Politics can be arough game. Candidates need to hold their competitors accountable andchallenge distortions and lies. And God knows, we need a Democraticnominee who's willing to fight. But Hillary Clinton's campaign hasincluded far too many cheap shots, sleazy manipulations, and unsavoryplayers.
New questionable actions emergedaily. You're probably familiar with many. But it's the broader patternthat disturbs me--how much the Clinton campaign seems to nurturequestionable actions from her operatives, supporters, and surrogates.And how the campaign's actions go beyond drawing legitimate politicallines to an all-too-Rovian instinct to do whatever's deemed necessaryto take down those blocking Clinton's potential victory. Here's arepresentative list of actions that, taken together, offer a troublingportent for her candidacy and presidency.
Start with the hiring of chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn. He's CEO of a PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, that prepped the Blackwater CEOfor his recent congressional testimony, is advising the giantindustrial laundry corporation Cintas in fighting unionization, andwhose website proudly heralded their union-busting expertise until it became a potential Clinton liability and they removed that section. B-M has historically represented everyone from the Argentine military junta and Philip Morris to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster.
Thenthere are Clinton's campaign donors. Any major candidate has somedubious supporters, but Clinton's gotten money from particularlynoxious sources. Start with her donation from Rupert Murdoch, who'sgiven to no other Democrat. Add in massive amounts of money fromWashington lobbyists and from industries like defense, banking, health care, and oil and energy providers (though Obama's also gotten a lot from some of these industries). Then there's Norman Hsu, who brought in over $850,000to Hillary's campaign after returning to the US following his flight toevade a fraud conviction (Hsu was subsequently rearrested, sentenced tothree years, and is facing further federal charges, and the campaigneventually returned the money he'd raised). There's the Nebraska dataprocessing company InfoUSA,whose CEO, Vin Gupta, used private corporate jets to fly the Clintonson business, personal, and campaign trips, gave Bill Clinton a $3.3million consulting contract, and is now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly diverting company money to his own personal uses. Mississippi attorney Dickie Scruggs recently canceled a major December 15 Hillary fundraiser (with Bill Clinton headlining) after being indicted for trying to bribe a judge. Major international sweatshop owners, the Saipan-based Tan family,have given Clinton $26,000, complementing their previous massivesupport for Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay. That doesn't even countdubious supporters from the past, like Peter Paul,the convicted con-artist turned event producer who coordinated amassive Hollywood Clinton fundraiser during the 2,000 election. Takentogether, it's a pretty tainted constellation of backers.
Likemost candidates, Clinton spends the bulk of her money on ads andmailings, and she's taken some pretty problematic approaches there too.I wonder how many of the New Hampshire women who voted last minute forClinton were swayed by a mailingclaiming that Obama wasn't really committed to abortion rights becausehe'd voted "present" on some abortion-related legislative votes. Exceptthat Obama had done so as part of a strategy devised byIllinois Planned Parenthood to protect vulnerable swing districtrepresentatives. New England Planned Parenthood's Board Chair stronglyrefuted Clinton's letter, pointing out that Obama had a 100% record onall the votes that really mattered. But the mailing may still havedamaged his support.
The distortion of Obama's position on abortion echoes Hillary's audacious argument that Obama really wasn't againstthe Iraq war and betrayed his promises by failing to vote against warappropriation bills after the Democrats couldn't override Bush's veto.I wish Obama had bucked the Democratic leadership and taken a strongerstand. But it's a gross distortion of history to equate his positionswith Clinton's overt support for the war authorization, refusal toapologize for her vote, and claim that she was really doing it all topromote more diplomatic solutions.
We canfind further distortions in a mailing sent out before the Iowa caucusesby the independent expenditure committee of a key Clinton ally, theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. TheAFSCME mailing attacked Obama on his health care plan by using a John Edwardsquote that was featured so prominently that recipients could assumethat his campaign was the source of the attack piece. This and otheractions so disturbed a group of seven AFSCME International VicePresidents wrote a public letterto their union president, saying that although the union had endorsedClinton on a split vote, the political committee had no mandate toattack Obama. They demanded the committee stop what they called"fundamentally dishonest" attacks.
