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Deja Vu: Obama-Clinton, Meet Fenty-Cropp

Political analogies are always rough, but as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton head into their showdown in New Hampshire today, this campaign is starting to sound awfully familiar to D.C. voters.

The 2006 mayoral race that pitted the young, green dynamo--council member Adrian Fenty--against the presumptive heir to the office--council chair Linda Cropp--featured many of the emotional and psychological aspects of the current Democratic presidential face-off. Cropp, like Clinton, was a lackluster speaker who by most accounts knew the issues and the territory better than her young challenger. Cropp, like Clinton, was endorsed by the power establishment, admired by older voters, and had been groomed for the top office for years.

Money, power and inertia favored Cropp. The times did not.

Fenty, like Obama, seemed less than seasoned. He wasn't always sure of himself on the details of government. He spurned party elders. He spoke to a new generation of voters. And he spoke across racial lines. As a man of biracial background, he ran almost without mention of race--and certainly without mention of race as a limiting factor or cause for bitterness or resentment.

Like Clinton, Cropp derided her opponent as the purveyor of false hope, of easy answers and insufficient rigor. Like Obama, Fenty largely ignored such criticism, instead wowing young and new voters with his personal energy, apparent integrity, and simple message of hope and trust in a new way of doing things.

Obviously, the racial dynamic in the District is far from that of the nation as a whole. Yet the role race played in these two political contests was, but for the skin color of each electorate's majority, remarkably close. Both Fenty and Obama spoke of race more through their actions and presence than through rhetoric or policy positions. The very facts that they were who they were and where they were sufficed to send the message that they had somehow transcended race. This, combined with their ability to communicate levels of energy and competence that seemed to break with tradition, persuaded many white voters to support them--and that embracing and expansive manner in turn persuaded many young black voters to join in.

It is no coincidence that Fenty (Oberlin) and Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law), like Mayor Cory Booker of Newark (Stanford, Oxford, Yale Law), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (Milton Academy, Harvard College, Harvard Law) and Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (Harvard College, Harvard Law), are products of elite educations. Their experiences teach them that privilege knows no color, that the meritocracy, fragile and flawed as it may be, is far from closed to people like them. They are post-civil-rights movement Democrats who won elections with campaigns that steered clear of race-conscious appeals.

If they are viewed with suspicion by older voters, both black and white, they don't much care. Their focus is on their own generation and those who come behind them. When they speak of a new America--and they all do--they see the color-blind friendships so common among their children, and they think of their colleagues from college and beyond, believing that they can populate government with top-shelf thinkers and doers like themselves.

To candidates such as Cropp and Clinton, who grew up in a far more racially divided culture, this all seems overly optimistic, even a bit delusional. Cropp scoffed at the idea that Fenty's door-to-door campaigning could amount to more than her own decades of service in the bowels of the District's political machinery. She believed that support from unions, party organizations and other old-line groups meant far more than Fenty's campaign by yard signs and Blackberry messages. Like Clinton, she lectured audiences about how the work of governing was far more complicated than her young opponent made it out to be. Where Clinton talks about how naive it is to speak of "ending" the war in Iraq when the withdrawal of troops is a tricky and difficult business, Cropp would deride Fenty as someone who didn't understand that negotiating with Major League Baseball was a job for an adult who steered clear of simple, direct stances.

Adrian Fenty won every single precinct in one of America's most politically, racially and economically divided cities.

By Marc Fisher |  January 8, 2008; 7:23 AM ET
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So Fisher your "do no wrong" Nationals have now partnered up with a P.G. County hotel as the official hotel of the Washington Nats.

Not only is the hotel NOT IN DC it is almost a gun shot to the head to DC hotel owners who were forced to absorb the higher taxes to pay for the new stadium. Ironic because the higher costs associated to our new stadium taxes made us less competitive with the P.G. Hotel on bidding for the rights to be "official hotel" of the Nats.

Send your nats and RAW deal back to Montreal.

And yes DC hotel owners are going to come together and fight this crap.

