Touchy, Ain't She?

In a display of courage equal to proclaiming undying support for Mother’s Day, the Virginia legislature has voted to apologize for the state’s role in slavery.  According to one report, “This session will be remembered for a lot of things, but 20 years hence I suspect one of those things will be the fact that we came together and passed this resolution," said Delegate A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat who sponsored the bill. No, Mr. McEachin.  This session of the Virginia legislature will be remembered in the same way that the 109th Congress will be remembered:  for doing what is expedient instead of what is necessary.

Bill Clinton — America’s resident apology expert — did it so often and on such varied topics that he made the act of apologizing pretty meaningless.  He never really was sorry about his maladministration of our government or his reflexive abuse of the truth.  Everyone except the Washington Post and the New York Times knew that. (Ok, CBS, NBC and ABC didn’t know, either.)  But they all went along with it, and Clinton succeeded in changing the subject from his most recent sin to whatever else he wanted to talk about.  Clinton established the political apology as a media strategy designed to change the subject of the daily news cycle.  But it works only at the presidential (or gubernatorial) level.  During a campaign, candidates don’t apologize. They answer attacks quickly, usually with an escalating counter-attack. The latest proof is in Hillary Clinton’s slashing attack against Barack Obama this past week.  Team Clinton responded forcefully when Hollywood’s David Geffen — who used to raise millions for Clinton campaigns and now does  the same for Obama — told the NYT‘s Maureen Dowd that Clinton is a polarizing figure who lies so easily. 

Speaking of the Clintons, Geffen said, "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling."  He called Hillary “polarizing”:  “Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together.”  It didn’t take long for Team Clinton to respond.  And their counter-attack was aimed at Obama, not Geffen.

Hillary strategist Howard Wolfenson reportedly said, “How can Senator Obama denounce the politics of slash and burn yesterday while his own campaign is espousing the politics of trash today?" Wolfson asked.  Tsk, tsk.  Back in the Days of Bill, the Clintons used to call this the “politics of personal destruction.” They should know, because they turned it into an art form.  But Obama wasn’t having any of it.

Campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom.”  Now that’s escalation. 

Hillary has a few big problems.  First, during Lil’ Billy’s campaigns, the Hollywoodenheads lined up reliably behind him.  From Barbra Streisand to Michael Moore, the Hollywood set could be counted on to raise money — lots of money — for  Clinton and gave his campaigns the benefit of free political advertising that results whenever some airhead like Alec Baldwin, Barbra or Sean Penn opined on the state of the world.  The media can’t help themselves.  When a Hollywood star says something — no matter how absurd – it’s news.  If Obama is getting the support of the Hollywood in-crowd, Hillary is losing an important advantage.

Second, the mainstream media — the Clintons’ other natural ally — is still loyal but growing uneasy about her ability to win.  They know how hard they worked to minimize the Clintons’ scandals and bury them safely away from public view.  In Hillary’s presidential campaign, that is going to be much harder to do.  Principally because of the conservative media, talk radio and the internet, everything will be back on the air and in print.

Remember the White House travel office scandal?  Billy Ray Dale, who had managed the travels of presidents for decades, wasn’t just fired.  The Clintons had him prosecuted for fraud to cover up the fact that one of Bill’s best supporters wanted to take over the travel office and make a profit from it.  In those ugly times, I met Billy Dale often. My then law partner, Steve Tabackman, defended Dale in the federal criminal case.  I remember Dale very well. He’s an earnest, honest, and friendly man.  The jury came to the same conclusion, acquitting Dale in less time than it takes for a Clintonista to drink a decaf skim latte. 

Remember the Lincoln bedroom scandal? Or how about the FBI files, gathered illicitly and probably mined by the Clintons to get information damaging to opponents?  Bill’s first act, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” or his last, Pardongate? That brief list doesn’t even include the constant flow of “bimbo eruptions” from Bill, and Hillary’s insistence of standing by him regardless of his philandering. That’s called Clinton family values.

The Obama defense is extraordinary because for the first time a Democrat is using the Clinton scandals against them.  Right through the impeachment proceedings, no Democrat broke ranks. (Even Sen. Joe Lieberman, who had criticized Clinton’s conduct, voted against impeachment.) Has Obama opened a floodgate?  If other Dems follow suit — and the temptation will be great — Clinton could sink before the Dems’ convention.

Sen. Clinton is very touchy because she knows her nomination isn’t inevitable.  She and her team will respond forcefully to answer every criticism, no matter how slight.  Their only hope is their pals in the media. 

The mainstream media have nearly two decades invested in the Clintons.  They won’t go quietly into the night of a Republican victory in 2008.  It won’t be easy for them. So many scandals, so much direct participation by Hillary.  So much fuel to pour on her political pyre.  It’s possible she could win in 2008.  Despite their doubts, the politically-activist media will stake their future on hers.