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Politico: 'What Obama wishes he could say"--

John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei have a column on "What Obama wishes he could say":

The one line from the what-Clinton-thinks column that most agitated Obama supporters was our assertion that Clinton, for better or worse, was a known commodity. Her "baggage" has already been "rummaged through."

To which Obama supporters say: Oh yeah?

All manner of Clinton controversies, Obama partisans argue, have not been fully ventilated.

This includes old issues, like Hillary Clinton's legal career, which includes lots of cases that never got much public attention even during the Whitewater era.

It also includes new ones, like recent stories raising questions about the web of personal and financial associations around Bill Clinton. Since leaving the presidency, he has traveled the globe to exotic places and with sometimes exotic characters, raising money for projects such as his foundation and presidential library and making himself a very wealthy man.

Which gets us back to gall. In the fantasies of some of his high-level supporters, Obama would peel off the tape to say something like this:

You want to talk hypocrisy? How about piously criticizing me for Jeremiah Wright when you have a trail of associations that includes golden oldies like Webb Hubbell? ('90s flashback: He was one of Hillary Clinton's legal partners and closest friends, whom she installed in a top Justice Department job before prosecutors sent him to prison.) It also includes modern hits like Frank Giustra. (In case you missed it: There was a January New York Times story, which did not get the attention the reporting deserved, highlighting how this Canadian tycoon and major Bill Clinton benefactor was using his ties to the ex-president to win business with a ruthless dictatorship in Khazakstan.)

Obama has never pressed Clinton to talk about Marc Rich, even though the former fugitive financier who won a controversial pardon from Bill Clinton gave money to her first Senate campaign.

He has never mentioned her brothers, even though Hugh and Tony Rodham once defied Bill Clinton's own top foreign policy advisers by entering into a strange investment in hazelnuts in the former Soviet republic of Georgia (they later dropped the deal) and Hugh Rodham took large cash payments for trying to broker presidential pardons.

Obama is likewise galled to be lectured by Clinton for not being sufficiently committed to universal health coverage. Why is it, his team asks, that Democrats have done so little to advance a long-time progressive goal for the past 15 years? The answer has everything to do with Hillary Clinton's misjudgments when she was leading the reform effort in 1993 and 1994.

Most irritating of all to Obama partisans is what they see as her latest pose: that she is selflessly staying in the race despite the long odds against her because of devotion to the Democratic Party and the belief that she is a more appealing general election candidate.

It is an article of faith among most people around Obama that the Clintons were a disaster for the party throughout the 1990s. When Bill Clinton came to town in 1993, Democrats were a congressional majority, with 258 seats in the House. When he left in 2001, they were a minority with 46 fewer seats. There were 30 Democratic governors when he arrived, 21 10 years later.

This just scratches the surface: Hillary Clinton was the main attorney drafting the documents on some of the Whitewater deals, including both sides of sham transactions in which the profits for sales were funneled to Web Hubbell's relative, rather than the actual sellers. At times, she headed up efforts to trash the reputations of Democratic women who plausibly claimed that they were sexually assaulted by her husband. The John Huang case detailed in "Year of the Rat" was the most outrageous and dangerous payoff of a large campaign contributor that I have ever heard of, exceeding even anything in the Nixon administration. I could go on . . . .

One of Harris and VandeHei's arguments (attributed to the Obama camp) against the Clintons, however, lacks merit. It is almost inevitable that the party in office would lose seats in Congress and lose state governorships. This "lightning rod" effect is detailed in a Yale Law Journal article that I co-authored, which can be downloaded at the bottom of this SSRN page.

GV:
Jim, isn't the issue whether Clinton's presidency resulted in a larger number of loses than expected? I've seen numbers (sorry, I can't find the links) to suggest that even though the president's party typically loses seats in the house and senate, the magnitude of those loses during the clinton years was worse than should have been expected.

. . .

I also think it's interesting that Obama has not made an issue of Clinton's baggage. Just another reason why he's a much better human being than she is.
5.1.2008 6:07pm
Old33 (mail):
While it is certainly true that the out-of-power party historically gains seats in the Congress during mid-term elections, much of the size of the 1994 GOP onslought can be attributed to the first two years of the Clinton administration. Namely:

* gays in the military
* mismanaged health care initiative

One of those was directly her fault.
5.1.2008 6:09pm
rarango (mail):

while I think the Wright thing hurts Obama in the general, he has to get through the primaries--he still leads in delegates and, I think, it behooves him to keep the (relatively) high road to get to the convention.

Now, were I Barack Obama I would be "looping" Brad deLong's devastating critique of her managerial ability (along with that of Ira Magaziner) of the health care initiative of 1993. But thats just me.
5.1.2008 6:14pm
Houston Lawyer:
Maybe Obama has noticed that the Clintons' approval ratings tend to go up when their numerous misdeeds are brought up. The Democrats have excused and forgiven everything the Clintons have ever done and have vigorously argued that none of it ever has or ever will matter. Besides, just bring it up would make Obama a member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy", a term that Hillary coined herself when giving cover to her cheating husband.
5.1.2008 6:16pm
GV:
Houston Lawyer, perhaps many democrats reflexively defend the Clintons because so many bogus right-wing attacks were thrown their way when Bill was in office? Or do you really believe that Clintons murdered Vince Foster (among other fantastical charges)? If you cry wolf enough, at some point, people stop believing you, even when there really is a wolf.
5.1.2008 6:34pm
Gaius Marius:
Obama doesn't have the cajones.
5.1.2008 6:40pm
James Lindgren (mail):
GV: Yes, and No.

