Wednesday, March 26

why I'm done with Hillary: a compendium

Hillary Clinton has told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that she would have left her church if her pastor had made divisive comments like those of Barack Obama's minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. "He would not have been my pastor," sniffed La Clinton. "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend."

The obvious reply is that you also choose which ministers receive the honor of an invitation to a White House prayer breakfast addressed by the president of the United States. Well, OK, maybe you don't, but the Clintons did, back in 1998, when Bill Clinton was seeking political absolution for his affair with a White House intern. As the Obama campaign is all too happy to point out, Wright was invited to that breakfast.

But I hope this riposte doesn't obscure a larger question. What the hell is Clinton doing meeting with reporters and editors of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review? The Tribune-Review is a money-losing fringe publication published by Richard Mellon Scaife, a bilious and wealthy crank who spent the 1990s manufacturing vile innuendo about the Clintons. If the "vast, right-wing conspiracy" on which first lady Hillary Clinton famously blamed her troubles can be said to exist, its chairman and chief executive officer was Scaife. Scaife gave the American Spectator $2.3 million to dig up dirt on Bill Clinton, and he used the Tribune-Review to spread, among other things, the reprehensible allegation that Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster, a clinically depressed deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in 1993. Scaife was quoted more than once calling Foster's death "the Rosetta stone to the Clinton administration," adding in an interview with George magazine, "Once you solve that one mystery, you'll know everything that's going on or went on—I think there's been a massive coverup. … Listen, [Bill Clinton] can order people done away with at his will. He's got the entire federal government behind him. … God, there must be 60 people who have died mysteriously."

"Hate speech [is] unacceptable in any setting," Hillary Clinton today told the Tribune-Review. We turn now to this excerpt from a 1981 Columbia Journalism Review profile of Scaife by Karen Rothmyer, in which the reporter describes a conversation with the distinguished publisher and philanthropist:

"Mr. Scaife, could you explain why you give so much money to the New Right?"

"You fucking Communist cunt, get out of here."

Well. The rest of the five-minute interview was conducted at a rapid trot down Park Street, during which Scaife tried to hail a taxi. Scaife volunteered two statements of opinion regarding his questioner's personal appearance—he said she was ugly and that her teeth were "terrible"—and also the comment that she was engaged in "hatchet journalism." His questioner thanked Scaife for his time. "Don't look behind you," Scaife offered by way of a goodbye.

Not quite sure what this remark meant, the reporter suggested that if someone were approaching it was probably her mother, whom she had arranged to meet nearby. "She's ugly, too," Scaife said, and strode off.

For whatever reason, Scaife decided last summer to extend the hand of friendship to Bill Clinton, whose post-presidency he professes to admire. Perhaps Scaife was looking to burnish his image with the judge then presiding over his extremely nasty divorce. Maybe he wanted to get even with the former Mrs. Scaife, who apparently prefers Obama. (She gave Obama's campaign $2,300 in February.) Bill Clinton overcame whatever scruples he might harbor to raise money for his foundation. Hillary Clinton is now doing the same in the interest of her candidacy. She is free, of course, to associate with whomever she pleases. But she is not free, while paddling the sewers with Scaife, to judge Obama publicly for belonging to Wright's church. Compared with Scaife, Wright is St. Francis of Assisi. The only possible reason why any Pennsylvanian might judge Wright more harshly than Scaife is that Scaife is white and Wright is black. That must be obvious even to Hillary as she cozies up to this repulsive billionaire.

Timothy Noah is a senior writer at Slate.


Bloggers are taking Hillary Clinton to task over her meeting with Richard Mellon Scaife and debating John McCain's speech on Iraq.

What vast right-wing conspiracy? On the heels of having to apologize for overstating the danger she faced on a vist to Bosnia, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is fighting off another scandal: She has met with arch-conservative Richard Mellon Scaife—who gave $2.3 million to a conservative magazine to dig up dirt on Bill Clinton in the 1990s—and gave an interview to his paper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bloggers quickly jumped on the hypocrisy in Clinton's latest move.

Byron York at the National Review's Corner has the photographic evidence: "We've heard reports of a rapprochement between Scaife and the Clintons of late, and the Pennsylvania primary is fast approaching, but this is still a pretty striking picture." Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall points out the irony of such a meeting: "This alone has to amount to some sort cosmic encounter like something out of a Wagner opera. Remember, this is the guy who spent millions of dollars puffing up wingnut fantasies about Hillary's having Vince Foster whacked and lots of other curdled and ugly nonsense. Scaife was the nerve center of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy."

