The Clinton Wars, Part II
Peter Dreier has a breathless post at The Huffington Post titled "Sidney Blumenthal Uses Former Right-Wing Foes to Attack Obama". The opening paragraph of his post reveals the crux of the charge that Dreier makes against Blumenthal (emphasis mine, throughout this post):
Former journalist Sidney Blumenthal has been widely credited with coining the term "vast right-wing conspiracy" used by Hillary Clinton in 1998 to describe the alliance of conservative media, think tanks, and political operatives that sought to destroy the Clinton White House where he worked as a high-level aide. A decade later, and now acting as a senior campaign advisor to Senator Clinton, Blumenthal is exploiting that same right-wing network to attack and discredit Barack Obama. And he's not hesitating to use the same sort of guilt-by-association tactics that have been the hallmark of the political right dating back to the McCarthy era.
How did Blumenthal supposedly do this?
Almost every day over the past six months, I have been the recipient of an email that attacks Obama's character, political views, electability, and real or manufactured associations. The original source of many of these hit pieces are virulent and sometimes extreme right-wing websites, bloggers, and publications. But they aren't being emailed out from some fringe right-wing group that somehow managed to get my email address. Instead, it is Sidney Blumenthal who, on a regular basis, methodically dispatches these email mudballs to an influential list of opinion shapers -- including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers -- in what is an obvious attempt to create an echo chamber that reverberates among talk shows, columnists, and Democratic Party funders and activists. One of the recipients of the Blumenthal email blast, himself a Clinton supporter, forwards the material to me and perhaps to others.
Dreier provides some examples, but unsurprisingly, not only is his post egregiously misleading (bordering on character assassination of Blumenthal) he is completely clueless about how his article is very revealing of a particular, hypocrisy-filled, anti-Clinton mindset that has been somewhat common among pro-Obama bloggers during this primary campaign. To understand why, let's start with Joe Conason's response at Salon.com titled:
Did Sidney Blumenthal cross the line?
Some bloggers accuse Blumenthal, a Hillary advisor, of spreading right-wing lies about Obama. But I get his e-mail blasts and the charge isn't fair.
Conason starts by saying:
First let me confess that I am now and have for many years considered myself a friend of Sidney Blumenthal's, the senior advisor to Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Salon columnist. I should also acknowledge here for the record that, like a number of his other friends, I receive daily e-mails from him on a wide variety of topics. Those e-mails, which have included everything from Doonesbury cartoons to YouTube videos, screen captures, poll results, right-wing screeds and the occasional scholarly article, must number in the thousands by now because sending those blasts has been a Blumenthal habit since long before he joined the Clinton campaign earlier this year.
If this were a more sane campaign, those mundane messages would be of little interest to anyone else.
More substantively, he points out:
Dreier cannot cite any specific instance that shows Blumenthal's e-mails influenced the coverage of Obama by anyone, let alone the writers who received them or the publications where they work. In fact, at least one of the regular recipients of those messages was an outspoken Obama supporter, and others were at least sympathetic to Obama. For my part, Blumenthal certainly knows that I have sharply criticized both Clintons and the Clinton campaign and haven't endorsed any primary candidate.
I cannot claim to know why he sent any particular article to any reporter he happens to know, but I can say that he never pushed or pressured me to write about any of that material. Although Dreier attempted to make a couple of tenuous connections between Blumenthal and material published by Joe Klein and Jake Tapper, the truth is that neither Tapper nor Klein was on his e-mail list, neither of them could be considered his friend, and neither of them communicates with him on any regular basis.
As for the insinuation that Blumenthal is somehow using the "right-wing network to attack and discredit Barack Obama", Conason observes:
The clear assumption behind Dreier's blog post is that Blumenthal somehow endorsed the specific content of every negative story he sent out. But that assumption is logically flawed because among the items he has regularly sent out is a daily blogosphere roundup authored by Clinton staffer Peter Daou -- which invariably included negative posts about Clinton herself, her husband, her staff, her campaign, her finances and so on, as well as upbeat posts.
Glancing over the assortment of people on Sid's list, some of whom are well known, it should be clear that none of them was likely to credit or repeat the scurrilous nonsense spread by Accuracy in Media, to take one of Dreier's examples. Nobody on that list would believe that Obama shares the political views of an alleged communist whom he knew as a child -- or for that matter that he approves of the Weather Underground bombings carried out by Bill Ayers, which took place when the Democratic front-runner was 8 years old.
It is worth noting that Blumenthal's list includes Thomas Edsall, a distinguished journalist and author who has known him since they worked together at the Washington Post. Apparently Edsall, who now serves as political editor of the Huffington Post, where the Dreier article screams across the front page, never considered Sid's e-mails to be worthy of news coverage.
(Other people on Blumental's list? As Dreier himself points out it, includes people like Josh Marshall.)
Conason has more, but let me jump in here and point out why Dreier's post is really revealing.
First, Dreier decries McCarthy-like guilt-by-association and yet it was the Obama campaign and some prominent Obama supporters, who from day one, have been the biggest, McCarthy-like proponents of guilt-by-association when it comes to Sen. Clinton. In their view, every pathetic or outrageous comment made by anyone who could even remotely be linked to the Clintons was a reflection of the Sen. Clinton's personal views (remember The Clinton Rules and The Obama Rules). They are the ones who made guilt-by-association the reigning standard in this primary (starting with Bill Shaheen). Further, just as they wilfully and happily embraced McCarthyite guilt-by-association as their de-facto political philosophy and weapon against Sen. Clinton, they simultaneously sought to actively decouple Sen. Obama from the unacceptable and outrageous statements made by prominent Obama supporters/surrogates against Sen. Clinton and sometimes demanded no accountability from the Obama campaign for such statements. Then, they professed utterly fake outrage and crocodile tears when their pathetic guilt-by-association "game" was turned against them by the media using Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then falsely smeared Sen. Clinton on the Wright story and outrageously tried to tie the Clintons themselves to Jeremiah Wright. These are the McCarthy-like tactics that Dreier obviously could care less about since they all involve The PreciousTM and some of his prominent and precious supporters.
