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Daily Howler: Edwards should get Brenda Lee to sign--and try not to be like Bill Bradley
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THE BRENDA LEE TAPES! Edwards should get Brenda Lee to sign—and try not to be like Bill Bradley: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2007

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT HILLARY: For the second day in four, Hillary Clinton gets the headline of a thundering Post editorial. Once again, the editors have their silk shorts in a wad. Here is the headline in question:
Sen. Clinton's Bundles;
Who are the big-money fundraisers underwriting her campaign?
That’s the headline of today’s editorial. Monday morning’s headline was similar; it too named Clinton—and nobody else. Why is that policy somewhat odd? Here is the opening paragraph of today’s fiery editorial:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (2/8/07): Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had a party at her house the other night for an elite group: about 70 fundraisers who agreed to raise at least $250,000—and some as much as $1 million—for her presidential campaign. That soiree and a meeting for lower-level fundraisers ($25,000 and up) prompts us to raise again the question that we couldn't get the Clinton campaign to answer the other day. What are the candidate's plans to release the names of her big bundlers? Will she meet the standard of disclosure set by President Bush and every 2004 Democratic presidential contender except John Edwards and make the fundraisers' identities available? So far—though we've been putting this question to the Clinton campaign since last Friday by telephone and by e-mail—we haven't gotten an answer.
So far, Clinton won’t commit to naming her “bundlers.” But uh-oh! In passing—if we read with care—we learn that Candidate Edwards didn’t name his bundlers during the 04 campaign. And if we reach the weeds of today’s editorial, the Post at last cops to this:
WASHINGTON POST: Disclosure of this sort should be a no-brainer. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has promised to release the names of his big bundlers. So has Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose campaign told us of his promise yesterday. But Mr. Edwards won't say anything except that he'll abide by the law; voters might ask how his refusal to identify big-money bundlers squares with his populist message. Meanwhile, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani haven't responded to our inquiries.
Huh! In fact, four major candidates haven’t agreed to release the names of their bundlers. But only one of them makes the Post headline. They put her name—no one else’s—in their headline on Monday. And she’s alone in their headline today.

That’s right, gang. Romney and Giuliani are much like Clinton; they haven’t agreed to name bundlers either. In fact, Romney and Giuliani have been less responsive; in Monday’s editorial, we learned that the Clinton campaign has at least replied to the Post’s question, saying they haven’t yet made a decision. By contrast, Romney and Giuliani won’t even reply to the Post’s questions (which are perfectly reasonable). But so what? In these editorials, we’re back to the press corps’ much-loved “Clinton rules.” Four major candidates won’t agree to name bundlers. Only one of them—Clinton—ranks headlines.

If, like most readers, you glance at the headlines, you see Clinton named—no one else.

For ourselves, we groaned about those old “Clinton rules” when we read the Post’s Monday editorial. In it, the editors shuddered at “distasteful memories of the Lincoln Bedroom rake-it-all-in mentality of the Clinton presidential years.” For ourselves, we’d think the editors might want to world to forget that previous episode—an episode in which the Post made such gruesome editorial judgments. But the editors assume you’ve forgotten all that. So this morning, we thought we’d refresh you.

What were the rules in the Clinton era? Consider the Post’s clownish conduct in covering that Lincoln Bedroom matter. First, to swell the number of “overnight guests” at whom the eds could scream in dismay, the Post decided to include—no, we’re not kidding—guests at Chelsea Clinton’s middle-school slumber parties. On Day One, the Post had reported a smaller number of “overnight guests” than the bulk of their clowning competitors. So presto, change-o! On Day Two, they added in Chelsea’s 72 guests, without explanation—thereby producing a larger, more troubling number of White House “overnight guests.”

Yes. They actually did that.

That’s right. Post readers were handed a larger number—because a bunch of 13-year-old girls had been added to the miscreant list. In this manner, the Post made a rolling joke of your discourse—your democracy—all through those vile Clinton years. (Forgive our “poor form” in remembering.)

And no, that’s wasn’t the only way the Post decided to “spin the Lincoln.” Something else was kept from Post readers. Despite the fact that this “scandal” was supposed to concern fund-raising, Post readers were never told how few of the Clintons’ overnight guests actually contributed to Bill Clinton’s campaigns. The Post kept trumpeting a large, troubling number of “overnight guests”—a number swollen by adding in Chelsea’s friends. And they kept forgetting to tell their readers how few of these overnight guests ever contributed any money! (For an overview of this matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/16/05.)

Yep! Those were the “Clinton rules”—and we thought we saw them back in action today. Partying like it was 1999, the editors put only one name in their headline. Four major hopefuls won’t commit on this matter; two Republicans won’t even deign to reply. But so what? Only one name is up there in lights! The name is familiar—“Clinton,” it reads—and so are the rules so derived.

