Monday :: Nov 12, 2007

A Short History of Recent U.S. Presidential Politics - Part 1: Bringing Honesty and Integrity Back to the White House


by eriposte

As we enter the next phase of the 2008 Presidential campaign, this is a good time to start observing how history has a habit of repeating itself. Looking back at the 2000 Presidential campaign, here's a key aspect of the history perfectly encapsulated in this comment in a discussion on a recent Vanity Fair article about the Goring of Al Gore in the 2000 election (bold text is my emphasis, throughout this post):

I remember a friend of mine, who was admittedly pretty young back in 2000, saying during the campaign that she couldn't really see many differences between Gore and Bush. I don't want you to get the impression that I have vacuous friends - the point I'm making is that people casually, peripherally informed about the race prior to the election were mostly getting (from the media) differences in style and tone from the two candidates, rather than differences in position. This attitude was very widespread, both among people I knew personally (and myself) and in some parts of the media. Both Bush and Gore were "political machine" candidates; neither of them seemed to bring anything new and different to the table.

A lot of people were very disillusioned at how the primaries had gone; I knew people who didn't even vote in 2000 because they had really gotten behind one of the other candidates (mostly McCain or Bradley) and just felt like they'd been cheated into picking one side of the other of the same establishment coin. (I knew quite a few Bradley supporters who hated Gore more venomously than most Republicans did at the time.)

Ironically, for all the talk of how Gore and Bush were boring and didn't have a single new idea between them, Bush probably brought the most 'new ideas' to the table. They were just, you know, bad ideas.

Part of the reason why there were some Bradley supporters who hated Gore more than Bush supporters did was that Bill Bradley, who was running on Honesty and IntegrityTM, had made it a regular practice to lie about Gore and paint him in the worst manner possible with ugly character attacks - whether the topic was Willie Horton, Bradley's health-care plan or other matters. Bradley's campaign tactics - which I will discuss more in my next post - made it evident that his goal was to win the primary at all costs, even if that meant his opponent might lose the general election against one of the worst Presidential candidates in American history. The traditional media, with their deep-seated hatred for Gore, latched on to Bradley because of this, picked up the ball from him and ran with it for the next year and a half, trashing Gore and repeatedly calling him a liar - often over their own inventions. Sad to say, it seems we have entered the corresponding phase in campaign 2008, where some campaigns start feeling comfortable with taking fact-free, ugly potshots at the front-runner, in the hope that some of it sticks with the help of the media - a media that conveniently has a deep-seated contempt for the frontrunner. In other words, we are in the process of replacing Gore with Clinton (whose real policies, positions and voting record in the Senate are nowhere near that of a Bush clone, not to mention her opponents' caricature of her).

I have a bad feeling I will end up having to write many more of these posts, but for today I will begin with the "Clinton camp planted questions" story. At its core, the criticism of the Clinton campaign on this issue is well-deserved. Taylor Marsh has a good post on the story. While this is certainly nothing like George W. Bush's staged and censored propaganda presidency, urging audience members to ask specific questions is a bad idea regardless of whether the intention was only to get more people in the audience to ask Sen. Clinton about her actual positions or proposals. So, I hope Sen. Clinton makes sure that no one in her campaign continues this idiotic practice because it is unacceptable. At the same time, I have to say I am pretty disappointed by some of the comments I have seen from progressives in response to this - including this gratuitous bit of nonsense from Sen. Edwards (following another highly misleading claim last month):

That's what George does: George Bush goes to events that are staged where people are screened

It is one thing to claim that Sen. Clinton's campaign doesn't answer questions, but unless Sen. Edwards has evidence that Sen. Clinton's events are staged - by virtue of people being screened to exclude those who may ask difficult questions - this is the kind of remark I expect from Free Republic, not a Democratic Presidential candidate. Rest assured, these kinds of fact-free comments are being met not with objectivity but glee by some Edwards supporters - as epitomized by TomP, who posted observations in similar vein in his Daily Kos diary:

Wow!!  What does this remind you of?  Afraid to answer real questions from the crowd?
...
An Iowan asked Clinton why she voted for Kyl-Lieberman and she verbally berated him as a "plant" from another campaign.  She apparently only likes questions from her own plants:
...
But Senator Doubletalk must have been afraid of real questions from the audience...

