By Colbert I. King
Saturday, March 1, 2008
With the crucial Ohio and Texas Democratic primaries only three days away, this might not be the best time for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to slip away to ponder what he has gotten himself into. The temptation, though, would be understandable.
Coping with Hillary Clinton's special code of conduct is surely an unbelievable burden. Simply put, Clinton sets a standard for political opponents that she wouldn't think of applying to herself.
Consider her practice of holding a candidate accountable for a supporter's remarks.
In the Ohio debate this week, Clinton wouldn't quit until Obama said that he would "reject and denounce" the endorsement of his candidacy by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. That Obama had not solicited the endorsement and has consistently deplored Farrakhan's anti-Semitism did not matter to Clinton.
Then there's the current Newsweek story "Good for the Jews? Hillary Clinton's surrogates are questioning Obama's commitment to U.S.-Israel relations."
In a January conference call with American Jewish organization leaders, the magazine reports, Clinton senior adviser Ann Lewis attempted to denigrate Obama's pro-Israel credentials by pointing out that Zbigniew Brzezinski is Obama's "chief foreign-policy adviser." Brzezinski, Newsweek noted, "has a reputation that is close to toxic in the American Jewish community."
It mattered not to Clinton's clan that Brzezinski is not a key Obama adviser, that Obama has said he has had lunch with Brzezinski only once or that they have exchanged e-mails perhaps three times. Linking Obama to someone who is anathema to the Jewish community was the point to be scored -- even if it meant committing a foul.
The Clinton folks apparently had the same thing in mind when, Newsweek also reports, they sent around e-mails raising questions about Obama's relationship with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Why? The church's Trumpet Newsmagazine had once honored Farrakhan as someone who "truly epitomized greatness."
So what if Obama has said that he doesn't agree with everything his pastor says -- or that Obama has said giving Farrakhan an award "was a mistake and showed a lack of sensitivity to the Jewish community"?
Neither did it matter to the Clinton attack machine that Obama has said his church has never issued an anti-Semitic statement or that he had never heard anything that would suggest anti-Semitism on the part of his pastor or that if he had heard hints of anti-Semitism he would have left the church where he and his wife, Michelle, were married and their two daughters were baptized.
The Clinton campaign has done all this to paint Barack Obama as bad for Jews and Israel.
Sadly, they aren't the only ones perpetuating falsehoods about Obama. The Internet is full of lies about the candidate, such as the accusation that Obama does not swear allegiance to America, that he took the oath of office with his hand on the Koran and that he is a Muslim. All untrue.
But this is not about Internet crazies or campaign smears.
The issue here is Hillary Clinton's standard of conduct when it comes to comments by a candidate's supporter.
As the Politico's Roger Simon reported this week, fresh from her clash with Obama in Ohio, Clinton went to Texas, where one of her ardent Latina supporters told a Dallas TV station that blacks haven't done anything to help Latinos. "They used our numbers to fulfill their goals and objectives," Adelfa Callejo said.
Then came Callejo's kicker: "Obama has the problem that he happens to be black."
A Dallas reporter asked Clinton about her backer's remarks. Clinton danced: "I want us judged on our merits. . . . I want people though to look beyond, look beyond race and gender, look at our records."
The reporter followed up: Is this something you reject and denounce?
Clinton: "People have every reason to express their opinions. I just don't agree with that. I think that we should be looking at the individuals who are running."
Question: Do you still want her support, though?
Clinton laughed and said: "This is a free country. A lot of folks have said really unpleasant things about me over the course of this campaign. You can't take any of that as anything other than an individual opinion."
Question: "But you criticized Obama for not rejecting the support of Farrakhan."
Clinton: "I don't see any comparison at all . . . and I don't know the facts of what you're telling me over the TV."
Her campaign called the station back later that night, after word of the broadcast had spread and no doubt after it had studied the interview. Officials announced that their candidate rejected and denounced Callejo's remarks.
Message to Obama: Do as I say, not as I do.