As we show in Fig. 1 of our article, the loss in governorships from election year (immediately prior to winning control) to election year 8 years later was less severe for Clinton than for any other postwar regime except Reagan.

In Congress, however, Clinton's losses were more severe than usual.
5.1.2008 6:46pm
CDU (mail) (www):
Old33 wrote:
While it is certainly true that the out-of-power party historically gains seats in the Congress during mid-term elections, much of the size of the 1994 GOP onslought can be attributed to the first two years of the Clinton administration. Namely:

* gays in the military
* mismanaged health care initiative

You're forgetting one more that I think played a big role:
* the 1994 Clinton gun ban
5.1.2008 6:51pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
There is a significant difference between these sorts of associations and an association with Rev. Wright. These associations merely show that, at worst, Clinton doesn't mind associating with the occasional criminal. They don't speak to her policy in general. Not only that, but I tend to think that if you shake any major politician hard enough a few criminals will fall out.

On the other hand, Rev. Wright represents an association of ideology. His view of what the US is like and how the US should be run is significantly different than what most Americans are comfortable with. The fear is that Obama buys into Wright's ideology and will take steps based on this ideology should he be elected president.

Now it is true that Clinton has met with Al Sharpton and probably quite a few other people who either share Wright's ideologies or fall into similar categories in other parts of the political spectrum, but there is a big difference between meeting with someone, and maybe using them to raise campaign contributions or to raise political support, and having someone be your Reverend for 20 years or so. Generally people's spiritual leaders are relatively important in how they devise their own personal philosophy. Campaign contributors are not.
5.1.2008 6:52pm
PLR:
I knew there was a topic missing from the May 1 posts here. Now the sun may set on Obamaland.
5.1.2008 6:55pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Maybe Obama has noticed that the Clintons' approval ratings tend to go up when their numerous misdeeds are brought up. The Democrats have excused and forgiven everything the Clintons have ever done and have vigorously argued that none of it ever has or ever will matter. Besides, just bring it up would make Obama a member of the "vast right-wing conspiracy", a term that Hillary coined herself when giving cover to her cheating husband.


Perhaps another possibility is with some States still left and the superdelegates uncertain, he may not want to risk an escalation of conflict with the Clinton camp. Most of the Clinton scandals are relatively old news and at some level, most of her supporters and the undecided delegates have probably taken them into account in deciding whether to support her.

But each Obama scandal is new and causes voters to freshly reevaluate their expectations of him. They do far more damage to him at this critical time then rehashing Clinton's older scandals do to her. If Obama can win the nomination without a further escalation, he's got a better shot in the general election as McCain won't use such tactics. But if it escalates further, it may cost him the nomination (depending on what further skeletons come out of the closet) and may cripple him utterly in the general election.
5.1.2008 7:00pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Whitewater -- yeah, that's the ticket!

May that terrible affair finally receive the thorough investigation it needs so that all the relevant facts can be brought to light.
5.1.2008 7:07pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Jewess?


Yeah, you mean to tell me you haven't heard this one:


A young gay man calls home and tells his Jewish mother that he has decided to go back into the closet because he has met a wonderful girl and they are going to be married. He tells his mother that he is sure she will be happier since he knows that his gay lifestyle has been very disturbing to her.

She responds that she is indeed delighted and asks tentatively, "I suppose it would be too much to hope that she would be Jewish?"

He tells her that not only is the girl Jewish, but is from a wealthy Beverly Hills family.

She admits she is overwhelmed by the news, and asks, "What is her name?"

He answers, "Monica Lewinsky."

There is a long pause, then his mother asks, "What happened to that nice Catholic boy you were dating last year?"



I'm sure there's another good joke that can be built off the punch line but I'd like to keep Volokh relatively family friendly.
5.1.2008 7:08pm
LM (mail):
AK,

Your comments are disgusting. I hope I'm not the only one offended.
5.1.2008 7:11pm
AK (mail):
Prediction: If the nomination is not settled by the last primary, at some point before the convention a major liberal blogger will write title a post "Maybe Ken Starr was on to something..."
5.1.2008 7:19pm
AK (mail):
LM: It's not my fault that the Democrats spent part of 1994 telling us that the way to stop black men from committing violent crime is to toss them an inflatable orange ball and tell them to D it up.
5.1.2008 7:23pm
Joe Kowalski (mail):

The fear is that Obama buys into Wright's ideology and will take steps based on this ideology should he be elected president.

