Clinton and Obama's Hollywood Scene

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, February 23, 2007

It was a good day for Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack -- and, what the heck, Dennis Kucinich.

It was a bad day for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and David Geffen.

It was a good day for the Republican Party, particularly George W. Bush, John McCain and Dick Cheney.

It was a bad day for the Democratic Party, opponents of the Iraq war and advocates of national health insurance.

The petty feud was started by big-time producer Geffen's brutal remarks about the Clintons, which appeared after he helped raise a ton of Hollywood money for Obama. The grudge match revived those depressing cliches about the Democrats: their affection for circular firing squads and their habit of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

You wonder what Clinton and Obama will learn from this. Both might study the long Democratic nomination fight that began in 1987, well in advance of the 1988 election.

There was an obvious front-runner named Gary Hart, a smart, young former Colorado senator who promised to lead his party out of the 1930s into the 1990s. There was a young Delaware senator named Joe Biden, the same guy who's running this time. Biden wasn't the clear No. 2 that Obama is now, but he got some good early reviews.

Before election year dawned, Hart and Biden were knocked out of the race, because of their own mistakes for sure, but also because of whispering campaigns and subterranean attacks by their opponents.

By the fall of 1987, the Democrats looked like ineffectual dwarfs, to use the word popular back then. A Republican operative named Haley Barbour -- now Mississippi's governor -- happily declared: "At the beginning of this year, the American people questioned whether the Democrats had the first team on the field. I think everything that's happened has confirmed that it's a real amateur hour. It's been a confirmation of people's idea that these aren't the big boys."

Obama and Clinton lieutenants and their full-of-themselves fundraisers: Read Barbour a few times and remember that the Democrats blew the 1988 election. Today, the party has its most talented collection of candidates since 1960. That could change fast.

Political junkies know the week's story line, but in brief: Geffen, a Hollywood mogul who co-hosted a $1.3 million fundraiser for Obama, trashed Bill and Hillary Clinton to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who gets the powerful to say the darnedest things. The Clinton and Obama camps went to war, rocking computers all over the country with incendiary e-mails.

The Clinton side insisted that Obama -- the let's-end-negative-politics candidate -- disown Geffen. The Obama forces trashed Clinton for accepting support from a South Carolina Democrat who suggested that Obama would doom the ticket because he's black.


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