Child’s Play

Presidential candidates have accused each other of being childish before, but never quite like this. Hillary Clinton sent out a weekend e-mail blast announcing, “SEN. OBAMA REWRITES HISTORY, CLAIMS HE HASN’T BEEN PLANNING WHITE HOUSE RUN.” The statement takes issue with Obama’s claim that “I have not been planning to run for President for however number of years some of the other candidates have been planning for.” In fact, the release says, Obama has been planning on becoming president since kindergarten, when he wrote an essay called “I Want To Become President.”

The statement works on two levels: Big picture, it’s part of a larger attack on Obama’s honesty. If we can’t trust him to be straightforward about his ambitions, how can we trust him at all? But the statement also repeats a strategy previously noted in this space : portraying Obama as a child. Last month, Hillary argued that just because Obama lived abroad as a 10-year-old doesn’t mean he knows foreign policy. In some ways, her words suggested, he’s still that 10-year-old. Now she paints Obama as a conniving, opportunistic, careerist kindergartener.

She has a point about Obama downplaying his own ambitions. It’s not like he woke up one day in January and decided to run. And to be fair, Obama has gone after Hillary on this point as well, echoing a suggestion published in the book Her Way (and since denied ) that Hillary and Bill had a “20-year plan” to attain the presidency. But that doesn’t change the inherent silliness of marshaling Obama’s kindergarten essay as evidence of dishonesty.

More importantly, though, how does it benefit a candidate to paint his or her opponent as wanting the job more badly? Obama has spent many months pillorying Hillary for her lack of foresight on the Iraq war. Why is foresight about one’s own career suddenly a liability? Sure, Obama might want to perpetuate the image of Hillary as calculating and opportunistic. But to try and out-casual your opponent—to pretend that you can wake up one day and fall into the Oval Office—is just, well, childish.