Hillary and Obama Are Running Two Different Campaigns

Barack Obama's interview with the Washington Post this morning recapitulates the message he's been propounding from day one:

"I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than she can," Obama said. "I will add, by the way, that is not entirely a problem of her making. Some of those battles in the '90s that she went through were the result of some pretty unfair attacks on the Clintons. But that history exists, and so, yes, I believe I can bring the country together in a way she cannot do. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be running.

Obama and Clinton are, in effect, running two different campaigns each based on two different readings of the temperature and directional pull of the electorate right now.

Hillary Clinton reads recent political history materially; The country's political cleavages are not artificial or contrived; they're cut from basic differences in how to organize society. Democrats want to be proud of their identity as Democrats again; the central animating principle of her candidacy is that the country sufffers; that President Bush and the Republicans are to blame; that Hillary Clinton is the solution. Americans don't hate government; they just hate when government doesn't work. The Clintons know how to make government work; as president Hillary Clinton will recertify government. How does Clinton win news cycles? When she's attacked by Republicans or President Bush.

Obama wants to remind Democrats of the feeling they get when they're at a ball game and the national anthem is played -- a post (or pre) partisan, transhistorical patriotism that is then channeled into the political system as the ultimate expression of Democratic ideals. It's a complex argument, easily and reductively characterized as "Obama versus the System." In the context of the primary, Obama is simultaneously addressing the Clinton dynastic ambition, the allure of a post-Clinton era for Democratic political elite and the nagging sense for many Democrats that the Clintons contributed to and were in some ways responsible for the downturn in Democratic fortunes after Bush v. Gore. How does Obama win news cycles? When everyone notices there is daylight between him and Clinton.