The Marriage, Again

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2007 7:50 AM

Beneath the hugely entertaining spectacle of a Hollywood billionaire slapping his former pal Hillary Clinton lies this question: Will much of her campaign--perhaps too much--be about Bill?

After all, in tossing his spitballs, David Geffen hurled one about the former president being "reckless" and questioning whether he had changed his spots. I'm not a political consultant, but I strongly suspect that Senator Clinton doesn't want to spend this campaign debating whether her husband is still a horndog.

Plus, Geffen is steamed because six years ago, Bill refused to pardon Leonard Peltier, an American Indian activist behind bars for the murders of two FBI agents during a 1975 shootout at a reservation. I don't know why this case is a Geffen hobbyhorse, but it underscores that Hillary will inevitably carry some baggage from her husband's two terms.

She has dealt with this by saying that he was a pretty good president. But what's striking is that this wasn't the vast right-wing conspiracy slamming the Clinton legacy, but a leading light of the Hollywood left, spouting off to Maureen Dowd.

While Hillary will certainly try to take credit for the Clinton administration's accomplishments, and compare them favorably to the Bush years, does she also bear responsibility for what went wrong? Does this sort of chatter remind people that her White House "experience" was being married to a president? (Yes, she spearheaded health care reform, but we all remember what happened to that.) And if that experience was largely vicarious, isn't her only advantage over Barack Obama that she's spent a few more years in the Senate?

Equally interesting is the way that Hillary's camp tried to use the Geffen eruption to hammer Obama, the man he is raising money for. (She even used the phrase "politics of personal destruction," which Bill pretty much coined.) It's a common political tactic: jump on something that a supporter says and demand that the candidate disavow it. But since I doubt that anyone is going to vote for or against Obama based on David Geffen's fulminations, you wonder whether the HRC folks just wanted to see whether their new opponent has a glass jaw.

But Obama has second thoughts, reports the New York Times:

when it came to tallying the final score on the most intense engagement so far in the 2008 presidential race, even "Mr. Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, seemed to acknowledge that he may have been outmaneuvered.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Mr. Obama said he had not been aware beforehand of the statement his campaign had put out Wednesday morning responding to the public demand by Howard Wolfson, Mrs. Clinton's hard-driving senior communications adviser, that Mr. Obama denounce Mr. Geffen and return the money he had raised.

"Mr. Obama said he had been on a red-eye flight, getting a haircut and taking his daughters to school as the fight broke out, and strongly suggested he had told his aides he wanted to stay above the fray . . .

"For Mrs. Clinton, the risks of going after Mr. Obama included the possibility that some voters would view her as driven more by tactical war-room politics than by the domestic and foreign policy issues they are most concerned about."

Hillaryland went too far, says Time's Joe Klein:

"I think Obama won the round. The Clinton camp's initial reaction was over the top: Do they really expect Obama to censor his campaign contributors? The Obama camp's response was swift, brutal and elegant, another signal--after Obama's take-down of the Australian Prime Minister--that he's not going to take guff from anyone. And Hillary raising the 'politics of personal destruction' at the AFSCME candidate forum because a Hollywood mogul leveled on her seemed rote and oh so ten years ago.

"I love all the tut-tutting from other Democrats (Richardson, Vilsack). Such a transparent attempt to break into the news.

"This is useful. You want to see how feisty the candidates are going to be. If John Edwards had gone after Kerry in the primaries, we might have learned how inept the big guy's responses would be when the Republicans attacked."

National Review's Jim Geraghty defends Obama, sort of:

"How does Geffen making these remarks -- presumably without sanction or approval from Team Obama -- mean that Obama's campaign has embraced 'the politics of trash'? . . .

"Geffen pointed out the elephant in the room, the fears and irritations that a lot of Democrats feel about Hillary but don't like to talk about. Team Hillary reacted with its characteristic whine, completely fudging the difference between a substantive disagreement (her vote on Iraq, the Marc Rich pardon) and speculation about scandals and personal defects (the idea that Bill is sleeping around). I find this line of argument completely unpersuasive, but apparently it works, because the Clintons keep using it. Obama reacted by pointing out the obvious and staying out of the fray. But so far, it's being scored as a loss and a gaffe for Obama."

Dick Polman sees the Hillaryites as overreaching: "I think they screwed up.