Second, where was Dreier when the Obama campaign or pro-Obama bloggers did not just pass on but actually endorsed fraudulent posts by right-wing hitmen like Matt Drudge or Robert Novak? Was he outraged that some pro-Obama bloggers propagated and endorsed the latest fabrication?
Third, Dreier, in a clear indication that he has uncritically imbibed another governing political philosophy of The PreciousTM, failed to explore the fact that it is the Obama campaign that from day one has been advancing the meme that Sen. Clinton may be unelectable in the general election because she is "polarizing" - because the Republicans will unleash a string of (true or false) negative stories about the Clintons in the Fall. I have also received emails from Obama supporters (not to mention some of the comments in response to some of my posts) claiming that the Republicans have so much (true or false) ammunition to use against Sen. Clinton, and how Sen. Obama will not face as serious an onslaught against him in the Fall. This was in fact a fairly predictable drumbeat in Obama-land for a long time and Sen. Obama himself deliberately mainstreamed these ideas using the politically correct language of "polarizing", "divisive", 'I will get her voters but will she get mine', and so on. Yet, while the Obama campaign has been freely permitted to use the prospect of right-wing attacks against the Clintons as one of the principal reasons for his candidacy and electability, Clinton supporters who seek to rebut that claim by showcasing evidence that the right-wing has a slew of (true or false) stories lined up to use against Sen. Obama - stories that will damage Sen. Obama in the same way that Obama supporters claim other stories will damage Sen. Clinton - are falsely portrayed as enablers of the right-wing. This is merely just another manifestation of The Clinton Rules and The Obama Rules.
Let me say this - if Sidney Blumenthal and others like him are considered enablers of the right-wing, then the biggest, institutionalized enablers of the right-wing are the Obama campaign and those supporters who have repeatedly used the prospect of right-wing stories against Sen. Clinton as a reason why Sen. Clinton would be a weaker general election candidate. So, Dreier ought to make up his mind on this. To his credit, Conason points this out in a polite way:
Aside from the fact that I considered Blumenthal's e-mails to be private communications from a friend, I never thought it newsworthy that he sent out material supporting his view of Obama as an untested candidate with vulnerabilities in his background. He didn't have to agree with what the right-wing media was saying in order to think those potential problems were worthy of attention. Whether that is a legitimate argument -- and how far to go in making it -- can be debated. It is certainly an argument that the Obama campaign and its supporters have used to warn against the polarizing Clintons on many occasions.
Fourth, fighting progressives like Sidney Blumenthal deeply understand the right-wing machine and movement like few others - after all, he has studied, written about and fought this machine for almost a couple of decades. So, it is pathetic that Dreier would falsely label him an enabler of the machine using a grossly misleading hit piece that twists the context of Blumenthal's emails and plainly distorts his motivations.
The interesting thing to me is that The Clinton Rules and The Obama Rules are so prevalent during this campaign that even the more objective journalists like Conason - who I respect highly - often fall prey to it. Towards the end of his post he says:
When the Clinton campaign distributed stories from discredited right-wing publications to attack an Obama advisor in March, I wrote a column noting that it had crossed a line and that Clinton herself was coming perilously close to imitating her old enemies. But in that case, her campaign aides were openly endorsing nasty, inaccurate attacks on Gen. Merrill McPeak in the American Spectator and World Net Daily. As I said then, I believe the excesses of nitpicking negative campaigning have diminished both candidates, but especially Hillary Clinton. (I doubt Sid liked that column much -- or many of the columns I've written about this campaign and his candidate, for that matter. But he still sends me clips, links and polls, many of them quite useful to anybody covering this campaign.)
He is right to criticize the Clinton campaign on that incident but he unfortunately forgot to point out that the Obama campaign didn't fare much better. Gen. Merrill McPeak was the person who - in a sexist rant - accused Sen. Clinton of having "crying fits" and subsequently falsely smeared President Clinton for McCarthyist tactics. So, neither campaign is innocent of doing stupid or offensive things during this primary.
At the end of the day, Dreier's horribly misleading screed against Sidney Blumenthal is more revealing of the mindset of the Obama campaign and some of its prominent supporters than it is of Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal forwarded articles and blog posts that were both positive and negative with respect to Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton. You can criticize him all you want for some of the sources he chose (to me some of the fake "progressive" blogs have turned out to be no different from the Free Republics, World Nut Dailies and Accuracy in Medias of the Right when it comes to their common embrace of character assassination) but it is not in any way outrageous for Blumenthal to use some of the articles - as long as he does not endorse false claims or smears - as a way of rebutting claims that Sen. Clinton is somehow going to face much more vile attacks from the right-wing machine than Sen. Obama. As Conason says at the end:
Recitations of fact won't dissuade people who are determined, for their own opportunistic reasons, to promote conspiracy theories about Blumenthal and to impute some kind of "guilt" to anyone associated with him. I know because I've been through all this before on a much larger scale.
It is easy to pretend that Obama's political problems are somehow Blumenthal's fault or the fault of a dozen people who received his e-mails. The only problem is it's not true -- and the accusations won't help Obama.
Actually, I think the accusations will help Sen. Obama online - to keep the Clinton-hatred going as they continue their attacks on the Clinton legacy.