Ambinder has a smart take on the “oh-we-wouldn’t-use-Obama’s-drug-use-against-him-but-those-big-bad-Republicans-might!” strategy that was sent up the Clinton flag pole (that’s what she said, heh-heh) yesterday:
By publicly raising some as-yet unanswered questions about Obama’s use of cocaine as a teenager, Billy Shaheen virtually guarantees that Obama will never be asked those questions or that if he is asked, he’ll use a valid excuse to opt out of answering them. (“Why,” he might say, “should I respond to a Clinton smear?”)
Regardless: this unforced error will hurt. Billy Shaheen wants Democrats to think about Obama and cocaine, but what they’ll think about, instead, is how the Clinton campaign is raising the issue. It’s fair to assume that Shaheen’s comments were not sanctioned by Arlington.
And while I think he’s probably right that the campaign brain trust didn’t orchestrate Sheehan’s comments, it’s mistakes like this where the myth of the Hillary press team’s competence actually hurts them. Jonah Goldberg helpfully illustrates what I suspect is a popular theory among Republicans and a large minority of Democrats:
So when the Clinton team’s top man in New Hampshire attacks Barack Obama’s past drug use (couched in the “concern” that the GOP will make an issue of it if he wins the nomination) and then “disavows” the comments I find it hard to believe anyone is buying. For months we’ve been told how disciplined this campaign is and now that the polls aren’t going her way this happens by accident? Nah-ah.
UPDATE: An Andrew Sullivan reader follows up on another way Sheehan’s comments may hurt Clinton:
The second generation story emerging from yesterday’s Billy Shaheen story is that African Americans are up in arms over the insinuation that Obama will be asked if he was a drug dealer. On African American radio stations, callers were correctly observing that not even the most in-your-face reporters asked Al Gore or George W Bush if he actually sold drugs as opposed to using them. Why is a black candidate who admitted to youthful drug use expected to answer such questions? I truly think Hillary needs to fire Shaheen to repair the potential rift, and not just make him apologize, which is what they’ve done. This story really could cause the first serious black flight from Hillary.