Othersurrogates have attacked Obama's character. Twice they've tried toraise Obama's early drug use as a campaign issue--despite his havingaddressed it directly and frankly in his book Dreams From My Father. Hillary'sNew Hampshire campaign chair, Billy Shaheen, mentioned it first,claiming that he was only worried about how the Republicans might useit. Sheehan resigned from the campaign after a storm of criticism, thenBlack Entertainment Television CEO Robert Johnson (who's backed Bushon issues like the estate tax) raised it again, with Clinton standingnext to him at a South Carolina rally. After Johnson's words drew majorheat, Clinton belatedly distanced herself from them, but the smearstill stands, along with the disingenuous claim that those making itwere just neutral participants, only trying to serve the Party's bestinterests.
Clinton's campaign alsoattacked the John Edwards campaign for appearing in New Hampshire withthe parents of Nataline Sarkisyan, the 17-year-old leukemia patient whodied after CIGNA refused her a liver transplant. Clinton presssecretary Jay Carson claimed that the US needs to elect "somebody who's actually going to help people and not use them as talking points." Nevermind that the Sarkisyans had initiated the chance to speak out bycontacting Edwards about appearing at a Manchester New Hampshire townhall campaign appearance. To the Clinton campaign, their appearance hadto be suspect, because they were supporting Edwards and his ideas.
Thecampaign has also attempted more directly to discourage participationby voters who might support Clinton's opponents. A judge just shut downthe lawsuit filed by the pro-Clinton leadership of the Nevada teacher'sunion, which sought to prevent long-scheduled caucuses from being heldat central locations on the main casino strip, where workers largelyrepresented by the Obama-endorsing Culinary Workers Union would find iteasier to attend. When asked, Hillary Clinton claimed to have "no opinion on the lawsuit" and Bill Clinton overtly supported it.
New Hampshire saw parallel voter suppression tactics,as the campaign encouraged the New Hampshire Democratic Party to evictObama get-out-the-vote observers from the polls. In Iowa, the ClintonCampaign tried to discourageout-of-state students from returning to their campuses to participatein the caucuses. In the Michigan primary, Clinton kept her name on theballot after the state violated Democratic National Committee rules by moving its primary ahead of the Feb 5 "Super Tuesday" vote, while Edwards and Obama took theirs off.
Campaignscan have either closed or open information styles. Clinton's comes fartoo close to the Bush-Cheney model, as when the Clintons successfully killeda major story in the national men's magazine GQ about Clinton campaigninfighting. Author Josh Green had written a long critical previouspiece on Clinton for The Atlantic, and campaign press secretary JayCarson threatened to deny the magazine access to Bill Clinton for aseparate cover story on his international foundation work. GQacquiesced and pulled the critical piece.
The flip side of trying to stop negative coverage is manufacturing praise. Clinton's campaign did this when they gave planted questionsto Iowa student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff, and according to Chasanoff, toother students as well. After being driven to a public event by Clintoninterns, Chasanoff was introduced to a Clinton staffer who showed her alist of suggested questions to ask, one of which she used at Clinton'sforum. It's not quite like Bush inviting the softball inquiries of former male-prostitute turned right-wing blogger Jeff Gannon. But it isn't so different either.
Takentogether, these examples echo the Bush's administration's tendency toattack anyone who challenges them. They echo Clinton's refusal toapologize for her Iraq war vote or for an Iran vote so reckless thatJim Webb called it "Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream." They hardly bodewell for reversing the massive erosions of transparency of the pastseven years.
The list could go on, butit's the pattern that's important. It's true that one person's cheapshot artist is another's fierce competitor. Obama himself has called politics "a full-contact sport," and used legal maneuvers to block a long-time state legislator when he first ran for office. AndDemocrats will need to be fierce in their campaigning if they're goingto defeat the right-wing Swiftboating machine that gave Bush the lasttwo presidencies. So maybe I'd be more charitable if I didn't disagreeso strongly with Clinton's Iraq and Iran votes, and utter failure totake leadership in standing up to Bush when he was riding high in thepolls. But I think I'd still have a problem. I look at the actions ofher campaign, and see an ugly example, a ruthlessness not remotelyequaled by either Obama or Edwards. I'll vote for the last Democratstanding, because the Republicans will continue the currentadministration's disastrous priorities. But Hillary's scorched-earthapproach threatens to fracture the party if she does get thenomination, and to leave a trail of bitterness even if she wins. We cando better for the Democratic nominee.