Say What? Obama’s Word Games

October 17, 2007 · 10:44 AM EDT

In at least one way, “incumbency” is like being pregnant. You can’t be “a little pregnant,” and you can’t be partially an incumbent.

But that pesky fact hasn’t gotten in the way of Sen. Barack Obama, or his campaign, and their awkward attempts to label Hillary Clinton as such.

On October 12, the Obama campaign sent out a memo entitled, “Quasi-incumbent finally gets scrutiny and stumbles,” referring to New York’s junior senator. But it’s really pretty simple: Either you are or you aren’t an incumbent.

“Quasi-incumbent” might be a cute way to describe someone who was appointed to a political office and is running for a full term for the first time. It might even be a cute way to describe someone who held an office, gave it up and was trying after a year or two to regain it again.

If a sitting Vice President were running for President, he or she might be referred to as a “quasi” or “pseudo-” incumbent, though that wouldn’t be true technically.

But applying the label to Senator Clinton is just plain wrong, since neither she nor her party has been near the White House in seven years.

Obama’s attempt to pair Clinton with the unpopular current President is nothing new. In late July, speaking about foreign policy, the Illinois senator said, “I don’t want a continuation of Bush-Cheney. I don’t want Bush-Cheney light,” referring to Clinton. At least by using the word “continuation,” Obama is apparently aware of whom the current commander-in-chief is.

Later, the October email reads, “Senator Clinton in all these states is the quasi-incumbent,” referring Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Well, not only is Clinton not president of the United States, she never has been, and has never even been on the ballot in any of the four states mentioned. That would make it difficult for her to be an incumbent of any kind.

For a candidate who claims to be above politics, the quasi-incumbent Obama’s claim is either ridiculous or rhetorically dishonest.

It’s also ironic that in the first sentence of the October email, Obama attacks Clinton for “purely tactical posturing.” But the entire purpose of the Obama memo is to position himself as the “outsider.” Obama’s posturing and mislabeling is nothing new, since campaign manager David Plouffe’s August 6 campaign update email to supporters stated, “No longer can the quasi-incumbent candidate survive a stumble or two early.”

And finally, the October email reads, “The Clinton operation is the greatest money machine in the history of American politics.” But Plouffe’s August email boasted, “Your financial generosity has allowed us to build the best and deepest grassroots organization in history at this stage of a Presidential election,” and the Obama campaign is constantly touting how they out-raised Clinton this year in primary money. So which is it? Who has the biggest machine?

The Obama campaign ought to give the American people and those in the media, some credit. And for a campaign that claims to take the high road, Obama is stooping to the lowest common denominator of politics by playing word games.