Senator Hillary Clinton and her rival for the Democratic party's presidential nomination, Senator Barack Obama, this week will continue to prepare for their next primary clash in Pennsylvania on April 22. Yet while their policy platforms are very similar, the two antagonists have adopted divergent strategies in a developing political war of attrition.
Partly by accident and partly by design, Obama has decided to make a clean breast of all his most controversial actions and associations in public life:
- In response to the release of taped excerpts of sermons by Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright -- in which Wright maintained that God should "damn the USA" for some aspects of its foreign and domestic policy -- Obama gave a sweeping, well-received, speech on race in the United States. He explained that Wright, who he characterised as an "imperfect" man, had sometimes espoused "profoundly distorted" views couched in the idea that US society is "static" -- and has not moved on from the Jim Crow era.
- After the opening of the fraud trial of Tony Rezko, who had once raised money for his campaign, Obama spent almost three hours with the staff of the Chicago Tribune -- the city's nominally Republican-leaning daily newspaper -- detailing all of his past associations with the disgraced developer. Afterward, the Tribune's editorial board characterised the exercise as a credit to his professional judgment and personal decency.
- Finally, the Obama campaign detailed every 'earmark' -- controversial legislative riders that often funnel federal dollars to lawmakers' home states for projects of dubious value -- that the senator had secured for Illinois during his time in office. Most of them appeared to serve the broadly defined national interest.
In contrast, the Clinton campaign striven to closely control all information that could potentially cast the New York senator in a bad light. It has withheld her tax returns (both Obama and the presumptive Republican party nominee, Senator John McCain, have released theirs) and refused to emulate Obama’s transparency on earmarks (McCain disavows the practice entirely). The National Archives only released the record of her activities as first lady on March 19 -- following a lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a conservative group.
Given Clinton's experience during the administration of her husband, who suffered from almost eight years of constant scrutiny by the press and an aggressive special prosecutor, it is unsurprising that 'information management' has become her mantra. Obama's relative openness is audacious, if perhaps politically unwise, by comparison. The public reaction to such soul-baring tactics will determine whether the 'new politics' he espouses is viable in electoral terms.