Posted by: DC Hotel Owners | January 8, 2008 8:44 AM

"A gun shot to the head"? At least you aren't being overly dramatic! I have a feeling that the hotel owners in DC will do just fine nonetheless.

Posted by: Bethesda, MD | January 8, 2008 8:57 AM

I loved Hillary but she is too fake, she managed to fool the media yesterday with her fake crying. Hillary if u can't handle the pressure join Biden and Dodd, let it be a two man race.

Posted by: Honesty | January 8, 2008 9:40 AM

George Bush yesterday gave a speech on EDUCATION and the ECONOMY. That is analogous to my grandmother telling you what she knows about computer science and the National Football League. Well, campers, I am 71 years old so you do the math and decide whether my grandmother can tell you anything.

Hillary keeps talking about her 35 years experience. Speaking of math, I don't believe she can claim to have national experience since 1973. Did you know who she was then? She also keeps touting her experience and "history" of experience. Every time she does that, the voters HEAR her say she IS HISTORY. It's been a big mistake NOT to tout her VISION and not her "history". And BILL isn't helping. His impeachment (and womanizing) coupled with Hillary's inability to effect much with healthcare (and work with Republicans to get that done) are both liabilities. HISTORY is not HILLARY'S best card to play.

What this really comes down to is OBAMA v.s. BUSH. Bush embodies the rejected establishment incompetence (as also does the Republican side of Congress, by the way). Every time Hillary boasts of her "experience" and sounds like she also is "establishment", she allows OBAMA to run against George Bush.

One more thing: When Obama gets the nomination and then wins the presidency, there will be a wholesale "sweep-in" of Democratic congresspeople and senators as well.

And that's the truth from this old guy who still remembers things.

Posted by: ACTORartistPOET | January 8, 2008 10:01 AM

Marc has truly fantastical logic when he says, "She's all about smashing the barriers to delivering the same education whether kids live in poverty or affluence." As well as, "If Rhee is to accomplish any lasting change, she must bull through and do what's right for all."
If my memory, first-hand experience working at DCPS, and reality serves me correctly, all of what Marc and others with short visions present are just updated and reflavored versions of what we've heard before --- and presently from our latest recruit in serial superintendents program.

Has he, or anyone else truly thought thoroughly outside the box, or even about the box itself? Here are five critically important questions to consider: 1) What happens when D.C.'s family population rises and there are not enough schools, operating revenue, personnel, or property space to service them?

2) Beyond a fiscally expensive new baseball stadium, pricey stores, dwindling affordable housing, and crime emergencies --- what will be the draw for revenue-generating families to move to the District of Columbia if there are not enough (or conveniently located) schools of good quality?

3) Are mayor Adrian Fenty, Michelle Rhee, Victor Reinoso, Allen Lew, and condo developers (i.e. Fenty's campaign contributors) betting that mostly (or only) high income childless couples and singles will relocate into the District, and float the massive revenue needed to effectively run our city's many and increasing public needs?

4) Is the real deal behind the school property closures (and other taxpayer-owned assets) and sales actually due to the coming D.C. fiscal crisis that CFO Natwar Gandhi knows is on the horizon?

5) Are we actually witnessing America's biggest yard sale (including schools and other publicly-owned properties) to raise money --- that no one wants to admit to?

Of course, let's not begin to factor in the lost millions to be revealed in the ongoing federal investigations and indictments of systemic District government corruption and waste. Stay tune, hold on to your wallets, and make a personal financial fail-safe plan if you can.

Dennis Moore
Chairperson, District of Columbia Independents for Citizen Control (DCICC)

Posted by: Dennis Moore | January 8, 2008 10:17 AM

This has to be one of your sillier columns.

Trying to compare a race for Mayor in DC to the Presidential election and seeming to say it makes sense.

Yes Adrian Fenty is young and has much to learn but he is a dynamic young man and is leading a City where if he makes a mistake it's about a baseball contract. It is not about life and death issues which a President has to deal with.