POSTSCRIPT—ARE YOU REALLY SURPRISED: With apologies for the poor form involved, let’s ask ourselves a question. In 1996, the Post was willing to swell those numbers by including the guests from a child’s slumber parties. With that bit of slick judgment revealed, are you really surprised by the judgments which followed? Are you really surprised that, by 1999, a crackpot was invited to go on TV (twice!) and accuse both Clintons of multiple murders? Are you really surprised that, when this happened, the media reporter at the Post didn’t say one word about it? Are you surprised that the Post had begun inventing wild stories about Candidate Gore—wild stories which sent George Bush to the White House? If the Post would add Chelsea’s friends to the list, are you really surprised by what followed?

We know, we know! Many people think it’s poor form to talk about such small-ante falsehoods. But in August 2000, London’s Financial Times told the truth about Ceci Connolly, the Post’s pure-crackpot Gore reporter. (Far away, across the pond, it wasn’t considered “poor form” to do so, old chap.) By this time, Connolly had been sneering at Gore—and inventing fake “quotes”—since mid-March 1999. Indeed! According to the Financial Times, Connolly was “hostile to the [Gore] campaign, doing little to hide [her] contempt for the candidate.” But then, should we really have been surprised? If a paper would add Chelsea’s friends to the mix, what wouldn’t that paper be doing?

THE BRENDA LEE TAPES: As we’ve said, we want to see Clinton or Edwards or Obama elected; none is the hopeful we’d invent in a lab, but then too, none is a crackpot. (We’d simply love to see Gore elected, but we doubt it could ever happen. Tomorrow: “Too fat” for the Nobel Peace Prize.) Given the history of the past fifteen years, we think that Dems should use good judgment and go after all bogus frames about Dems. There was nothing wrong with Edwards’ house sale, and there was nothing wrong with Obama’s early schooling. And no—Clinton isn’t one of the war’s “staunchest supporters” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/18/07), and she doesn’t “still say it was the right thing to go to war” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/7/07); in fact, she has long said the contrary. But so what? A string of false frames are now being built around the things Clinton has said on the war. And a contrast with Edwards is being invented. Before we buy into these tortured frameworks, let’s consider Edwards’ appearance on Sunday’s Meet the Press.

As we’ve said, we hope Edwards (or Clinton or Obama) gets elected. He could even end up as our first choice. But it was painful watching Edwards discuss his past stance on the war this Sunday. The most painful moment came when Russert played tape from October 2004. Ugh! Omigod! We had tried to forget! Here’s the exchange between Russert and Edwards, then the Dem VP hopeful, just three weeks before the Bush-Kerry election:
RUSSERT (10/10/04): If you knew today, and you do know, there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would you still vote to go to war with Iraq?

EDWARDS: I would have voted for the resolution knowing what I know today, because it was the right thing to do to give the president the authority to confront Saddam Hussein. I think Saddam Hussein was a very serious threat. I stand by that, and that's why we stand behind our vote on the resolution.
Bleecccchh! “That [was] a year and a half into the war,” Russert sadly told Edwards this Sunday. Here at THE HOWLER, our analysts gaged and covered their eyes. Cringeing, we fell to the floor.

Let’s be fair to that earlier Candidate Edwards. We’ll assume that he was mouthing a poll-tested script that the campaign had improbably hatched; because what he said was impossibly foolish, we’ll (seriously) assume that it came from a pollster. But good grief! It wasn’t until November 2005 that Edwards wrote the Post op-ed piece in which he said that he had been wrong in voting for the war resolution. And uh-oh! When Russert asked why it took him so long, Edwards’ answer was almost as bad as that statement from October 04:
EDWARDS (2/4/07): I can tell you what happened with me, personally. We got through—at that point, I was in the middle of a very intense campaign, one that I thought was very important for America. When the campaign was over, and the election was over, we had a lot going on in my own family—Elizabeth had been diagnosed with breast cancer, we were taking care of her, and, for the first time, I had time to really think about, number one, what I was going to spend my time doing; and, number two, my vote for this war. And, over time, when I reflected on what I thought was going to be necessary, going forward, to have some moral foundation to work on issues like poverty and genocide and things that I care deeply about, I could no longer defend this vote. It was pretty simple.

And I got to the place I felt like I had to say it and had to say it publicly. So a year or so ago, I did that.
We like Edwards perfectly OK; he might end up as our first choice. But that’s an amazingly poorly-formed statement. He never had time, because of the 04 campaign, “to really think about my vote for this war?” Readers, being president is much like a full-time campaign. If we credit this latest odd statement, when would a President Edwards have time to think about big decisions if he got to the White House? In 2004, what was the gentleman thinking about if he didn’t find time to ponder that?

