was his overwhelming support among African-Americans.
I’ve written before (as has Matt Compton) that Obama’s “Clintonian” trans-ideological and trans-partisan rhetoric has been a source of considerable ambivalence towards his candidacy by self-conscious Left Progressives in the party and the blogosphere (indeed, Armando Llorens of Talk Left today plays off Dionne’s column to blast Obama for an insufficiently partisan approach). But there’s a little-noticed flip side to this phenomenon. Despite the long association of the Clintons with the Centrist/DLC/”New Democrat” wing of the party, there’s pretty strong pro-Obama sentiment in centrist circles as well (something I first noticed at the DLC annual meeting last summer, where there was quite visible support for Obama among the several hundred state and local elected officials in attendance). Some observers were surprised by the raft of recent endorsements of Obama by red- and purple-state centrist elected officials in recent weeks (e.g., Janet Napolitano, Claire McCaskill, Jim Doyle, Tim Johnson, and Ben Nelson). Less attention has been paid to support for Obama in SC by long-time white centrist Democrats like former Gov. Jim Hodges, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, and former state party chair Dick Harpootlian.
In general, the early caucus and primary results have shown relatively little consistent correspondence between voter ideology and candidate preference; that’s a key reason that identity factors (age, race and gender) have played so obvious a role. So the “Clintonian” features of the Obama campaign aren’t just a small, ironic quirk. They are part and parcel of a contest where pinning down the candidates on a conventional left-right spectrum is exceedingly difficult.