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Parsing the Clinton Memos

Posted on Aug 13, 2008

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

    Will the Party of Clinton ever become the Party of Obama?

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    It has now been more than two months since Barack Obama secured the Democratic presidential nomination, yet here we are, still fascinated with Bill and Hillary Clinton and what they’re up to. Why?

    The latest round of Clinton mania was precipitated by Joshua Green’s article in The Atlantic on a Clinton campaign riven by unresolved factional disputes, as well as the online publication of a trove of internal memos portraying a staff in strategic and tactical gridlock.

    The notion of the Clinton campaign as a Jets-and-Sharks knife fight is hardly new. Members of the campaign’s high command were leaking so furiously against each other that Clinton loyalist and lawyer Robert Barnett was moved to write an early March memo (unearthed by Green) declaring: “STOP IT!!!! ... This makes me sick. This circular firing squad that is occurring is unattractive, unprofessional, unconscionable, and unacceptable.”

    Still, it’s always entertaining to learn so quickly after the fact who said what to whom in the middle of a fierce campaign, and the memos suggest why Obama is having difficulty in moving the Clintons gently offstage and seizing control of a party whose nomination he won fair and square.


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    The memos make clear that once Clinton lost her standing as the inevitable nominee, her strategy was based in part on delegitimizing Obama’s victories. Because the Clinton campaign failed to anticipate the importance of delegates elected through caucuses rather than primaries, her operatives regularly argued that Obama’s caucus triumphs lacked the same weight as her primary victories.

    Because Obama overwhelmed Clinton in many staunchly Republican states, he was said not to be the choice of real Democrats and swing voters in states such as New York and California, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    Some of the memos suggested, without quite saying so, that Clinton’s voters were more inherently virtuous than Obama’s. After all, she was the candidate of the constituency her pollster Mark Penn labeled the “Invisible Americans,” the descendants of Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority.” The white working class, especially less well-to-do women, was with Clinton. Obama had the well-educated voters, that crowd Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew saw as “effete,” and, of course, African-Americans who would have been part of Clinton’s base against any rival except Obama.

    And there is that Penn memo that speaks of Obama’s “lack of American roots.” Clinton thankfully declined to take up this idea, but John McCain’s ads are now subtly toying with it.

    The more Obama’s victories were cast as less than real, the more passionate Clinton’s own supporters became about the injustice of her defeat. A minority of her supporters threaten trouble at the Denver convention unless Obama gives her a roll-call vote in which never-say-die Clintonites could express their loyalty one last time.

    Obama has already given the Clinton forces a night for Hillary and part of a night for Bill. In truth, he has little choice in a nearly 50-50 party, but the Obama people have to be frustrated with the Clintonites for not recognizing how far he is going to give them their due.

    Yet some of the Clinton folks still think that Obama has not been respectful enough of the Clintons and their historical contributions. Bill Clinton is clearly put out. This perceptive politician has to be more aware than anyone of the mistakes he and his wife’s campaign made. That makes the whole thing harder, for him and for Obama.

    All this leads you to wonder who will write the new memo that would begin with the words: “STOP IT!” Both Hillary Clinton and Obama have a lot to lose if the spirit of the rest of the memos affects her thinking now.

    If bad blood between the Clinton and Obama camps persists, it’s highly unlikely that an Obama defeat this fall would lead inexorably to a Clinton nomination the next time. Obama’s shrewd announcement Wednesday of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner as the convention keynote speaker has a bearing on this. It not only gives a central role to a moderate Democrat from a swing state, it also points to a future that transcends the Clinton-Obama feud.

    Clinton must know that she could have won the Democratic nomination with a more coherent strategy. And her own campaigning for Obama suggests she understands that the actual nominee should not have to inherit her campaign’s circular firing squads. Much depends upon whether she can now persuade her followers to grant Obama’s nomination a legitimacy that her own campaign worked so hard to deny him.
    E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is postchat(at)
    © 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

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By troublesum, August 15, 2008 at 3:38 pm Link to this comment

The public is not interested in the Clintons.  The media has a fascination with the dark side of political life, as for instance, in its 50 year obscession with Nixon.  Secondly, the party has not become Obama’s because he hasn’t told the Clintons where to get off.  He’s still afraid of them.

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By mackTN, August 14, 2008 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment
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I really cannot believe the Clintons.  My respect for them quickly paled once Clinton was nominated—that awful Hollywood convention, Sister Souljah, Lani Guinere, welfare abolishment…  Something wasn’t right, something was very unprogressive.  It’s ironic that Hillary’s blue collar constituents were the very ones Bill ran off in favor of his elite group of policy wonks. 

