A Short History of Recent U.S. Presidential Politics - Part 2: Bringing Honesty and Integrity Back to the White House
As I said in the introduction to Part 1, during the 2000 Presidential campaign, there were some Bradley supporters who hated Al Gore more than Bush supporters partly because 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. 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, we have entered the corresponding phase in campaign 2008, where some campaigns have become comfortable with false character attacks on 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. Part 1 focused on an example involving Sen. John Edwards' campaign. This part highlights a couple of even worse examples from Sen. Obama's campaign.
At the final Gore-Bradley debate in New Hampshire, Bradley offered the following attack on Gore’s troubling lack of honesty...
BRADLEY (1/27/00): If you don't trust the people to tell them the truth in a campaign, then how can the people trust that you're going to tell them the truth when you're president of the United States?
By this time, Bradley was desperate and angry—and willing to lie through his teeth. How absurd were his claims about Gore’s “character?” By now, he and his campaign had spent two months pretending that Gore introduced Willie Horton to the American people—even though Bradley had gone out of his way to say the opposite in his best-selling 1996 book, Time Past, Time Present (link below). But the press corps loved assailing Gore’s character—and this was Bradley attacking Gore, not a Republican or conservative entity. The line was recited right through November. It helped put Bush where he is.
DAO: Ms. [Susan] Estrich praised Mr. Bush's ability to roll with Mr. Gore's punches and, in the process, make him seem like a negative politician. "It seems to be working," she said of the governor's approach. "He's up [in the polls]."
In adopting Mr. Bradley's strategy of calling Mr. Gore dishonest, Bush aides have appropriated one of Mr. Bradley's sharpest debate lines, which they often strip across news releases: "Why should we believe you would tell the truth as president if you don't tell the truth as a candidate?"
As Bacon continued, he described a recent Obama campaign event. Every Democrat should be disturbed by the highlighted statement, whose antecedent is blindingly clear:
BACON (continuing directly): To emphasize this theme, Obama, who trails Clinton (D-N.Y.) by a wide margin in national polls, was introduced at the event by Tod Bowman, a Democrat and high school teacher in Maquoketa, Iowa. He said Clinton ducked his question about Social Security at an event this month.
"It made me wonder: If a candidate won't answer a question on the campaign trail, how can we be sure she'll be honest with the American people when they're president?" Bowman said at an event at a senior citizen center in Des Moines. [emphasis Somerby's]
There are no words for how appalled Democrats ought to be.
So let’s go back to that high-minded line voiced by that high-minded high school teacher. If you think that line wasn’t written for Bowman; if you think that line wasn’t copied from Bradley’s (effective) slander of Gore; then you live on the far side of Neptune, and you ought to stop following politics. Bottom line: Big Democrats can’t attack other Democrats’ character—especially by falsely claiming that Social Security is some kind of big issue. Bradley was lying in Campaign 2000—and the mainstream press corps loved it. Obama seems to be on the verge of going down that road again.
Of course, Democrats - especially supporters of Sen. Obama - should be doubly-appalled that this line of attack on Sen. Clinton was in the service of advancing a fabricated right-wing meme on Social Security - something that Sen. Obama has been sadly and wrongly claiming is facing a crisis (more here from Paul Krugman and also see these two posts by Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left). Disturbingly, this is not the only incident when Sen. Obama has gone after Sen. Clinton using a patently bogus line of attack that finds great favor among the corrupt Tim Russerts of the world, who Sen. Obama seems to be trying hard to impress (I wonder why). Recall the following incident from last week?
Here was an exchange from the Oct 30 Democratic Presidential debate (emphasis mine):
Russert: Senator Clinton, I'd like to follow up, because in terms of your experience as first lady, in order to give the American people an opportunity to make a judgment about your experience, would you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the president, the advice you gave? Because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012.
Clinton: Well, actually, Tim, the Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves. There's about 20 million pieces of paper there. And they are move, and they are releasing as they do their process. And I am fully in favor of that. Now, all of the records, as far as I know, about what we did with health care, those are already available. Others are becoming available. And I think that, you know, the Archives will continue to move as rapidly as its circumstances and processes demand.
Russert: But there was a letter written by President Clinton specifically asking that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012. Would you lift that ban?
Clinton: Well, that's not my decision to make, and I don't believe that any president or first lady ever has. But, certainly, we're move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.
"She was incidental to the letter, it was done five years ago, it was a letter to speed up presidential releases, not to slow them down," the former president [Bill Clinton] told reporters Friday. "And she didn't even, didn't know what he was talking about. And now that I've described to you what the letter said, you can readily understand why she didn't know what he was talking about."
Russert's question "was breathtakingly misleading," Bill Clinton said.
In response, Barbara L. Levin, spokeswoman for NBC, said: "Tim's question was entirely on the mark."
Clinton said that under the presidential documents law, he is not required to release any material until 2012.
"Unlike previous presidents, I have already released one million pages of documents, about half of which affect Hillary — the records of the health care task force," Clinton said.
Reuters has more on this completely fraudulent claim from Tim Russert. Is there a bigger wanker than Tim Russert (not to mention his stooge Barbara Levin)?