Michael J. Stickings at the Reaction believes it shows that Clinton is willing to sink to any level to win the nomination: "I understand that she needs to win Pennsylvania, and I understand that things are looking bleak, but sitting down with Scaife and engaging in a mutual assault on Obama—she was using him, he was using her, all for the common purpose of tearing down Obama—was simply disgusting." Liberal John Aravosis at AMERICAblog reiterates just how low the Clintons have stooped: "You've heard of Paula Jones, Vince Foster's 'murder' (as the far-right calls it), Troopergate, and Whitewater? Mellon Scaife is responsible for it all. And now Hillary is getting all cozy with him over an editorial board meeting at his wacky far-right paper (but it's okay to fire whats-his-name at MSNBC, he was mean to Chelsea). Anything to destroy Obama."

Blogger David Corn agrees: "Clinton might be willing to put aside her grudge against the American Spectator and Scaife because doing so helps her politically. But in the 1990s this band of Clinton-haters were out to ruin not merely her and her hubby but the entire progressive agenda. (They always believed the Clintons to be far more left than Bill and Hillary actually were.) But now, for Hillary Clinton, they're good enough to use against Obama."

At Unfogged, the significance of the meeting is that it represents a collaboration between two entrenched political elites: "It confirms the impression that for a lot of the 'elite' class in Washington, they're playing what is to them merely a game of power and status, the real costs of which are borne by the people they're playing it 'for,' the audience, which is us."

The Long Defeat

Hillary Clinton may not realize it yet, but she’s just endured one of the worst weeks of her campaign.

First, Barack Obama weathered the Rev. Jeremiah Wright affair without serious damage to his nomination prospects. Obama still holds a tiny lead among Democrats nationally in the Gallup tracking poll, just as he did before this whole affair blew up.

Second, Obama’s lawyers successfully prevented re-votes in Florida and Michigan. That means it would be virtually impossible for Clinton to take a lead in either elected delegates or total primary votes.

Third, as Noam Scheiber of The New Republic has reported, most superdelegates have accepted Nancy Pelosi’s judgment that the winner of the elected delegates should get the nomination. Instead of lining up behind Clinton, they’re drifting away. Her lead among them has shrunk by about 60 in the past month, according to Avi Zenilman of

In short, Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects continue to dim. The door is closing. Night is coming. The end, however, is not near.

Last week, an important Clinton adviser told Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen (also of Politico) that Clinton had no more than a 10 percent chance of getting the nomination. Now, she’s probably down to a 5 percent chance.

Five percent.

Let’s take a look at what she’s going to put her party through for the sake of that 5 percent chance: The Democratic Party is probably going to have to endure another three months of daily sniping. For another three months, we’ll have the Carvilles likening the Obamaites to Judas and former generals accusing Clintonites of McCarthyism. For three months, we’ll have the daily round of résumé padding and sulfurous conference calls. We’ll have campaign aides blurting “blue dress” and only-because-he’s-black references as they let slip their private contempt.

For three more months (maybe more!) the campaign will proceed along in its Verdun-like pattern. There will be a steady rifle fire of character assassination from the underlings, interrupted by the occasional firestorm of artillery when the contest touches upon race, gender or patriotism. The policy debates between the two have been long exhausted, so the only way to get the public really engaged is by poking some raw national wound.

For the sake of that 5 percent, this will be the sourest spring. About a fifth of Clinton and Obama supporters now say they wouldn’t vote for the other candidate in the general election. Meanwhile, on the other side, voters get an unobstructed view of the Republican nominee. John McCain’s approval ratings have soared 11 points. He is now viewed positively by 67 percent of Americans. A month ago, McCain was losing to Obama among independents by double digits in a general election matchup. Now McCain has a lead among this group.

For three more months, Clinton is likely to hurt Obama even more against McCain, without hurting him against herself. And all this is happening so she can preserve that 5 percent chance.

When you step back and think about it, she is amazing. She possesses the audacity of hopelessness.

Why does she go on like this? Does Clinton privately believe that Obama is so incompetent that only she can deliver the policies they both support? Is she simply selfish, and willing to put her party through agony for the sake of her slender chance? Are leading Democrats so narcissistic that they would create bitter stagnation even if they were granted one-party rule?

The better answer is that Clinton’s long rear-guard action is the logical extension of her relentlessly political life.

For nearly 20 years, she has been encased in the apparatus of political celebrity. Look at her schedule as first lady and ever since. Think of the thousands of staged events, the tens of thousands of times she has pretended to be delighted to see someone she doesn’t know, the hundreds of thousands times she has recited empty clichés and exhortatory banalities, the millions of photos she has posed for in which she is supposed to appear empathetic or tough, the billions of politically opportune half-truths that have bounced around her head.