But all this post-primary negotiating and lawyering up seems unfair.  All this to do about history—excuse me, but nobody thought a black person would ever become president; what about that history? 

Hillary’s history would be more admirable if she had been Hillary Smith instead of Hillary wife of President Clinton.  If she had divorced Bill after decades of betrayal, she would never have a senator, much less a presidential candidate. 

And that’s why Bill is so mad.  It’s not Hillary who lost to Obama; it’s Bill.  Because those Hillary votes were largely votes for bringing Bill back through a surrogate…like when Lurleen ran for George Wallace. 

Hillary has created these divisions for selfish reasons—so she can throw her weight around and keep ramping up a manufactured reputation. And I’m sure she’s hoping that still something will happen to Obama between now and vote time so that her still active candidacy can claim its rightful throne.

I think its disgusting.  I’m sure she wouldn’t have been so generous with Obama had the tables been turned.

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By jobart, August 14, 2008 at 4:42 pm Link to this comment
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Ladies and gents,
I grew up on “Longgg….Island” N.Y.  I have been exposed and grew up, mostly as my “friends and fellow-troublemakers”, with Jewish folks. So,in short, I get it!!  Albright has the unmitigated “audacity” to state that she wasn’t aware that she was from Jewish roots/heritage. What a load of crap she spews !! Do any of you guys out there, of Jewish descent, disagee with me on this?  The Jewish people are, probably, the most “proud” of their religion as exists of any people/ethnic/religious in the world.  To forsake that heritage, by stating that she wasn’t aware, is more than disingenuous.  It is a blatant lie, folks!!
And for our “savior”, BA to “bring her in to the fold” for her knowledgable foreign advice/policy is a joke and a “slap in the face” of supporters who only wish for significant change in the system. 
Remember the ads: ” A change we can believe in”.  “yes, we can” !!
Mr. Obama, I’m starting to see your true colors.  “Black”?.  No.  “Tan”?. No. “Caring about righting our country?”  No. Wanting to become a player in this NWO game?  Yup.  That’s it.  You’ve sold us out and may there be retribution for the “sell out” you S.O.B.
Please,do me, and our country’s real citizens, a favor. Just prove me wrong. I welcome the truth about who you really are,what you really believe in and want for America and its future.
I think that your “about-face” sell out (AIPAC; FISA; more troops to Afganistan; move on Pakistan,etc.) is despicable and your “ego” has ruined, not just you but us, and has shown us that you’re a COMMON (we’ve had more than our fill of them in our history) sell out !! Shame on you for what you could have represented and, potentially changed, to save our rapidly eroding society. And all for you personal ego/greed/selfishness. I doubt you’ll see this as, the “presumptive” nominee, that you’ll only have the time to pander and “kiss-up” to the $.  I’m sure that your “Grandma” is real proud of who she did her “best” to raise has become. Typical.

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By bvc, August 14, 2008 at 7:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t care about this article.
I am, however, incensed that an ad on this site asks me to vote for whether and how to attack Iran.  The entirety of the ad begins with a mistake:

the only people talking about an Iranian nuclear weapons program are the corporate shitslingers.

Suddenly, I doubt this sites authenticity.

[if we should bomb ANYBODY ELSE for breaking the international peace, Israel heads the list]

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By yellowbird2525, August 14, 2008 at 12:35 am Link to this comment

that hoopla is only the “press” trying hard to make everyone believe they are “important”; she is only in office by fraud; her own party doesn’t like her & won’t (most of them) have much if anything to do with her; they took much items (stole) from the White House; Peloshi is another one who is abhorred by democrats; to the point, many long time democrats have become so disgusted they have switched to independents; claiming her “great” accomplishments:what? terminating long time WH employees; hiring new with lower wages & working them ONLY 39 hours to avoid having to give them health benefits? NO ONE has EVER treated the military as badly as these to common criminal crooks have since they took office; bribing those who accepted & “suicides” or “accidents” took care of those who could/would tell/testify against them; refusing to let WH staff even say anything to her (she was so high above them they were totally ignored); shredding every email that came into the WH without reading; Bill started the NAFTA, & NAU which Bush Sr couldn’t get passed; he “reinvented” Gov by outsourcing it; now they are going to “outsource” Americans defense; did I mention he was at many anti American demonstations when younger?

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