Ex-Files: Clinton's comeback

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 7:34 AM

Bill Clinton, we are told, is the most popular Democrat out on the campaign trail.

While some in the party have no desire for Barack Obama to stop by, or suddenly remember a dentist's appointment when he shows up in the state, Bubba is very much in demand.

Which is somewhat amusing, because 10 years ago it was the 42nd president who was deemed a liability on the hustings when his vice president was trying to get himself elected.

What's fascinating to me is the way we soften our view toward presidents once they are safely out of office. There has even been a hint of nostalgia for George W. Bush, who has remained largely silent while working on his book. Maureen Dowd and a couple of other liberal columnists have recently recalled W's reassuring words on the rights of Muslims and called for him to speak out on the mosque controversy. Even Jimmy Carter has been far more successful as an ex-president than he was in the White House.

During his eight years, Clinton was the focus of constant attacks from the GOP. He was Slick Willie, he was too liberal, he was going to tank the economy, he was dissembling about Whitewater, he didn't respect the military, he sold the Lincoln Bedroom, he was a lying philanderer. (Well, uh, that part turned out to be true.)

Al Gore, seemingly happily married to Tipper at the time, wanted to distance himself from the boss's moral failings in 2000, and Clinton was used only in selected districts.

But the passage of time puts things in perspective. The whole Monica mess, while a tawdry betrayal on Clinton's part, hardly seems worthy of impeachment. Many people are more likely to remember Clinton for the booming '90s economy and welfare reform than the endless investigations and the spectacular failure on health care.

Former presidents are also judged in part by the performance of their successors. Clinton could have done more against terrorism, but the fact that he didn't lead us into a bloody war based on faulty intelligence looms larger in retrospect.

In the same vein, Clinton was an emotional, feel-your-pain politician--to the point of parody--while Obama comes across as cool, calm and rational. For those who feel his demeanor hasn't matched the moment, the Clintonian style seems to exude greater leadership.

There is, of course, an inescapable irony in Clinton, who campaigned hard (and often clumsily) against Obama two years ago, emerging as an effective surrogate. He talks up the administration of which his wife is now a part and dismisses what he calls Democratic "bellyaching." If you hang around long enough and your hair turns white enough, you become eligible for elder statesman status.

More on the mosque

The Nation's Richard Kim scolds the press:

"The list of establishment voices who have spoken out--often forcefully--against the plainly bigoted crusade against Park51, a/k/a the Cordoba House, should be daunting. It includes the editorial pages of the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and (grudgingly) the Wall Street Journal as well as CNN's Fareed Zakaria (who returned an award from the ADL in protest), NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg, Post columnist Kathleen Parker, the American Jewish Committee, J-Street and Iraq war boosters Christopher Hitchens and Peter Beinart, whose recent Daily Beast columns put him somewhere just slightly to the right of Noam Chomsky. This honor roll even included, for a brief moment, President Obama, who is now twisting himself into knots trying to retract his retraction of his refudiation of the smear.

"And yet--all of this pushback has made not one iota of difference. Over 60 percent of Americans still think an Islamic cultural center should not be built on 'hallowed ground', and vulnerable Democrats like Harry Reid are caving faster than a Massey-owned mine on the issue. . . . Let's face it: Sarah Palin's Twitter account won. . . .

"Maybe it's the establishment, so busy lecturing the masses on the Constitution and Islam, who should be sent back to class instead. Lesson one: the hysteria over the 'Ground Zero mosque' did not happen in a vacuum. Lesson two: when you permit and foment the indiscriminate dehumanization of Muslims in the name of 9/11, it is not one bit surprising that the public would view lower Manhattan as the frontline of a global religious war. Lesson three: the reason you don't have any power now--when you've decided that enough is enough--is that for so many years, you cheered the bullies on. It is not enough to demonstrate occasional courage."

But whether leading opinion types took on the mosque opposition or not, the sheer volume of news coverage provided the oxygen for this raging fire.