The sad part is that many people don't seem to recognize that. And columns like yours do nothing to make the difference clear.

Barack Obama is a charismatic, intelligent man. He likes the comparison of himself to John F. Kennedy. Well let's take that comparison a little further. It was Kennedy against Johnson. The dynamic young speaker and photogenic war hero- against the older experienced guy.

The young photogenic candidate won. We weren't at war and there was relative peace in the world.

We first got the Bay of Pigs, then we had the Cuban Missile Crisis, none of his legislative proposals were moving through the Congress. It was only after he was shot that Lyndon Johnson got Civil Rights legislation passed, passed other major domestic legislation, and had the experience to make a difference.

There has been all kinds of guessing about what Kennedy would have done about Viet Nam but we will never know.

But the reality is that many of us older folks supported Adrian Fenty against the establishment,and still do, becasue we believed that even if he made some mistakes, they wouldn't be life or death and in general could all be fixed. I for one still believe that Adrian Fenty will in the end be a great Mayor.

But the Presidential election is often life or death. Our nation is at a crossroads and yes many of the same people who supported Adrian Fenty are supporting Hillary Clinton. We believe that the Presidency is too important a position to hand to a neophyte and that is what Barack Obama is.

We will never know what would have happened had John F. Kennedy lived but from what we saw in his first three years as President, the changes he promised and the hopes he inspired may very well have been shattered by the reality of his lack of ability to move legislation and make real changes.

That is my fear with Barack Obama. We are a nation at war, however wrong that war is, we are a nation entering a recession, we are a nation facing crisis at home and abroad. Now is not the time to elect a neophyte to lead us. It's OK for a Mayor and even a governor but not a President.

There is something to society recognizing the wisdom of age. Barack Obama has not proven he has that yet. He has made promises in previous elections he has not kept. He promised to vote against the Patriot Act then voted for it, he said he is against the war, but has voted for every funding bill that came his way in the Senate. He has talked about his feelings on Iran but skipped the only vote that could have backed up his rhetoric. He says he will fight the lobbyists but then hires one to chair his NH campaign.

I will support Obama if he is the Democratic candidate because I don't want to see another Republican in the White House. But we do a real disservice to the nation if we make people believe, or allow them to think, that electing a Mayor or Governor is the same as electing a President and that one doesn't need more experience to face life of death issues than one needs to negotiate a baseball stadium deal.

Posted by: peter dc | January 8, 2008 10:23 AM

Even though the media refuses to do their job and report FACTS so educated voters make their decision instead of being biased and suppoting ONE candidate. WE THE VOTERS WILL NOT STOP EDUCATING WHERE MEDIA FAILS MISERIBLY by Giving Obama a free ride and doing a disservice to the country. It really is about Obama's message. He can't point to a record of accomplishment so he talks about bringing people together and giving people hope. The media has forgotten their job! They are responsible to inform voters of the differences between candidates, not to endorse or support just ONE! As they have with obamaboy!
**CNN last night Lou Dobbs said they polled the young voters supporting obama (which is how he is winning the recent caucuses) NOT ONE COULD SAY WHERE HE STOOD ON ANY ISSUE?? With the country at odds with so many foreign countries, it is horrifying to think of Barrack "Hussein" Obama (Muslim) running our country. You think we are in trouble with bush/Chaney!
ROCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) - A group of about a dozen anti-abortion protestors interrupted one of Barack Obama's New Hampshire rallies Monday night.The group shouted in unison, "Abortion is abomination," forcing Obama to pause in the middle of his speech. When the noise erupted, Obama first paused and looked up into the balcony where they were standing. They were escorted out by police.Before leaving the room, one protestor yelled, "True change is ending abortion!" Change has been a major theme of Obama's campaign.
Obama he has managed to avoid media bias against Clinton. "Obama, through an unprecedented convergence of luck has never before faced serious attack yet, Media refuses to show he is a phony, someone whose lofty rhetoric isn't born out in his own public record. His lack of foreign policy experience and showing he isn't ready to lead in a dangerous world. His votes in the Senate to fund the Iraq war even as he tried to position himself as the strongest anti-war candidate. facts show he always supports the war, voted twice in 2006 against bringing America's troops back home, votes for war appropriations giving our money to Halliburton and Blackwater, voted with Bush on posturing S 433 which allows the Bush to suspend any troop withdrawal! Record also shows Obama faced with tough choices always gave in to pressure from Bush admin and corporate lobbyists. Obama voted for Bush's energy bill, sending more than $13 billion in subsidies and tax breaks to oil, coal, and nuclear companies, voted with Repub to allow credit card companies to raise interest rates over 30 percent, increasing hardship for families. "He talks about change but has no real record of making change. Lastly his use of the race card will not play well nationally, We are absolutely sick of obama saying hes not running on race, but thats all he offering and all we are talking about!!!!, he is a self proclaimed Black Racist. Again media attacks Romneys Mormon faith but refuses to discuss obama church. Go to website to know what he believes. I think the media needs to be held accountable! ALL the candidates should have been given the same treatment. All these OLD men who own these media outlets are afraid of an educated strong woman like Senator Clinton. Is why they attack her on clothes, wrinkles etc...And refuse to show her in any positive light. They have completely lost CREDIBILITY CNN, MSNBC etc...Are just the "Enquire on TV.

