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FRAMING CLINTON! On Monday and Tuesday, celebrity pundits hammered a frame around Clinton: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2007

WE’RE ALL JIM NICHOLSON NOW: In various ways, we’ve all been affected by the crackpot discourse of the past fifteen years. But ouch! To see fiery liberals playing the role that was formerly played by the RNC, just consider two posts at well-known liberal blogs—and their slams against Hillary Clinton.

In the past, the RNC would take the lead in creating bogus attacks on the Clintons. Now, we liberals do it ourselves! Let’s review how this process worked.

The whole things started with John in DC at AMERICAblog. John was very ticked at Clinton—and was instantly misstating facts:
JOHN IN DC: A lot of people didn’t notice that Hillary gave an interview last week about Iraq that read like George Bush at his worst. Not only did she lecture Democratic voters about how Iraq is tied to September 11—which it most certainly is not—but she then one upped herself by chastising the other Democratic candidates, and we presume their supporters, over the fact that SHE was alive on September 11, and apparently we weren't.
Sounds bad. John linked to an AP report (by Mike Glover), from which he pulled a five-paragraph excerpt. He highlighted the third paragraph, just as we do here:
GLOVER (1/27/07): Attention focused on Iraq and her vote to authorize the use of force ahead of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Presidential rivals such as former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards now say the vote in support was a mistake.

"There are no do-overs in life," Clinton said. She says Congress received bad information going into the vote and that she would have voted differently given what she knows now.

"As a senator from New York, I lived through 9/11 and I am still dealing with the aftereffects," Clinton said. "I may have a slightly different take on this from some of the other people who will be coming through here."

Clinton said her view is that the nation is engaged in a deadly fight against terrorism, a battle that she contends Bush has botched.

"I do think we are engaged in a war against heartless, ruthless enemies," she said. "If they could come after us again tomorrow they would do so.”

“With all due respect, that's a load of crap,” John wrote. He also lived through 9/11, he complained—and he ended with a further, tougher gripe about that highlighted paragraph. “Invoking September 11 when asked about Iraq is unconscionable,” he wrote, slamming Clinton. “It is pure Dick Cheney, and an outright lie.”

Unconscionable! And an outright lie! Claims like that were once the stuff of fact-challenged screeds from the RNC. Soon, Atrios linked to the AMERICAblog post, noting (twice) that “Clinton was in DC on 9/11.” It’s unclear why he stressed this point, since Clinton never said anything different in the statements under review. But you know what liars those Clintons both are! Atrios then reinforced John’s larger complaint. “Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11, never has, never will,” he wrote. “It's historically inaccurate and, frankly, racist to suggest otherwise.”

Wow! We’re so old that we can remember when we needed Ken Mehlman for this sort of work! Clinton said something in Iowa last week, and, by the time we liberals got done, one of us was clearly suggesting that she had lied about her whereabouts on 9/11—and he even raised the specter of racism. Another savaged her “outright lie.” We used to need Lucianne for this sort of thing. But now, we can do it ourselves!

What’s wrong with these screeds by John and Ate? Let’s start with a basic factual point: Clinton’s highlighted comment doesn’t come from the “interview” to which John refers; according to Glover, it comes from a presentation she made at a meeting “with state Democrats at the party's headquarters.” We can find no transcript of this event, and we get no real idea, from reading Glover’s story, exactly what Clinton had been asked or had said just before the highlighted statement. Did Clinton suggest, when she spoke with those Iowa Dems, that “Iraq had something to do with 9/11?” That would be extremely odd, since—like every other Dem on the planet—she has long said otherwise. (Beyond that, this comment would surely strike most Dem party leaders as being quite odd.) But Glover’s article doesn’t give us the context of Clinton’s highlighted comment. We don’t think Glover did anything wrong in putting this simple report together. But nothing he wrote can fairly suggest the conclusion John drew from it—the conclusion Atrios seemed to affirm. We can recall when we needed Sean Hannity to crank such attacks against Major Dems. By now, though, we’re all Sean Hannity (or Jim Nicholson). We can slander our own hopefuls now!