"It turns out, for starters, that Geffen is not Obama's finance chair. And I would question whether it was 'vicious' to describe Bill Clinton as a 'reckless' guy who gave his enemies the ammunition to go after him. It may have been impolitic for Geffen to point this out -- and, as the best Geffen biography made abundantly clear, Geffen is renowned for throwing tantrums and betraying old friends -- but Geffen's mini-summation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal also happens to square with factual reality.

"Also, Geffen's crack about the Clintons' veracity (or lack thereof) is not exactly a shocker; during Bill's first term, Democratic senator Bob Kerrey characterized the president as 'an unusually good liar,' an assessment that was widely shared by Americans late in the decade . . .

"And, by going after Obama, Team Hillary merely kept the Geffen story alive and brought it greater attention."

Although it wasn't exactly starved for media oxygen in the first place.

The Anchoress frames the HRC counterpunching in gender terms:

"It seems to me that a strong and confident campaign does not demand that other candidates denounce their supporters and return contribution checks to them, but this is what Hillary Clinton's campaign does all the time! Particularly if an opponant's donor has dared to say something mean about poor old Hillary, who is just a girl and should be treated nice, because politics is about niceness and sweetness, and she would never, never indulge in a scorched earth, slash-and-burn sort of politics, herself."

Left Coaster's Steve Soto questions whether "this is the sign of a campaign whose wheels are coming off already. It sure looks like a campaign that is frazzled over the support Obama is getting from the Hollywood elite, and it makes me wonder how quickly things would crumble months from now if Gore got into the race."

For Kos and many other liberal bloggers, the issue isn't Geffen but the war:

"Hillary's vote (along with every other Democrat who went along to look "tough") didn't just enable Bush, but it also fueled efforts to marginalize and mock those of us fighting Bush's war. If even the liberal Hillary Clinton supported Bush's war, then those of us opposing it had to be real wackos way outside the mainstream!"

American Prospect's Michael Tomasky says all the previously pro-war Dems should be held accountable:

"I don't buy Clinton's rationalization of her vote, which Richard Cohen demolished last week. But I don't go for Edwards' story either, all that blather about the faulty intelligence and how was he to know. Nonsense. The WMD argument was just one of several lies the administration was peddling at the time. Anyone with the eyes to see and the nose to smell knew that an invasion of Iraq was the longstanding intention of the people who filled key White House, Defense Department, and State Department posts in the administration, and that once 9-11 happened, they were handed a forgiving rationale. It was obvious from about December 2001 that Iraq was the end, and war was the preferred means.

Does it matter that Edwards apologized? A little, sure. But he and Clinton and 27 of their colleagues each own their little piece of the blame for what's happened here, and the bottom line is that they were scared out of their socks to do anything but vote yes."

Speaking of Edwards, did he make an anti-Israel comment? The New Republic's Jonathan Chait investigates:

"Variety reports that at a Hollywood gathering, John Edwards said the following: ' Perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace,' Edwards remarked, was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.

"At Tapped, TNR alum Garance Franke-Ruta seizes upon Edwards' comments, and holds them up as further evidence of John Judis's theory that Edwards 'continues to fly blind on foreign policy.'

"Edwards says the report in inaccurate. Ezra Klein, also at Tapped, says he thinks it probably is inaccurate, as 'I've heard Edwards talk about Israel dozens of times now, in response to all different sorts of audiences, and he's been vehemently pro-Israel before every single one.'

"Like Ezra, I think reporter error is by far the most likely explanation. For one thing, I don't mean to be a snob, but the Variety antenna to nuances in foreign policy commentary may not be as finely-tuned as we would like. Second, the accusation against Edwards is that he panders to the tastes of whatever crowd he's facing, right? If that's true, why would he launch a criticism of Israel as an overwhelmingly pro-Israel venue?"

I've noted several times how the media are portraying Mitt Romney almost exclusively as a) a Mormon, and b) a social-issue flip-flopper. Power Line's Paul Mirengoff sees a sinister motive:

"The MSM has been trying to nominate a progressive/liberal/centrist/moderate/or maverick Republican presidential candidate since the days of Nelson Rockefeller -- in other words, ever since the Republicans stopped doing it to themselves. The MSM hasn't had much luck, though it made a decent run at it in 2000.

"But 2008 (including 2007) may well be the MSM's year. That's because the two leading Republican contenders, McCain and Rudy Giuliani, arguably fit somewhere in the progressive/liberal/centrist/moderate/maverick continuum. At a minimum, both take liberal positions on several issues that many conservatives deem vital.

"Right now, the MSM faces only one obvious obstacle -- Mitt Romney. Of the major figures committed to running on the Republican side, only Romney takes the conservative position on all major issues.