I had missed these interesting passages in Politico on what happened before the president weighed in:

"Prior to the decision, Emanuel and Obama's communications staff vividly -- and presciently -- predicted that Obama would be handing Republicans a weapon to batter Democrats as weak-kneed on terrorism three months before the midterms, according to several people familiar with the situation.

"Despite press reports to the contrary, none of them counseled Obama to dodge the issue -- not even Emanuel, who knew well that the issue could be used a cudgel against moderate and conservative Democrats he helped elect as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2006 and 2008 cycles.

" 'Give me a break,' Emanuel e-mailed POLITICO when asked about a press report that he had opposed the move. 'We all stand behind and support the president's decision.'. . . .

"And Axelrod, a canny tactician with a keen sensitivity to political danger, didn't dissuade his boss from jumping in, citing his own parents' experiences with religious persecution as Jews in Europe. 'It makes me uncomfortable when government starts deciding which religions can build and which can't,' Axelrod told an associate. 'It makes me uncomfortable when we stigmatize a particular faith. That's not what America is all about.' "

McCain's comeback

John McCain has never been a darling of the right, and as he tries to win renomination in Tuesday's voting, the Daily Beast's Tunku Varadarajan is less enamored than ever:

"He will say pretty much anything, no matter how much the utterance is at odds with his older, saner positions, in order to secure his own reelection. All the polls indicate that John McCain will, come Tuesday, knock out J.D. Hayworth, his clownish challenger, in the state's Republican Senate primaries; and, having done so, it is impossible to see his Democratic opponent beating him in November. Arizona is, after all, the Tea Party writ large. But I do wish that McCain had not fought the primaries as an insecure, reactive, poll-watching hack who focus-groups his way to reelection. From a first-timer, such strategic micro-tailoring would be understandable; from a fifth-timer, the whole exercise seems tawdry, unseemly, yucky. . . .

"Adding to conservative consternation with McCain was the fact that much of the American media, ideologically liberal as a tribe and partisan in favor of the Democrats, treated McCain as a 'hero' precisely to the extent that he dissented from conservative policies and caused trouble for the Republicans. (He is, after all, the McCain of McCain-Feingold, a law that counts among its fans a certain Barack Obama.) McCain took his biggest wrong turn when he boarded his 'Straight Talk Express' and became the media's darling, always providing pungent copy, always giving them a lead, always sniping and sneering at the 'Establishment' and quite unaware that the press adored him because he was useful to them in their own soft-core anti-Americanism. But once he became the Republican standard-bearer in 2008, he became the enemy--and this happened many months before he plumped for Palin. McCain then found himself, for the first time in his political career, to be a politician largely friendless in the media: The so-called mainstream, besotted with Obama, bid McCain an abrupt adieu; and the Fox News right, always ambivalent (at best) about the maverick, tolerated him as the non-Democrat without ever embracing him, its thumb and forefinger held firmly to its nose.

"The decent thing for McCain to have done after Obama's election would have been to say that he was calling it quits, giving way in the Senate to a politician less spent. But he didn't. Politicians without a guiding ideology are, frequently, the ones who stay in the game longest. Manic redefinition, constant reorientation, tracking the latest directions on the ideological GPS, places them on an unending trajectory of reelection, a journey that ends only with death."

Soft-core anti-Americanism? Really?

Obama the non-Muslim

With a sizable slice of the country misinformed about Obama's religion, the Senate Republican leader said the following on "Meet the Press": "The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word. I don't think that's in dispute."

McConnell's people didn't want to get drawn into this controversy, and liberal bloggers have teed off, including the New Republic's Jonathan Chait:

"Mitch McConnell is careful with his words, so this dog-whistle message to the far right. . . . is notable. . . .

"To say that you 'take him at his word' means two things. First of all, it suggests that the president's word is the only information we have to go on here. Of course, that is absurd. Second, if further suggests that, the evidence being weak or inconclusive, McConnell is taking the high road by accepting Obama's testimony.

