By Matthew Rothschild on March 05, 2008

As it became clear that Hillary Clinton was gaining ground on Obama, especially in the last week, his usually flawless campaign made several blunders. Here, in order of importance, are ten reasons why Obama slipped.

1. NAFTA Flap

When Obama’s leading economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, met with a Canadian official and allegedly told him that Obama’s stated views on NAFTA during the campaign amounted to “political posturing,” this was a huge blunder. It undercut Obama’s attack on Clinton for NAFTA, where she was vulnerable, especially in Ohio. It raised serious issues about Obama’s credibility with the American public, which is just getting to know him. (Especially since Obama first denied that the comment was ever made.) And the NAFTA flap called into question his leadership abilities. As I’ve been saying for days, and as Paul Begala said Tuesday night on CNN, as soon as this story surfaced, Obama should have said that Goolsbee was not speaking for the campaign and should have given Goolsbee the heave-ho. Instead, the Goolsbee comment keeps stinging him.

2. Rezko

It certainly didn’t help the Obama campaign that Tony Rezko’s trial began on Monday. The Rezko story has been lying around like a pulled hand grenade next to Obama’s headquarters for months now. Rezko is the Chicago wheeler-dealer who stands accused of money laundering and extorting bribes. He’s a longtime friend, funder, and supporter of Obama’s. And he helped Obama buy his house in Chicago. The Rezko ties, which the media finally began digging into, cast a shadow not only on Obama’s judgment but on his claim to want to clean up government.

3. A Blunder in the Last Debate

The Clinton camp wisely picked up on an Obama error in the Cleveland debate. Clinton had criticized him for never holding an oversight hearing on NATO’s role in Pakistan, even though he chairs a subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that deals with NATO. All Obama could say to that was, “I became chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven’t had oversight hearings on Afghanistan.” He all but admitted he shirked his duties to run for President! Clinton used this footage of Obama’s answer in an effective ad against him in the final week.

4. The Red Phone Ad

Negative advertising often works. That’s why we see it so much. And the “red phone” ad, I’m betting, did a lot to sow doubts in voters’ minds. Clinton almost split the male vote in Ohio and Texas, which is a huge switch for her. This ad helped position her as the “tough” candidate.

5. No Effective Counterpunch to Clinton’s “Fighter” Image

In the last debate, and in her speeches in the final week, Clinton stressed that she was a fighter not only for herself but for people in need. This resonated with the public, who admire her if for no other reason than she’s taken a lot of hits but keeps coming out of her corner with her head high. And this image contrasts well with Obama in two ways: First, it suggests that he’s all talk and no action. And second, it hints that his cool, low-key demeanor may not be steely enough either to take on McCain or to represent the country.

6. A Weak Economic Message

With the economy sliding deeper and deeper downward, Obama needs to strengthen his economic message. Throughout the campaign, Clinton has been beating him on the urgent issue of home foreclosures (calling for a moratorium, and a freeze on interest rates). He’s been slow to respond.

7. Too much time in Ohio

In the two weeks after the Wisconsin primary, Obama spent an inordinate amount of time in Ohio when all he needed to do, as Bill Clinton himself recognized, was to win either Texas or Ohio. As it became clearer that Ohio was going to be the tougher nut, Obama should have concentrated more of his time in Texas.

8. An Improvident Trip to Rhode Island

For some ridiculous reason, Obama went to Rhode Island on Saturday to campaign. By all accounts, he was always going to lose Rhode Island. And he needed that day—just three days before the primaries—to round up more Texas voters.

9. Failure to Bring Bill Richardson and John Edwards on Board

On Sunday on “Face the Nation,” Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico was one breath away from endorsing Barack Obama. Had Obama grabbed his endorsement (even in exchange for serious V.P. consideration, which Richardson was salivating about), Richardson could have done Obama a world of good with Latino voters in Texas. Similarly, Obama has been unable to seal the deal with John Edwards, who seemed such a natural fit with Obama during the debates. Obama needed to get Edwards’s endorsement for help among working class white voters. And it would have been of enormous help in Ohio.

10. SNL, Jon Stewart, Letterman

“Saturday Night Live” helped Clinton out two weeks in a row by showing the media as biased in favor of a hapless Obama. And Clinton made a conscious effort to inject some warmth into her personality by appearing on the show last Saturday, and by appearing on Jon Stewart Monday night. She also has done herself well by being cozy with David Letterman.

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By Julia Burke
Ali Abd ElRahman believes the United States has the potential to take a leadership role in food...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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