Spotlight Reveals Obama Camp Missteps

A series of missteps by members of Barack Obama's campaign team illustrate that despite a dazzlingly effective year of campaigning, elements of his inner circle are still dangerously new to the maelstrom of presidential politics.

A top foreign policy adviser, Harvard's Samantha Power, resigned from Obama's campaign Friday after describing Clinton as a deceitful "monster" during a book tour in the United Kingdom. Obama's key economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, was quoted in a Canadian government memo dismissing Obama's vocal opposition to North American Free Trade Agreement as pure politics. His wife, Michelle, also new to the national stage, was left explaining a remark that seemed to indicate that she had only recently discovered real pride in America. And other members of his core campaign team have committed lesser slips in recent days.

The errors have come at a bad time, as the American public begins to get better acquainted with Obama amidst the backdrop of a historic and hard-fought Democratic presidential contest. Advisers' words — which a few weeks ago would have drawn attention only on political blogs — are now fodder for network news and, worse, for the local newscasts beamed to voters who had paid little attention to the campaign before the circus came to their particular town.

The stumbles may also draw the attention of the party leaders who will ultimately decide the Democratic nomination. As party insiders weigh the ability of Clinton and Obama to compete with Arizona Sen. John McCain in November, a week's worth of stumbles by the normally cool and cerebral Obama brain trust — and their ability to quickly recover — may play a role in the calculus of electablity.

There's little doubt as to the cause of their unforced errors: the sheer novelty of the spotlight.

"I've never been in politics before; I've thought of being on a show like this defending a presidential candidate before, and I wouldn't do it if I didn't agree with him," Power said at the conclusion of a second interview in the United Kingdom, during which she raised another round of questions for Obama's aides by referring to Obama's plan to withdraw troops rapidly from Iraq as merely a "best case scenario."

Power isn't the only one who hasn't done this before. While the Clinton policy team is composed largely of former White House hands, Obama's is studded with academic superstars with limited political experience.

Goolsbee, for instance, "admitted that the past few months have been rather extraordinary for, as he described himself, 'just a professor,'" according to the detailed Canadian government report on his meeting with the consul, other parts of which the Obama campaign has disputed.

Clinton spent the days in the run-up to the Ohio primary repeating the Goolsbee NAFTA story in person and on the radio, suggesting that Obama's commitment to trade regulation is insincere.

On Friday, her campaign scheduled two separate conference calls to attack elements of Power's remarks, between which Power resigned from Obama's campaign.

In one of them, former State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin called it "amateur hour on making foreign policy."

"He can't seem to run a foreign policy team the way it's supposed to run," he said.

Other recent slips have come from more seasoned advisers. Susan Rice, a Clinton administration veteran, offered this clumsy defense of Obama.

"Clinton hasn't had to answer the phone at 3 o'clock in the morning, and yet she attacked Barack Obama for not being ready." Rice said. "They're both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call."

McCain's campaign promptly pounced on the gaffe.

But while Obama's top political advisers have run presidential campaigns before, Obama himself, and his wife, are new to the rigors of presidential politics.

Indeed, that freshness is central to their appeal. They haven't ha their authentic, rough and interesting edges ground off by the "freak show" of Beltway politics and media. Mrs. Obama's gaffe is still reverberating on conservative talk radio:

"For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country," she said, though aides later said she was referring to the political system — not the country as a whole.

Her comment marked, among other things, the beginning of the end of a kind of right-wing truce with Obama, who is admired by many conservative pundits. However, he is viewed with suspicion in the Republican grass roots, where false, viral e-mails claiming that he's a Muslim Manchurian candidate circulate like wildfire.

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