Posted by: Obama a mistake | January 8, 2008 10:34 AM

Here's where your comparison is lacking.
You said, "Fenty, like Obama, seemed less than seasoned. He wasn't always sure of himself on the details of government."

Obama may SEEM like that, at first glance, but if you are not too lazy to look further, into Obama, you'll find he has a very good voting record, has accomplished much, and has had MUCH BETTER FOREGN POLICY JUDGEMENT THAN HILLARY. Obama knows the details of government. Obama has held office for 11 years. Obama has pushed through tough ethics reform in the Illinois senate AND the US senate. Obama has a degree in international relations, taught constitutional law, and currently sits on the senate Committees of Foreign Affairs, and Veterans Affairs, among others.

That's why Hillary can't win this. Obama is inspirational, but voters actually aren't stupid, and most of them, i think, see past the media assigned labels (of inexperience and youth) and see the real record, and the man. And by the way, Obama is older now than Bill Clinton was when he was elected.

Posted by: julie | January 8, 2008 12:37 PM

By the way, I'm not convinced Hillary will lose in NH.
It's classic Clinton to lower expectations so they can claim success later.

Posted by: julie | January 8, 2008 12:49 PM

People have to stop comparing Fenty and Obama, it's almost racist.

Posted by: DCer | January 8, 2008 2:01 PM

I think you're far too quick to dismiss race as a factor in any election. I think it's less a factor on a national scale, but still factors into many, many state races for electoral college votes. For good or bad, we all bring our history and environment into the voting booth with us.

There are many people of all races who would love to vote for a serious candidate who happens to be black, and would view having the first black president as possibly a deciding factor. Much like many people might want to have a first female president. The race between the two has probably less to do with those factors then the fact that Hillary scares away the independents, while Obama is appealing to them. I know the Republicans would much rather face Hillary then Obama for that reson alone. On national elections, appealing to a younger set may not be the best policy, since older people are MUCH more likely to show up at the polls in key states like Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri.

Posted by: Leesburger | January 8, 2008 2:03 PM

DRAFT BIDEN - WRITE HIM IN - world danger demands a Statesman not American Idol .

Posted by: SCCanning | January 8, 2008 2:58 PM

May you continue to have a strong wind at your back, Mr. Obama, and become the next President of the United States. I am Canadian, and I'm convinced you will make a positive difference in the world.

Posted by: Joan | January 8, 2008 3:00 PM

You failed to include that Fenty is also a graduate of another elite institution; Howard Law School, the birthplace of civil rights law and one of only a handful of law schools to produce a Supreme Court Justice.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 9:34 PM

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