The question that people who have this fear should be asking is: Is there any other evidence that Obama buys into Wright's ideology other than his association with Wright? Has Obama said said, written, or done anything other than attend Trinity UCC that would indicate that Obama believes that American is still defined by racism of whites against blacks, that Obama is sympathetic or believes in antisemitism, that Obama believes in off the wall conspiracy theories about Aids etc., or that Obama believes that the US deserved to have 9/11 happen? Now absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but when you consider everything else Obama has said, done, etc., it's a rather tough case to actually make. Now this won't stop Obama's competing candidates from inflating these fears for their own gain, but without real independent evidence that Obama sympathizes with or agrees with Wright, it eventually will backfire.
5.1.2008 7:26pm
LM (mail):

The question that people who have this fear should be asking is: Is there any other evidence that Obama buys into Wright's ideology other than his association with Wright?

If you think the people hyping those fears have any interest in the answer to that question, I've got a church I'd like to sell you.
5.1.2008 7:36pm
Kazinski:
Joe Kowalski,
Is there any other evidence that Obama buys into Wright's ideology other than his association with Wright?

Read Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope". Obama indicates in there that he finds Wrights Black Nationalist message perfectly acceptable and the only criticism he offers is based on how effective it is. Michelle Obama seems to have views that are not incompatible with Wrights teachings.
5.1.2008 7:49pm
LM (mail):
This Politico piece implicitly raises the three conflicting pressures on Obama:

1. to maintain his "brand", which is bringing people together. To many, this erroneously seems inconsistent with rough politics;

2. to defend himself and counter-attack Hillary, proving he's got, as Gaius Marius so delicately put it, "the cajones," without which he won't get much of the centrist and cross-over vote he's counting on in the general; and

3. to avoid bloodying Hillary to John McCain's benefit in case Hillary gets the nomination.

The piece reflects the frustration of many Obama supporters that #1 and #3 are preventing him from doing an adequate job of #2. Hillary's apparent lack of concern for the principle in #3, and her absence of any pretense of a #1 put her at a marked advantage when it comes to slinging mud.
5.1.2008 8:09pm
CDU (mail) (www):
LM Wrote:
1. to maintain his "brand", which is bringing people together. To many, this erroneously seems inconsistent with rough politics;

Hillary's apparent lack of concern for the principle in #3, and her absence of any pretense of a #1 put her at a marked advantage when it comes to slinging mud.

It's not that Hillary doesn't have a brand, it's that her "brand", such as it is, is that she's a tough campaigner. Not only does mudslinging not hurt this brand much, the brand practically requires it.
5.1.2008 8:47pm
LM (mail):
I agree. The "#1" I meant she didn't have was a brand of bringing people together.
5.1.2008 9:22pm
Dave N (mail):
Did a post get deleted? Just wondering.

Oh, and I agree, HRC is much more the gutter fighter than Barack Obama--one of the reasons I initially had high hopes for Obama as a candidate.
5.1.2008 9:34pm
LM (mail):
Dave N,

Yes, a few posts were removed.
5.1.2008 9:48pm
sumo:
There is a real asymmetry here, in that as the likely nominee, Obama cannot afford to alienate Clinton's supporters or lower himself to her level. Since she is fighting for her political life and her only chance at victory lies in completely destroying Obama, she has no such constraints.

I think the superdelegates understand this and will not fault Obama for taking a few hits now. Unfortunately (at least for me as an Obama supporter), I think that Clinton is succeeding in poisoning the well by turning a large part of the Democratic electorate against him. It remains to be seen how well he can recover.
5.1.2008 10:13pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
You know Mark Rich's wife was awful friendly with Bill on stage with Hillary scowling. I don't think it was just a monetary donation that Bill got.

Also Norman Hsu and Peter Paul.
5.1.2008 11:23pm
Gaius Marius:
If John Edwards timely endorses Hillary Clinton before the North Carolina primary, Hillary Clinton will score an upset victory over Barack Hussein Mohamad Obama, which coupled with a victory in Indiana will turn the tables on Senator Obama. In such a case, Hillary Clinton will owe Senator Edwards the VP slot on the Democratic ticket.
5.1.2008 11:36pm
Perseus (mail):
[Senator Obama] has told associates it would be impossible to win support for a progressive agenda unless he assumes the presidency as a uniting figure who can transcend the personality-obsessed brand of combat that has dominated Washington for the past generation.

This sums up the ironic character of Senator Obama's campaign: a politician whose campaign is a cult of personality is seeking to transcend the personality-obsessed brand of combat that has dominated Washington.

As for the desire to counterattack Senator Clinton, Senator Obama's recent wounds are largely self-inflicted. Senator Clinton is merely piling on.
5.2.2008 12:24am
Dave N (mail):
LM,

Thanks, I figured that was the case. I didn't think I was losing my mind. I do find EV and OK's method better, though. The offending post is removed but there is a comment as to why, at least for context.
5.2.2008 1:07am
LM (mail):
Dave N,

Agreed.
5.2.2008 1:38am
anonthu:
Barack Hussein Mohamad Obama

Of the three contenders, Obama's my last choice, but this is lame. It was mildly amusing the first time. The 60th time? Tired.
5.2.2008 11:50am
Jiminy (mail):
anonthu, Gaius is busy getting ready to march on Rome; he doesn't have time to come up with new witticism based on someone's name when Sulla threatens.
5.2.2008 2:48pm