A flap erupted when some Internet sites on Monday posted a photo of Obama in Somalian garb, including a white turban. When the Obama campaign charged that Clinton aides had leaked the photo – taken during a 2006 trip to Africa – the Clinton campaign manager, Maggie Williams, tried to turn the matter back at the Obama team, even though her camp has not denied any role in distributing the photo.
“If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed,” Williams said in a statement. “Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.”
In what her aides billed as a major speech on foreign policy, Clinton renewed her charge that Obama lacks the seasoning to lead the country. “We have seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience or the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our nation,” she said at George Washington University in Washington. “America has already taken that chance one time too many.”
Clinton said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, changes in Cuba, Kosovo’s declaration of independence and other events demonstrate “how essential it is we have sound strategy and sound leadership,” Bloomberg News reported.
And on Sunday, Clinton – who days earlier had spoken of the “absolute honor” of sharing a stage with Obama – sarcastically described Obama’s message as naïve and suggestive of “magic wands” and “celestial choirs.”
Most recent polls show Obama and Clinton in a neck-and-neck race in the Texas primary on March 4, and give Clinton a lead in Ohio, which holds its primary the same day. But they show her lead dwindling steadily in both states, which even her husband, the former president Bill Clinton, has declared must-win contests.
A new Quinnipiac University poll, for example, showed Clinton leading Obama in Ohio by 51 percent to 40 percent, but that 11-point lead had fallen from a 21-point edge just two weeks earlier.
As he continues his rise, conservative blogs and television commentators have accused Obama of unpatriotic derelictions, from failing to wear a U.S. flag lapel, as many American politicians do, to having failed to place his hand over his heart last autumn during a playing of the national anthem.
Obama has fired back a few shots of his own.
“Senator Clinton has gotten mad because I said she supported” the North American Free Trade Agreement, he told an overflow crowd of 10,000 supporters on Sunday in Toledo, Ohio. “I said, ‘Well, hold on a second. The Clinton administration passed Nafta, signed Nafta.’ ” “You can’t just take credit for the good things,” he added.
As to the patriotism questions, Obama told reporters in Lorain, Ohio: “Look, there is always some nonsense going on in a general election. First, it was my name that was a problem. Then there was the Muslim thing, and that hasn’t worked out so well. Now it’s the patriotism thing.”
Rumors still circulate on Internet sites that Obama is secretly a Muslim. He is in fact a Christian.
The attacks on Obama’s patriotism took flight again recently, when his wife said that this campaign had made her proud of the country for the first time. Senator McCain’s wife, Cindy, made a point of saying that she had always been proud of the country. Obama later said that his wife was talking about the nation’s politics.
Obama suggested the outline of his counterattack to the patriotism questions in a general election. He said he would be glad to compare his patriotism with that of a Republican Party whose president failed to get troops enough body armor in Iraq, that did not give proper benefits to wounded veterans and that has engaged in “illegal wiretapping.”
Obama’s advisers say they are treading a fine line between appearing edgy and even defensive, on the one hand, and letting too many blows go unmatched, which could leave them looking passive and open the candidate to serious damage.
His advisers survey the rumors, and discuss attack and counterattack, nearly every day.
“It’s more an art, an alchemy,” David Axelrod, chief strategist for the Obama campaign, said about the moment when a candidate decides to toss a jab. “There is a certain amount of instinct involved.” On Sunday, Clinton was in Providence, Rhode Island – that state also has a primary election next week, as does Vermont – and her tone was filled with sarcasm, as she parodied her opponent’s message.