No wonder the Clinton campaign feels impersonal. It’s like a machine for the production of politics. It plows ahead from event to event following its own iron logic. The only question is whether Clinton herself can step outside the apparatus long enough to turn it off and withdraw voluntarily or whether she will force the rest of her party to intervene and jam the gears.

If she does the former, she would surprise everybody with a display of self-sacrifice. Her campaign would cruise along at a lower register until North Carolina, then use that as an occasion to withdraw. If she does not, she would soldier on doggedly, taking down as many allies as necessary.

Hillary or Nobody?


While the cool cat’s away, the Hillary mice will play.

As Barack Obama was floating in the pool with his daughters the last few days in St. Thomas, some Clinton disciples were floating the idea of St. Hillary as his vice president.

She can’t win without him, said one Hillary adviser, and he can’t win without her.

They’re stuck with each other.

It’s one of my favorite movie formulas, driving the dynamics in such classics as “A Few Good Men,” “The Big Easy” and “Guys and Dolls”: Charming, glib guy spars and quarrels with no-nonsense, driven girl, until they team up in the last reel. He spices up her life, and she stiffens his spine. And soon they hear the pitter-patter of little superdelegate feet, who are thrilled not to be pulled in two directions anymore.

And everybody’s happy. Or are they?

A couple of weeks ago, when Hill and Bill mentioned the possibility of a joint ticket, it was an attempt to undermine Obama and urge voters and superdelegates to put Hillary on top; the implication was that this was the only way Democrats could have both their stars, and besides, it was her turn. The precocious boy wonder had plenty of time.

But with the math not in her favor, her options running out, Bill Richardson running out and her filigreed narrative of dodging bullets in Bosnia and securing peace in Northern Ireland unraveling, could Hillary actually think the vice presidency is the best she’ll do?

One Hillary pal said she wouldn’t want to go back to a Senate full of lawmakers who’d abandoned her for Obama. And even if she could get to be majority leader, would it be much fun working with Nancy Pelosi, whose distaste for the Clintons has led her to subtly maneuver for Obama?

Maybe The Terminator is thinking: if she could just get her pump in the door. Dick Cheney, after all, was able to run the White House and the world from the vice president’s residence, calling every shot while serving under a less experienced and younger president. And Observatory Circle is just up the street from where Hillary now lives.

But, aside from Barack and Michelle Obama’s certain resistance, would it fly? Many Hillary voters are hardening against Obama, and more and more Obama fans are getting turned off by the idea of dragging down the Obama brand with Clinton dysfunction.

“No drama, vote Obama” placards and T-shirts are popping up at Obama rallies, and one of his military advisers dubbed him “No Shock Barack.”

It’s hard to imagine that after spending her whole life playing second-fiddle to a superstar pol, Hillary wants to do it again. She’s been vice president.

Could the veep talk be a red herring? A ploy designed to distract attention from the Clintons’ real endgame?

Even some Clinton loyalists are wondering aloud if the win-at-all-costs strategy of Hillary and Bill — which continued Tuesday when Hillary tried to drag Rev. Wright back into the spotlight — is designed to rough up Obama so badly and leave the party so riven that Obama will lose in November to John McCain.

If McCain only served one term, Hillary would have one last shot. On Election Day in 2012, she’d be 65.

Why else would Hillary suggest that McCain would be a better commander in chief than Obama, and why else would Bill imply that Obama was less patriotic — and attended by more static — than McCain?

Why else would Phil Singer, a Hillary spokesman, say in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday that Obama was trying to disenfranchise the voters of Florida and Michigan. “When it comes to voting, Senator Obama has turned the audacity of hope into the audacity of nope,” he said, adding, “There’s a basic reality here, which is we could have avoided the entire George W. Bush presidency if we had counted votes in Florida.” So is Singer making the case that Obama is as anti-democratic as W. was when he snatched Florida from Al Gore?

Some top Democrats are increasingly worried that the Clintons’ divide-and-conquer strategy is nihilistic: Hillary or no democrat.

(Or, as one Democrat described it to ABC’s Jake Tapper: Hillary is going for “the Tonya Harding option” — if she can’t get the gold, kneecap her rival.)

After all, the Clintons think of themselves as The Democratic Party. When Bill and Dick Morris triangulated during the first term, it was what was best for Bill, not the party. In 1996, when Bill turned the White House into Motel 1600 for fund-raisers, it was more about his re-election than the re-elections of his fellow Democrats in Congress; in 2000, the White House focused its energies more on Hillary’s Senate win than Al Gore’s presidential run.