Have we learned nothing in all these years? Readers, you can’t rely on a perfunctory AP report to provide a perfect account of someone’s statements at a political meeting. Glover doesn’t say that Clinton tied 9/11 to Iraq; John simply drew this inference from Glover’s report, and Atrios soon was thundering with him. And presto! Spin-o! Just like that, Clinton stood accused of telling an outright lie about Iraq and 9/11; seemed to be accused of lying about her whereabouts on 9/11; was said to be just like Cheney; and seemed to be hit with a vague charge of racism. It’s sad to see such familiar work coming from our own major bloggers. Such work became “familiar” when we heard it from Drudge. Now, we produce it ourselves!

Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve wasted nine years trying to knock down such claims, showing extremely poor form in the process. But these claims used to come from the RNC, and from the RNC’s mainstream handmaidens. Now, they comes from us, from ourselves; it seems that we have become Jim Nicholson. So someone really should call Mike Duncan, the RNC’s new chairman. Hey Mike! You can join Mehlman down in Cancun! The RNC is no longer needed! We are all Jim Nicholson now.

FRAMING CLINTON: As we said a few days ago, we want to see Clinton, Edwards or Obama elected. (Or Gore, if he enters the race. Or Richardson, Biden, Kucinich or some other, if a miracle occurs.) Without intending any disrespect, none of the Big Three is the candidate we would design in a lab. But you go to election with the hopefuls you have, not the ones you can dream or imagine. Franklin D. Roosevelt won’t be running this year. We need to win with the hopefuls we’re given.

And frames will be built around these candidates—frames which can later be used to defeat them. Last night, a panel of pundits got out their hammers and continued to build a frame around Clinton. In this case, the hammering happened on the cable show, Tucker. Tucker Carlson spoke unwisely with ex-Lieberman aide Dan Gerstein:
CARLSON (2/6/07): Last night the Senate voted against debating the non-binding anti-war resolution, put forward by Senator John Warner of Virginia. It was a blow to sincere anti-war Democrats, like Russ Feingold, but a new survey by the Politico shows that nine of the 18 senators who voted in favor of the Iraq invasion continue to stick by their choice.

So what gives with the party elected to end the war?...Dan, how can half the Democrats who voted for—essentially for the resolution that gave the president the power to go to war in the first place in 2002—they won’t retract their vote. They won’t recant? How does that work?

GERSTEIN: I think it’s pretty easy to explain. And I think this is what Hillary Clinton has done, which is to separate the decision about going to war, versus how the war has been conducted. I give Hillary Clinton a lot of credit for not doing the politically expedient thing, and doing what Edwards did in repudiating that vote, because she thought it was the right thing to do. She sort of says, “I’m not going to do revisionist history.” But you can still say it was the right thing to go to war and say that the Bush administration has completely bungled— [interrupted by host]

That account of Clinton’s stance is just bogus. But no one in the four-member panel challenged what Gerstein had said.

Does Clinton “still say it was the right thing to go to war?” Plainly, no, she does not. All the way back in August 04, she said, on a small program called Meet the Press, that there would have been “no basis” for the war if we’d known there were no WMD (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/18/07). She said there wouldn’t even have been a vote if we’d known this in the fall of 02. Just a few weeks ago, she repeated this statement—and specifically said that she would have voted against the war resolution if she’d known there were no WMD. Some senators do take the stance which Gerstein described; they say the original decision would have been right even if we’d known about the WMD, but the war’s execution has been flawed. (That is Lieberman’s stance, for example.) But that plainly isn’t Clinton’s position, though pundits reinforce this inaccurate notion night after night after night.

(We’re sorry if it seems like poor form to call attention to such minor quibbles.)