We wouldn’t call it a hanging offense, but those statements just aren’t very credible. Why did Edwards make that silly 10/04 statement? Why did he wait so long to restate his view? We don’t know, and we don’t really care, but it’s worth noting that Clinton was way out ahead of him on this matter. In August 04—two months before that Meet the Press groaner—Clinton appeared on Meet the Press too. She was miles ahead of Kerry and Edwards. Here’s what she said that morning:
RUSSERT (8/29/04): Jay Rockefeller, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was on this program a few weeks ago and this is what he said: "There is simply no question that mistakes leading up to the war in Iraq rank among the most devastating losses and intelligence failures in the history of the nation...We in Congress would not have authorized that war—we would not have authorized that war—with 75 votes if we knew what we know now."

Do you agree with him?

CLINTON: There would not have been a vote, Tim. There would never have been a vote to the Congress presented by the administration. There would have been no basis for it...We wouldn't have even had a vote if all the facts had been available.
In our view, none of this makes a huge difference. But Clinton was way ahead of Kerry and Edwards at this point. (Again, we’ll assume this was not Edwards’ fault.) Two months later, Edwards was still saying that he would have voted for the war resolution even if he’d known there were no WMD; it took him 13 more months to say his vote had been wrong.

Our view? Pundits are going to quibble and spin, building slick frameworks around this discussion. If Dems are smart, they’ll reject such bull-roar. Clinton and Edwards cast horrible votes, and there’s little real difference in what they’re now saying. In our view, Democrats would be quite foolish to tease big distinctions from this.

But one Big Dem is trying to tease distinctions. That Big Dem is Edwards himself. On Sunday, we cringed when he played it cute about Clinton’s unknowable state of honesty. Is Clinton being honest? Pundits like Russert have luvved that question over the past fifteen years:

RUSSERT (2/4/07): Do you believe that Senator Clinton has been open and honest about her support of the war in Iraq?

EDWARDS: I don't know the answer to that question, honestly. I can't—I don't know what's inside her head and her heart about this. I can't tell whether there are political calculations going on, I just don't know. But I think as we go—that's what campaigns are about. I have a high opinion of Senator Clinton. She's done a remarkable job as U.S. Senator, but being President of the United States is a different test, and I think, through the course of this campaign, all of us—not just me or Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, but all the Democratic candidates and all the Republican candidates are going to be scrutinized for whether they have the character to be President of the United States, and they should be.
Blecchh! “I have a high opinion of Senator Clinton,” he said—just after suggesting that maybe you shouldn’t. Meanwhile, what exactly did Russert mean by his question about Clinton’s “support for the war?” Two days earlier, Clinton had demanded that Bush end the war—and she said that, if Bush doesn’t, she will. But so what? Like other pundits we’ve recently cited, Russert got out his hammer and nail-gun and positioned some beams on that framework.

Bill Bradley did this in Campaign 2000, disgracing himself and handing the press corps attack lines they gleefully used against Gore. Starting in March 1999, he made weird insinuations about Gore’s upbringing; by January 2000, he was openly lying about Gore to the press, claiming that Gore had “introduced Willie Horton into the lexicon.” (Headline on the original Boston Herald story: “ Bradley: Willie Horton issue shows Gore as race-baiter.” Amazing—simply astounding.) The claim was just embarrassingly bogus; indeed, Bradley had said precisely the opposite, in detail, in his 1997 book about politics (links below). But pundits thrilled to his ugly charge, and to his later, inexcusable question to Gore: "Why should we believe that you will tell the truth as president if you don't tell the truth as a candidate?” But then, you know how these great boys can be! Having lied his ass off about Willie Horton, the pious Bradley was deeply troubled by Candidate Gore’s very troubling character. And the press corps—loving those Clinton-Gore Rules—was very much ready to rumble.

We do apologize for the poor form we’ve shown in reviewing these absurd, minor quibbles.

Bradley is now living in the obscurity he richly deserves. (When is the last time you heard his name mentioned?) On Sunday, though, Edwards seemed to cast a sidelong glance at Clinton’s troubling character. (He also semi-slimed Obama at one point.) To Edwards, we would only say this: Dude! You cast a political vote in 2002. You made a political statement in 2004. And it took you thirteen months after that to note that your original vote was a groaner! Today, you make a big major deal about the fact that you’re saying, “I’m sorry.” We’ll be honest. To our trained ear, it sounds semi-political once more.

We hope that Edwards (or Clinton or Obama) gets elected in 08. But we’ll offer one helpful suggestion for Edwards. We’ll suggest he get Brenda Lee to sing “I’m Sorry” at his events and leave the moral preening at that. There’s little difference—none worth noting—between the things Clinton and Edwards have said about that original, horrible vote. At THE HOWLER, we don’t believe in the man’s moral purity—and we don’t want another defeat helped along by another Bill Bradley.

PLAYING THE HORTON CANARD: Bill Bradley disgraced himself about Horton. To explore the full shape of this long, winding tale, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02. Yes, it started out with Rush Limbaugh. But so did the Clinton canards.