Aside from the complete irony of an Edwards supporter referring to Clinton as Senator Doubletalk, the claim that Clinton "berated" the questioner (from the previous incident in Iowa) is false - as you can tell from the video of the incident. The allegation that she "apparently only likes questions from her own plants" is also categorically wrong. This is not just evident from watching the same video, or from the fact that Sen. Clinton has routinely taken difficult questions from various audiences, but from the very Scarlet & Black article that originally raised the issue of a planted question:

But the source of the question was no coincidence—at this event “they wanted a question from a college student,” Gallo-Chasanoff said. She also noted that staffers prompted Clinton to call on her and another who had been approached before the event, although Clinton used her discretion to select questions and called on people who had not been prepped before hand.

That's not all, though. Here's the most extraordinarily revealing part of TomP's diary.

TomP posted the above diary at Daily Kos using quotes from the very same Scarlet & Black article, but did not mention the above passage in his diary - thereby making Sen. Clinton look as bad as possible. This is what I usually expect from CNN, NBC/MSNBC, the New York Times or the Washington Post, or even Fox News/the GOP, but not from a supposed Democrat and progressive. TomP then posted a follow-up diary celebrating Sen. Edwards' nonsensical attack on Sen. Clinton ("UPDATE RE JRE STATEMENT AT END OF DIARY!"). Here is the relevant extract from his follow-up diary, reproduced as-is (I've captured screenshots just to be sure) - note that TomP has excised a very critical portion of the text and replaced it with the word "snip" (highlighted in bold):

Grinnell Scarlet and Black

Senator Clinton must have been afraid of real questions from the audience.  

Clinton called on Gallo-Chasanoff after her speech to ask a question: what Clinton would do to stop the effects of global warming. Clinton began her response by noting that young people often pose this question to her before delving into the benefits of her plan.

But the source of the question was no coincidence—at this event "they wanted a question from a college student," Gallo-Chasanoff said. She also noted that staffers prompted Clinton to call on her and another who had been approached before the event.

snip

In TomP's narrative, there is a full stop after the words "the event" and he adds a "snip" right after that. Let's read Grinnell Scarlet & Black to find out what is in the "snipped" portion, shall we? (see portion highlighted belowin bold)

Clinton called on Gallo-Chasanoff after her speech to ask a question: what Clinton would do to stop the effects of global warming. Clinton began her response by noting that young people often pose this question to her before delving into the benefits of her plan.

But the source of the question was no coincidence—at this event “they wanted a question from a college student,” Gallo-Chasanoff said. She also noted that staffers prompted Clinton to call on her and another who had been approached before the event, although Clinton used her discretion to select questions and called on people who had not been prepped before hand. Some of the questions asked were confusing and clearly off-message. [eRiposte note - the last word "off-message" in the article is obviously gratuitous opinion-mongering by the author of the article, but I'll set that aside for now.]

As you can see, in the actual article, the words "the event" were followed not by a full stop but by a comma, and the comma was followed by the words "although Clinton used her discretion to select questions and called on people who had not been prepped before hand." TomP's narrative about Sen. Clinton would have been damaged considerably by this last sentence, so he conveniently excluded it from his two breathless diaries. Now, I am not blaming Sen. Edwards or his campaign for the diaries of his supporter - what I'm trying to show is how Sen. Edwards, through his ugly comment, created a deeply offensive myth about his opponent (Sen. Clinton) and how that deeply negative image of his opponent got dramatically amplified on the most trafficked progressive political blog in the U.S. thanks to one of his campaign's grassroots supporters. These are the seeds for the kind of loathing - amongst their supporters - that Bill Bradley and Ralph Nader created against Al Gore. These are also the seeds that will allow the traditional media to mount their own, false character attacks on Sen. Clinton using the justification that it is another leading Democrat and his supporters who are leading the charge. All of this unacceptable ugliness may not matter if Sen. Clinton fails to win the primaries, but it will have very negative consequences for the Democratic party if she does. As a progressive, I am disturbed to see history repeating itself.

A now-famous progressive blogger once wrote this at Salon.com:

Those who had been hoping Bill Bradley would fight back against Al Gore's relentless assault finally got their wish. Bradley basically called Gore a liar several times; he accused the vice president of being a captive to special interests; and questioned whether Gore could be trusted as president.

Let's just say, I am really gratified that this time around the Edwards campaign (which I praised previously) is supposedly the one running on Honesty and IntegrityTM. I am just not sure if it's modeled on the George W. Bush variety.

eriposte :: 6:26 AM :: Comments (28) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!