Forcing Ignorance

For those who made the smart decision to skip tonight’s circus, you’ve missed one especially exciting bit of news. Clinton’s campaign is alleging that Obama supporters committed various illegal acts during the caucus proceedings that discriminated against Clinton supporters. They say they have proof of the discrimination, but it’s unclear what that proof is. Now that we’ve soaked in some perspective (at least a few hours’ worth) on Clinton’s EMERGENCY conference call announcing the allegations, we’re ready to declare it an ultrashrewd political move.

Clinton has effectively pinned Obama into a catch-22. Obama can’t say that his supporters didn’t do it, because he has no control over his supporters. If he goes out on a limb and erroneously trusts his supporters’ morals, he could look like a naive liar and a cheater—never a good option heading into a six-week marathon to Pennsylvania. If he takes the other route and says nothing (which is what his campaign has done thus far), then he looks like he’s admitting defeat and recognizes that he can’t control his own supporters. As Michelle Obama infamously said , “[I]f you can’t run your own house, you certainly can’t run the White House.” In reality, Obama’s supporters are the equivalent of his across-town neighbors, but voters may not see it that way.  

This catch-22 ploy isn’t new. Two weeks ago the Obama campaign trapped Clinton in a similar scheme by crying foul over a picture of Obama in native Somali garb—pictures that were reportedly leaked by Clinton staffers to make Obama appear to be a Muslim (which he is not). Obama demanded that the Clinton campaign take responsibility for the leak, but the Clintonites were silent during the first hours of the hubbub because they couldn’t verify that none of their 700 staffers released the picture. Eventually they said they knew nothing about it.

That’s the only way out of this catch-22, to claim ignorance and hope the scandal doesn’t trickle up. There are still too many details missing for us to know whether Obama will suffer because of his supporters’ alleged indiscretions. It’s hard for Obama to take umbrage at the allegations, especially because the claims are more serious and the potential fallout is steeper. It’s telling that we still haven’t heard Obama’s campaign directly respond to Clinton’s conference call. (Outside of an Obama lawyer’s heated exchange with a Clinton spokesman.) That doesn’t mean his supporters are guilty, it just means he has no way of knowing that they’re not.