And even Clinton supporters know that Bill does not want to be replaced as the first black president, especially by a black president with enough magic to possibly eclipse him in the history books.

Imagined Snipers, Real Challenges
Roger Cohen

Here’s some news for Hillary Clinton: the Bosnian war was over in 1996.

Those of us, like myself, who first went to Bosnia at the start of the war in 1992 and then, in 1994 and 1995, endured President Bill Clinton’s circumlocutions as we sat in an encircled Sarajevo watching pregnant women getting blown away by shelling from Serbian gunners, know that.

We know that as President Clinton mumbled about “enmities that go back 500 years, some would say almost a thousand years,” Bosnia burned. We know what that talk of intractable grievances dating back to 995 was meant to communicate: no western intervention could achieve anything in the Balkan pit.

Only after the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, three years after the initial Serbian genocide of 1992 against that population (and one year after a genocide on his watch in Rwanda), did the gelatinous Clinton develop some backbone. NATO bombed, Richard Holbrooke did his brilliant work at Dayton in November 1995, and the guns fell silent in Bosnia.

So, yes, the war was well and truly over when Hillary Clinton arrived in the northeastern Bosnian town of Tuzla on March 25, 1996. It was over, although she recently recalled “landing under sniper fire.” It was over when “we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

Oh, please. Researching a book, I also visited that base in 1996 to talk to Maj. Gen. William Nash, then the commander of U.S. troops in Bosnia. If you’d lived the war, the base was a small miracle of American order and security.

Hillary Clinton’s transference is intriguing: Suffering Sarajevans ran from snipers during the war her husband let fester. Invented danger, supposed to showcase bravery, may instead betray guilt.

But I’m not going to psychoanalyze the Clintons. I don’t have the space to plumb such unquenchable ambition. Few do. Anyway, she now says she “misspoke” about Tuzla. End of story, you might say. But I’d say it’s the beginning of another, more important one.

Clinton made up Bosnian sniper fire in an attempt to show that she’s tougher than Barack Obama; that she’s a hardened, seasoned, putative commander in chief ready to respond to crisis when the “red phone” of her fear-mongering ad rings.

John McCain’s own recent “misspeaking” about Iran, placing (Sunni) Al Qaeda in (Shiite) Iran, also smacked of muscle-flexing: he wanted to signal toughness to the mullahs in Tehran, where Obama has suggested he’d seek dialogue.

But what the United States, and those that look to it, need now is not more braggadocio from the White House. We’ve had a seven-year dose. That’s enough.

What’s needed, rather, is some new, creative thinking about a changed world in which authoritarianism is enjoying a renaissance and America and its allies need to work together to spread peace, prosperity, freedom, equity, security and, yes, democracy.

American hard power has not worked. The Iraq invasion was bungled. European soft power is insufficient.

As Constanze Stelzenmuller of the German Marshall Fund notes in an important recent essay called “Transatlantic Power Failures,” a “European Union with 27 member states and a total of 1.8 million men and women under arms” is incapable of pacifying little Kosovo (“one-quarter the size of Switzerland”) on its own.

The transatlantic bond of cold war years is gone forever. The alliance is going to be looser, more pragmatic. But it has to find “the right mix of idealism and realism,” and new cohesion, if one-pipeline Russia and one-party, Tibet-tormenting China are not to prosper with authoritarianism-for-export.

Foreign policy debate in this election campaign has been paltry. I’d like to hear something about GWOT – the “Global War on Terror” – the heart of U.S. national security strategy. It amounts to war without end because “terror” is a tactic and tactics don’t surrender. GWOT should be abandoned: it’s externally divisive and internally treacherous. Al Qaeda can be beaten sans GWOT.

I’d like some discussion of what NATO might do to help spread the Iraqi burden and ease a gradual extrication of most U.S. troops from Iraq.

On issues that cross borders – terrorism, financial market volatility, global warming – and on Iran, Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq – three things are essential: a new moral authority in the White House, the capacity for original strategic thought, and a 21st-century understanding of the border-jumping networks that have knit humanity into new relationships.

Obama, in his speech on race, did important things. He confronted reality, thought big, probed division, sketched convergence. He took Americans and many people beyond U.S. shores to a different mental place. Imagine that capacity applied to GWOT, Iran, Russia, China and Israel-Palestine.

If you don’t like the sound of that, there’s always seasoned swagger of the sort that runs from imaginary snipers.