"The formulation is a way of putatively siding with the truth so that he can't be pilloried by the media, while subtly suggesting that he is open to the views of Americans who think Obama is Muslim."

Washington Monthly's Steve Benen:

"In fairness, McConnell, after pointing to what the president has said about his own faith, added, 'I don't think that's in dispute.' That's closer to what the official party line should be, but it's still short.

"The correct answer is to dismiss nonsense because it's nonsense."

Out of touch?

Howard Dean, on CNN's "State of the Union," stirred some chatter by saying Obama's advisers are out of touch with average folks and need to "spend some time outside Washington."

At Hot Air, Allahpundit jumps on the comments:

"On the one hand, this is the second time in four days that Dean-o is wildly off-message from the White House, which of course is why both CNN and The Hill are trumpeting his remarks here. Intriguing stuff, to be sure. On the other hand, the thrust of what he's saying is that the White House is out of touch with. . . . progressives. Note to Dean: It ain't disaffected lefties who are preparing to destroy the Democrats in November. Or am I not giving him enough credit, and this is actually his way of acknowledging, however glancingly, that the White House is out of touch with center-right concerns too?"

Commentary's Jennifer Rubin adds that "Dean certainly is popping up a lot lately. I wonder if he's thinking of running for something, or simply enacting revenge for the Obami's refusal to keep him as head of the DNC." What the doctor really wanted was to run HHS.

Leaks about WikiLeaks

We learn a bit more from the Guardian about those now-you-see-them, now-you-don't allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange:

"One of two women involved told Aftonbladet in an interview published today that she had never intended Assange to be charged with rape. She was quoted as saying: 'It is quite wrong that we were afraid of him. He is not violent and I do not feel threatened by him.' Speaking anonymously, she said each had had voluntary relations with Assange: 'The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who had attitude problems with women.'

"Sources close to the woman said that issues arose during the relationships about Assange's willingness to use condoms."


Gawker has a picture of one of the women: "Meet Anna Ardin, the political secretary and press officer of the Swedish 'Brotherhood Movement,' a group of Christians from the Social Democratic Party controversial for inviting anti-Semitic speakers to the country."

Today's Tiger

Turns out you can't fool around with two dozen porn stars, actresses and waitresses without paying a price--a very hefty price:

"After months of speculation, the marriage between Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren Woods is officially over: The couple were present at Bay County Circuit Court in Panama City, Fla., Monday for the execution of their divorce agreement," People reports.

" 'We are sad that our marriage is over and we wish each other the very best for the future,' they said in a statement released by Nordegren's Virginia-based law firm of McGuireWoods. 'While we are no longer married, we are the parents of two wonderful children and their happiness has been, and will always be, of paramount importance to both of us.' "

No wonder his golf game has gone to hell.

The Mariotti arrest

Deadspin finds a witness to the incident between ESPN commentator Jay Mariotti and his girlfriend that led to Mariotti's arrest:

"She sat on a couch and he grabbed her by the hair and whipped her around a bit -- ripped something out of her ear and shoved her around. With those actions I told my girl to call the cops and i went to the trunk of my cart to get my black wiffle ball bat to try and put the fear of god in him . . . but before i could do so he fired her into the elevator and they disappeared. Being the resourceful guy I am, I went up to the door and found out what floor they stopped at so i could relay that info to the cops. I'll tell you this much. the guy has a serious rage problem. . . . [H]e was ripping stuff off the walls and firing it in the lobby too. some papers or something. i guess to show how macho he was."

Mariotti hasn't had his day in court, but as Sports by Brooks points out: "In a Sun-Times piece dated January 3, 1996, and titled, 'Nebraska's Title Tainted by Phillips' Participation,' Mariotti wrote that Nebraska's '96 NCAA college football championship was 'tainted' because of a misdemeanor domestic assault charge against then-Cornhuskers star Lawrence Phillips."

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, 'Reliable Sources.'

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