Keeping Score With the Team Players

By Al Kamen
Friday, October 3, 2008

Some Obamaniacs have been grousing that the Clintons have not, despite fine speeches in Denver, rallied behind the Democratic presidential candidate and instead are barely going through the motions. That didn't seem quite right, but we kept hearing the complaints, so we did a spot check of what the Clintons have been saying of late.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been stumping for Sen. Barack Obama, mostly in the battleground states, with stops in New Hampshire, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Michigan and two trips to Florida. She generally blasts the GOP and Bush, but she also talks about how she knows Obama well and how she's "seen his passion and determination, and his grace and his grit."

She notes that Obama's running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., "is a strong leader and a good man" and that "they are the right team for America." She says she's come "to encourage all of you to do everything you can between now and November 4th to make sure that we have a Democratic team back in the White House."

On the talk shows, Clinton says that Obama is "better prepared" than Republican Sen. John McCain to deal with the "economic mess" and that "anybody who supported me should be supporting Barack Obama."

Okay. So maybe don't call him at 3 a.m., but that's pretty solid stuff.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton, appearing on the talk shows, is much more nuanced. The former president defends McCain from attacks on his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a running mate, saying that "one of the things that I like about him and I think Americans like about him is that he is an intuitive politician."

"I really admire Senator McCain," Clinton says, always noting what good friends they are, how he's been "particularly grateful" for McCain's support on some issues and that "he gave about all you can give to this country without getting killed for it." He called McCain (and not Obama) a "great man."

Clinton is even effusive in his praise for First Dude Todd Palin, who Clinton said was "doing just fine on his own."

"I do think he's an interesting guy," Clinton said. "I think anybody who finishes those long races he does, did 500 miles on a broken arm, is worth our admiration."

Clinton says Obama is "not only charismatic but really smart and a very disciplined candidate." And he says Obama will win because "the demographics" are on his side, "these are difficult times" and "registration is up for the Democrats."

Hmm. . . . Sounds as though maybe that lunch three weeks ago up at Clinton's office in Harlem didn't go that well.

But Clinton's finally on the road for Obama, with two stops in Florida yesterday, where he positively blistered the Bush administration. He said Obama had "a better philosophy" and "better answers" and "instincts" than McCain (of course, he would say the same of any generic Democrat) and hugely praised Biden. The choice "is not a close question" he said. Well, he's dropped the lavish praise for McCain and Todd Palin. So no more nuance. As Clinton knows better than anyone, in politics there's no nuance in October.

Wiggle Room

To paraphrase the late, great Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.), a trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money. You're also talking about the national debt, which has grown by more than $4 trillion during the Bush presidency, the biggest increase under any president.

In January 2001, the national debt was $5.7 trillion, as CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reported earlier this week. It has risen almost 75 percent, to nearly $10 trillion. The bailout proposal is almost certain to add untold billions to the debt, though President Bush says lots of it "will be paid back."

But, perhaps remembering some administration predictions on the cost of the Iraq war, the government is taking no chances. On July 30, Bush signed a bill raising the debt ceiling to $10.615 trillion. Buried in the bailout bill approved Wednesday night by the Senate is a provision that would raise it to $11.315 trillion.

Interest on the debt in fiscal 2008 was on $431 billion, or about $1,400 for each man, woman and child.

Keeping the Right Company

Kannon Shanmugan, a former assistant solicitor general who batted six-for-eight in arguments at the Supreme Court and whose conservative-credentials ticket has been punched so often it's in shreds, has become a partner at Williams & Connolly (hey -- that's our law firm!).

Shanmugan, 34, who's been touted as a rising star among the legal folks, has been executive editor of the Harvard Law Review and a law clerk to former appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig and then to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Before that he worked in private practice with former appeals court judge Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater special prosecutor.

No Sugarcoating

It seems that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates really meant it when he talked about the need to be brutally honest in assessing things at the Pentagon. Here's the headline of a story that appeared earlier this week on the Defense Department Web site's home page.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this column.

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