18 January 2008

Hillary Clinton recently said this about Barack Obama:

"I have to say, you know, my leading opponent the other day said that he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last ten to fifteen years. That's not the way I remember the last ten to fifteen years.

"I don't think it's a better idea to privatize Social Security. I don't think it's a better idea to try to eliminate the minimum wage. I don't think it's a better idea to undercut health benefits and to give drug companies the right to make billions of dollars by providing prescription drugs to Medicare recipients. I don't think it's a better idea to shut down the government, to drive us into debt."

Never mind that Obama never supported any of those things, and never said that any of them were "better ideas."

Now, Bill Clinton just said this:
"Her principal opponent said that since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas," Clinton told a crowd in Pahrump this morning. "It goes along with their plan to ask Republicans to become Democrats for a day and caucus with you tomorrow, and then go back and become Republicans so they can participate in the Republican primary. I'm not making this up, folks."

Actually, he is making this up. Obama never said that the Republican party was the party of "good ideas." He said that they were the party of "ideas" (note how he didn't say "good ideas") in the sense that they "were challenging conventional wisdom." He then proceeded to give an example of one such idea (steering the debate on economic policies so that now "it's all tax cuts") and explained how he thought that wasn't a good idea. As far as the plan to "ask Republicans to become Democrats for a day," that's a reference to a mailer sent out by an independently operating Obama precinct captain. When the Obama campaign learned of it, they explicitly disavowed the mailer and asked that people stop distributing it.

This is all very discouraging.

The main reason why this bothers me is that our politics seems to follow a formula. All you have to do is parse someone's words, turn it into something that obviously wasn't intended, drum up outrage by mischaracterizing the statement, then repeat. The same thing happened just last week when Clinton rightly protested to her own words being taken out of context. Now she turns around and does the exact same thing.

Politics as usual.

UPDATE: Also, it bothers me that a former president has twice come out on the eve of a primary to make disparaging comments about Barack Obama (before New Hampshire, he came out arguing that the media's coverage of Obama's Iraq war position was the "biggest fairy tail I've ever seen").

UPDATE II: With regard to the precinct captain, it's worth pointing out that the Clinton campaign's county chair sent out an email falsely claiming that Barack Obama was a Muslim who attended a radical Madrassa as a child. Of course, this smear was way worse than encouraging Republicans and Independents to vote in an open primary. In the end, Clinton did the right thing and disavowed the email. But the point is that overzealous campaigners will occasionally go off message, and it's disingenuous to attribute previously disavowed comments/mailers/emails to the opponent himself. Furthermore, if that were an acceptable strategy, it would apply with greater force to Clinton herself.

UPDATE III: As recounted by Tom Brokaw, this is what Hillary Clinton had to say about Ronald Reagan not too long ago:
"She also believes that modern conservatives such as Karl rove are 'obsessed' with defeating her. She prefers the godfather of the modern conservative movement, Ronald Reagan. He was, she says, 'a child of the Depression, so he understood it [economic pressures on the working and middle class]. When he had those big tax cuts and they went too far, he oversaw the largest tax increase. He could call the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and then negotiate arms-control agreements. He played the balance and the music beautifully.' In 1969, who would have imagined that the Hillary Rodham on the Wellesley commencement stage would find herself thirty-eight years later paying tribute to Ronald Reagan?"
Does this mean that she endorses Ronald Reagan's economic and foreign policies? Of course not.

UPDATE IV: Bill Clinton said this while dedicating the Reagan library:
"The only thing that could make this day more special is if President Reagan could be here himself. But if you look at this atrium, I think we feel the essence of his presence: his unflagging optimism, his proud patriotism, his unabashed faith in the American people. I think every American who walks through this incredible space and lifts his or her eyes to the sky will feel that…. This is a great day for our country. This is a day of honoring the legacy of President Reagan, remembering the service of President Wilson, and rededicating ourselves to the often difficult but ultimately always rewarding work of America. As I stand within the Reagan Building I am confident that we will again make the right choices for America, that we will take up where President Reagan left off -- to lead freedom's march boldly into the 21st century."
Does this mean that he wants the next president to continue Reagan's legacy? Of course not.

UPDATE V: Jake Tapper at ABC recounts what Obama actually said and covers the issue here:

Sen. Clinton twisted this into: "I have to say, you know, my leading opponent the other day said that he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last ten to fifteen years."

That's not what Obama said.

And in Buffalo, N.Y., former President Bill Clinton twisted this into Obama "said President Reagan was the engine of innovation and did more, had a more lasting impact on America than I did. And then the next day he said, 'In the 90s the good ideas came out from the Republicans. Which it'll be costly maybe down the road for him because it's factually not accurate.”

What's factually not accurate is what President Bill Clinton said.

I know he wants his wife to beat Obama. And it seems that unleashing the Big Dog seems to be working for the Clinton campaign.

Perhaps some voters are even touched by his passion.

But let's be clear -- Bill Clinton is spreading demonstrably false information.

There's winning ugly, and there's winning with honor.

UPDATE VI: You can watch the entire interview with Obama here.

UPDATE VII: Sen. Moynihan (Sen. Clinton's predecessor) called the Republican party the "party of ideas." Does that mean that he likes their ideas? Of course not.

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