"This explains, I believe, the relentlessly negative coverage he's received from the MSM. Usually, the MSM likes a horse race. Thus, it will tend to give every major candidate a honeymoon period during which he has the opportunity to build himself up before the media tears him down, if tearing him down is deemed politically appropriate. But Romney hasn't had that opportunity. The Boston Globe started attacking him before he even got his 'exploratory' campaign underway, and since that time much of the rest of the MSM has piled on. The MSM seems resolved to bring Romney down before he can get started."

On the other hand, he has changed his views on abortion, gay rights and gun control.

Slate Editor Jake Weisberg gives Rudy a certain amount of credit, but worries about "what a scary place a Giuliani White House could be":

"Over time, Giuliani's Putin (or Rasputin)-like tendencies became increasingly evident. Instead of taking on new challenges after his re-election in 1997, he dedicated his second term to punishing his enemies, including his wife at the time. He made his former driver, Bernard Kerik, chief of police and retreated even further into the comfort of his cronies. Fran Reiter, who served as a deputy mayor under Giuliani, describes him as depressed and directionless after being sworn in for the second time. 'He can get mired in the petty stuff,' she told me. 'He doesn't suffer political opponents well, and there are times when he doesn't compromise well.'

"In his second term, Giuliani showed himself to be a classic micromanager, unable to delegate and unwilling to share the spotlight. He had already driven out William Bratton, his victorious chief of police, in a battle over credit. Bratton's fate was sealed when he, not Rudy, appeared on the cover of Time. Nor could Giuliani abide mockery. He went to court to try to stop New York magazine from advertising itself on the sides of buses as 'POSSIBLY THE ONLY GOOD THING IN NEW YORK RUDY HASN'T TAKEN CREDIT FOR.' After Sept. 11, he threatened, in Caudillo-like fashion, to ignore the legal term limit and run for re-election again if the candidates running to succeed him didn't all agree to let him stay in office for three extra months."

I predict many more such pieces, in part because so many political writers live in New York and experienced the Giuliani years firsthand.

This is going to drive the anti-Lieberman bloggers crazy:

"Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut told the Politico on Thursday that he has no immediate plans to switch parties but suggested that Democratic opposition to funding the war in Iraq might change his mind."

Well, they've said all along he was a closet Republican.

Veteran journalist Al Eisele, on the HuffPost, lauds a Post series that has drawn plenty of kudos:

"This Jurassic journalist is tired of all the bitching and moaning by denizens of the blogosphere about the deficiencies of the Mainstream Media (MSM in the snarky parlance of blognoscenti). Out of touch, corrupted by proximity to power, dinosaur media, inside gasbaggery of the Beltway -- these are some of the kinder descriptions of those of us who believe that traditional journalism is still a necessary and honorable trade, like garbage collection or undertaking.

"Well, let me refer you to the Washington Post's recent exposure of the inhuman conditions that many wounded veterans of our misadventure in Iraq are enduring at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the nation's capital. In a magnificent example of what journalism does best, two Post reporters, Dana Priest and Anne Hull, exposed bureaucratic incompetence and official malfeasance in treating wounded veterans in dramatic fashion . . .

"Citizen journalism is fine, and it's great that vigilant readers are keeping journalist, and politicians, on their toes. But when's the last time it prodded the bureaucracy into action to fix a problem or correct an injustice? That's what watchdog journalism, with the veteran reporters and vast resources like that of the Washington Post, does so well. And that's why the Mainstream Media is still an essential part of the brave new world of journalism in the Internet age."

Boston Globe Editor Marty Baron is defending the perfectly defensible move of giving front-page play to Tom Brady having gotten his ex-girlfriend pregnant. Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix has the story:

"Says Baron, there was nothing dubious about plastering news of Bridget Moynahan's pregnancy across the top of the Globe. 'It's an exceedingly intriguing story involving one of our biggest celebrities -- if not the biggest celebrity -- here in Boston,' Baron told the Phoenix. 'This person is the closest thing to royalty here. And it's the talk of the town.'

"Fair enough. Then again, the Globe's Brady coverage raises some perplexing questions. Such as: if the sex life and romantic entanglements of Boston's best-known pro athlete is now front-page news, how about the city's best-known politicians? Or its captains of industry? What's more, since readers obviously crave this kind of stuff, how hard will the Globe work to get it? On this particular story, both Boston dailies were scooped by the New York Post; will the Globe settle for sloppy seconds in the future?"

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