As it turns out, regrettably Sen. Obama's campaign is playing the Russert game. Here's what they are doing:
As Obama was campaigning in South Carolina, two of his leading supporters in Iowa released a letter calling on Clinton to expedite the release of thousands of pages of documents from her husband's presidential library that bear on her activities during his two terms in the White House.
"Throughout this campaign, you have repeatedly emphasized your experience as First Lady," wrote Tom Miller, the Iowa attorney general, and Lu Barron, a Linn County supervisor. "However, by refusing to authorize an expedited release of the records from your time in Washington, you are preventing the Iowa voters from thoroughly reviewing that experience."
Let's not forget where this pile of manure came from:
RNC officials acknowledged they've been encouraged to tap into the "stockpile" of opposition research they have amassed on Clinton more and more in recent days because of the senator's debate showing last Tuesday, combined with the upcoming Iowa caucuses and Clinton's continued leads in most polls.
Since last Tuesday, there has been a steady drumbeat of less than flattering stories promulgated by the RNC about the Clintons' role in releasing documents to the public.
Like many pundits, the RNC has seen Clinton as the presumptive nominee for much of the year, and one official in the RNC's research department said they have sought throughout the year to portray Clinton as "calculating.
Pathetic and appalling. I said this in Part 1 in the context of Sen. Edwards - and I will repeat it now in the context of Sen. Obama. These reckless and deeply offensive right-wing myths from Sen. Obama's campaign, whether on Sen. Clinton's position on social security or Sen. Clinton's records, are sowing the seeds for the kind of loathing - amongst his 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 may have very negative consequences for the Democratic party if she does. As a progressive, I am disturbed to see history repeating itself. I just hope progressives realize what Chris Bowers recently said at Open Left:
I imagine most people reading this blog are either happy that Clinton is somewhat down, or at least not disappointed. However, they should be careful what they wish for. In this case, what appears to be a Clinton drop in the polls was largely fueled by the same media machine that, most of the time, happily reinforces Republican narratives as conventional wisdom. The lesson here, I think, is to remember that the corporate, established media is still very good at creating national convention wisdom as they see fit. While in this case that conventional wisdom might make many people in the netroots happy, most of the time it won't. It is still a powerful institution that Republicans and conservatives are better able to control than Democrats and progressives, and we shouldn't forget that. After the fact re-branding of debates remains of the biggest reasons George Bush is President instead of Al Gore, for example. Their after the fact coverage of Howard Dean's concession speech in Iowa, or General Petraeus's rosy portrayal of Iraq are even more gratuitous examples. Most of the time, it feels as though the conventional wisdom machine works against us, and even in instances where we might enjoy the conventional wisdom that is being created (and I admit that I enjoy it simply because a blowout campaign is a boring campaign), we shouldn't forget that.
Especially given that dynamic, it bothers me is that this is probably not the last we're going to hear from Sen. Obama (whom I've praised previously and is clearly running on CharacterTM) since he doesn't seem to care about the reactions among progressives to his myth-making on social security. It is certainly ironical that this is what Senator Obama had to say about his campaign back in May:
Obama says his political consultant David Axelrod has occasionally felt the need to admonish him and his campaign "not to sit in the middle of the town square and set ourselves on fire." And, he says, "there will be those in my party who resist" his ideas. But, he adds, "there's got to be some element of truth telling in this year's campaign because the problems we face are too tough to try to finesse."
That sentiment was also behind this Time magazine story on Sen. Obama:
The Candor Candidate
by Karen Tumulty
Now, I am rather gratified to learn that the Obama campaign is also supposedly running on Honesty and IntegrityTM. I am just not sure if it's modeled on the George W. Bush variety.
[Bill Bradley] styles himself an outsider, talks about trust and tells about the Independents and Republicans who approach him in airports and hotel lobbies, saying, "I'd vote for you, but I'll never vote for him." His message: I can beat Bush; Gore, with all his baggage, never will. Bradley doesn't say whether those Independents and Republicans have heard about his unapologetically liberal platform. Maybe he thinks his halo will keep them by his side.
Never mind that Bradley was ultimately proven wrong despite the lasting damage he did to Gore. What is fascinating is that history does repeat itself in many ways:
Obama's Red State Appeal
by Jay Newton-Small/Omaha
...The demand for Obama in conservative states is a testament to his rock star status, a term he loathes for its implication that he's all style and no substance. But it may be the very fact that many voters don't yet know that much about the specifics of his politics that is sustaining his level of cross-party support. "I'm not seeing any pretty clear matches for me in the Republican crop," said Filipi, a lifelong Republican who found Omaha for Obama on the Internet. "The last few years I've really had to settle on who I've voted for. I haven't been inspired. I'm not sure Obama's that person either but he's the closest I've come to getting inspired in years."
In fact, Obama's voting record is the most liberal of any candidate, according to a National Journal analysis. Obama's score of 84.3% in the Journal's ratings formula tops even that of Representative Dennis Kucinich, who was considered the most liberal Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.