Clinton, Immigration, Clinton, and Carlson

07 November 2007

During the "lightning round" of the recent Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton was asked a question about Eliot Spitzer's New York plan that would allow illegal aliens to obtain limited drivers' licenses. Clinton responded that, although she did not think that was the best way to handle the issue, she understood that, in the face of our failure to achieve comprehensive national immigration reform, this could serve as a remedial measure that would get "people to come out of the shadows." Leaving the wisdom of such programs aside, her answer seemed perfectly clear to me at the time.

In all these past debates, the candidates have been evasive about various issues. I've watched these things in frustration as candidates would bob and weave, change the subject, and start talking about Republicans or socialism, or whatever it is they preferred to be arguing against. Clinton was particularly slick about this, and it frustrated me how the moderators and commentators largely ignored it. Maybe they'd back up and ask for a clearer answer to their particular question, but nobody made a big deal about it. That's why it surprised me so much when all the talking heads chose this answer to jump all over her. All this time, they've ignored legitimate evasiveness and outright lies by the candidates. But now, when a candidate adds nuance in a response to a complicated question, everyone gets confused and outraged that she didn't give a quick yes/no answer.

Anyone who's watched the network news in the past week knows what I'm talking about. On top of the usual talking heads, the other Democratic contenders also portrayed this as a case of double-talk (EDWARDS: "Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago;" OBAMA: "I can't tell whether she was for it or against it. And I do think that is important. One of the things that we have to do in this country is to be honest about the challenges that we face").

Bill Clinton responded to this phenomenon:

"The point I'm here to make to you is whoever you're for, this is a really big election. We saw what happened the last seven years when we made decisions in elections based on trivial matters. When we listened to people make snide comments about whether Vice President Gore was too stiff.

"And when they made dishonest claims about the things that he said that he'd done in his life. When that scandalous Swift Boat ad was run against Senator Kerry. When there was an ad that defeated Max Cleland in Georgia, a man that left half his body in Vietnam. And a guy that led several departments ... with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden because he dared to vote against the president's version of the Homeland Security bill. Most Americans still don't know the truth. The president was against the Homeland Security Bill for 8 1/2 months.

"And Karl Rove told him they were going to lose the 2002 election unless the American people were scared about terror again. So they decided to be for a bill they opposed. And they put a poison pill in it. That bill was designed by the president to take the job rights away from 170,000 federal employees that had no access to secure information, no access to secure technology. No business being treated like CIA. We need to be able to fire CIAs. .. But we don't need to treat secretaries at FEMA that way. The whole thing was a scam.

"So Max Cleland said, I didn't go to Vietnam and leave one arm and two legs to come home and hold my job by stripping the job rights of 170,000 good, hardworking Americans. I don't want to do it. So they put an ad on comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Why am I saying this?

"Because, I had the feeling that at the end of that last debate we were about to get into cutesy land again. Ya'll raise your hand if you're for illegal immigrants getting a driver's license. So, we then let the Republicans go ahead saying all the Democrats are against the rule of law.

"I think it's fine to discuss immigration. We should. I believe immigration needs to be discussed. And it's fine for Hillary and all the other Democrats to discuss Governor Spitzer's plan. But not in 30 seconds, yes, no, raise your hand. This is a complicated issue. This is a complicated issue.

"So do I hope you vote for my wife? You bet I do. It'd be good for America, and good for the world. But, more than that I came here to tell you today, don't you dare let them take this election away from you. This belongs to you.

"Don't be diverted, don't be divided. Thank you ... "

Obvious conflicts in interest aside, I think that the point he's making here is a solid one: political pundits focus in on soundbites and allow them to turn into major issues (often despite their dishonest or misleading nature, and always omitting any trace of nuance). You get the candidates to give simple yes/no, for/against statements to complicated issues, and then you pounce with oversimplified soundbites and campaign ads.

Political hack Tucker Carlson, however, decided to pick up on (Bill) Clinton's remarks, transform them into an oversimplified soundbite, and prove them to be true:
The defense of Hillary Clinton crossed over from the strident to the ridiculous, according to the AP prospective first gentleman compared his wife‘s experience in last Tuesday‘s Democratic debate to the experience of John Kerry with the swift boat veterans for truth in the ‘04 presidential campaign. Was Bill Clinton serious? Did that comparison do more harm than good to his wife‘s run for the presidency?


Bill Clinton says his wife is swift boated. She is being criticized by both parties for position on giving driver‘s licenses to illegal aliens. They say she‘s a flip flopper. Could both parties be wrong?


Swift boating, it used to describe riding the rivers of Vietnam in search of the enemy now part of the American political lexicon particularly on the whiney left. It refers to group of former soldiers, sailors and marines called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who according to Democratic Party mythology unfairly kept John Kerry from taking his rightful place in the White House in ‘04.

So when Bill Clinton in speech to the postal workers union compared the treatment his wife received after waffling her way through last week‘s debate to swift boating, some wondered whether the Clinton campaign was cracking under the pressure of being the frontrunner. Or was trotting out the defense to defend his poor piled upon wife smart politics?


It‘s cry baby politics, it‘s woe me, how dare you attack me, that‘s the M.O. that we saw for eight years while the Clintons were in Washington. And it‘s also - it is though. Everyone is mean to me, oh, it‘s bias. You don‘t like me because of my politics, for ever it‘s ignoring the validity of the central question. What is your position on driver‘s license, I still don‘t know what her position is.

Coupled with the recent misleading claims about Clinton playing "the gender card," it seems like the media pundits are creating a narrative where Clinton is some sort of weak front-runner who complains everytime somebody criticizes her. All of this, mind you, has been based on a single sentence about presidential politics being an "all-boys club" (note: she's the only female among 17 presidential candidates, and that statement was true), and a single sentence by Bill Clinton using the Swift Boat advertisements as an example to make a larger point.

UPDATE: It looks like there are plenty of other news outlets that are more than happy to pass this oversimplified and inaccurate meme along.

The New York Daily News:
Democratic White House candidates ridiculed Bill Clinton Tuesday for suggesting they were trying to sink Hillary Clinton's bid with slimy Swift boat-style attacks.


Bill Clinton theorized the recent Democratic debate in Philadelphia, in which Hillary Clinton was criticized for zigzagging on Gov. Spitzer's controversial driver's license plan, veered dangerously close to intraparty character assassination.

The New York Post (big surprise):
The rebukes came after Bill took a swipe at his wife's rivals. He likened recent Democratic attacks against his wife to a "scandalous" 2004 ad by John Kerry's fellow swift boat Vietnam veterans, questioning the candidate's military valor.
CBS' The Early Show:
HANNAH STORM (anchor): What do you make of Bill Clinton criticizing Hillary Clinton's Democratic rivals, saying they were swift-boating her?

However, it looks like Bill O'Reilly has had the journalistic integrity to see through this one, even when being baited by Hannah Storm:

O'REILLY: No. I think they make it up. You know, it's -- and I do this because they make stuff up about me. They make stuff up about any controversial figure. So, they're sitting around going, "What can we say about Bill Clinton?" We tracked it yesterday, and we couldn't find any Swift boat reference that Bill Clinton --

STORM: So you're saying he never said it?

O'REILLY: I don't know. I couldn't find it. I didn't report it. I couldn't find it. I had a segment last night on The Factor. I couldn't find it.

STORM: What's Barack Obama's stance, then?

O'REILLY: I don't know.

STORM: Because he's criticizing Bill -- he's taking on Bill Clinton.

Three cheers for not buying in to rumors.

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