Gerstein’s account is plainly false, but a panel of four TV savants affirmed it. And yes, such notions gets hammered out night after night, building a convenient framework around the Dem front-runner. On Monday night, it was Matt Continetti who took out the hammer and nail-gun. The gent was playing a bit of Hardball with a Clinton- and Dem-trashing talker:
MATTHEWS (2/5/07): We are back with the washingtonpost.com`s Chris Cillizza and the Weekly Standard’s Matt Continetti. Matt, you haven`t been here in a while so tell me this [tone of exasperation]: What is Hillary—what is her position on the war in Iraq?

CONTINETTI: Right now again Hilary Clinton not repudiating her vote. That is the one thing that distinguishes her from John Edwards, who also voted for authority and now declares it was a mistake.

MATTHEWS: What is your strategy behind not saying you’re wrong if everybody thinks you think you`re wrong?

CONTINETTI: The Clinton strategy was always trying to get as left as possible, but still hold out space for the general election. I fear she has moved too far to the left for the general. Now saying she resents the fact that Bush is continuing the war and Bush better make sure we are all out of Iraq before she becomes president, that is going to open her up to a lot of attacks if she makes— [interrupted by host]

Night after night, we hear the same frame. Hillary Clinton won’t repudiate/renounce/retract her vote on the October 2002 war resolution. As a matter of fact, she won’t even recant! Finally, Matthews expressed it in the most childish way possible: Why won’t she say she was wrong?

Why won’t Clinton voice the specific words, “I was wrong?” We have no idea (nor do we much care). On Sunday’s Washington Journal, Chuck Todd offered a speculation; her campaign may think that a woman will be treated more harshly than a man if she admits to having been “wrong.” We don’t know if that is the thinking—but Continetti’s answer to Matthews’ question shows the way a particular frame is being built around Clinton. “What is her position on the war?” he was asked—and, essentially, he chose not to answer. In his initial nugget response, he didn’t say the obvious relevant things—that she has insisted that Bush must bring the war to an end; that she just said she will end the war if Bush doesn’t. He didn’t say that she signed on to standard Democratic anti-war frameworks when they were developed last summer. Instead, he took out his hammer and started pounding. Clinton won’t repudiate her vote, he replied. It’s what makes her different from Edwards.

Tomorrow, we’ll review some things Edwards said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. But remember, it was on that same program—in 2004!—that Clinton said there would have been “no basis” for the war if we’d known there were no WMD. But so what? For reasons only they can explain, the boys and girls of our celebrity “press corps” are hammering nightly on an odd framework. Night after night, this framework is being built on flat misstatements (see Gerstein) or on odd formulations (Continetti).

Why is this framework being built? Let’s note one part of the shadow it casts. Last night (see text above), Carlson drew an invidious distinction between “sincere antiwar Democrats” (“like Feingold”) and all the other Dems—like Clinton. On Monday, Matthews took a similar tack; he acted as if no one on earth has the slightest idea what Clinton’s stance is. (He then insisted, as he constantly does, that she would cheer for a war with Iran. His voice conveyed the standard disgust he likes to display in such moments.) In these exchanges, these loud, stupid boys typed a favorite old mainstream press script: You just can’t believe those fake, phony Clintons! It has been the greatest script of the past fifteen years—applied to both Clintons, and to Kerry, and to Gore. (Will someone please go tell Josh Marshall?) But then, when it comes to mouthing this well-worn script, we are all Jim Nicholson now.

With apologies for our endless poor form: If you want to see fellows like Carlson and Matthews escorting Their Next Preferred Nut to the White House, then go ahead—let them continue to hammer that frame around Clinton. Nightly, they’re working on that new framework. They’re constructing your next defeat now.

NICELY RENDERED: All praise to Kevin Drum for this apt framing of the key question regarding Joe Klein. Why didn’t Klein speak more clearly about Iraq in the fall of 02? In the winter months which followed? We’ll go ahead and take a wild guess: For the same reason that Clinton/Edwards/Kerry cast their votes on the war resolution.

Kevin asked the right question last night. Klein, now a blogger, gets to answer.