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Obama, Clinton, and the Negative Campaign Turn

Barack Obama greets a future caucus-goer in Iowa. (AP).

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Sen. Barack Obama said questions about his past and his political experience, raised in recent days by the Clinton campaign, are a predictable turn of events as the race tightens for the Democratic nomination.

He also vowed to fire any campaign staffer who engages in personal attacks against his opponents. "I do not want to see research that is involved in trying to tear people down personally," said Obama. "That's not what I believe in. That's not where I am."

As for the Clintons, "When I was 20 points down, they thought I was a wonderful guy. So, obviously things have changed here in Iowa and elsewhere in the country," Obama told reporters at a news conference between rallies in northeastern Iowa. And he added, the tactics recall the bitter partisanship that marked the Clinton White House years and that still simmers today in Washington. "That's the kind of politics we've become accustomed to," Obama said.

He described his brief meeting with Clinton on Thursday, initiated by the former First Lady in order to apologize for comments by a senior campaign official about Obama's teenage drug use, described in his memoir. The official, Bill Shaheen, husband of former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, predicted that Republicans would pounce on the disclosure, raising questions about Obama's viability as a general election candidate. After an uproar that included a flood of angry phone calls to the Clinton campaign, Shaheen resigned.

"I said I appreciated the apology," Obama recounted. "I suggested that all campaigns have surrogates who are eager to have their candidates win, and it was important for us as the heads of our campaigns to make sure that we're sending a clear message that this is not the kind of tone that we should tolerate."

As for teenage drug use, the senator said, "I do think that the average American believes that what somebody does when they were a teenager 30 years ago is probably not relevant to how they are going to be performing as commander in chief and president of the United States. I think people have pretty good judgment about that."

Obama tossed back a remark by President Clinton during his 1992 campaign to answer questions by both Clintons about Obama's short political resume (he was elected to the U.S. Senate two years ago, after eight years in the Illinois state Senate). The Clinton campaign believes one of Obama's greatest vulnerability is his short tenure in public office, especially with the country at war, and the issue is expected to surface again and again in the weeks ahead.

"Here's a quote," said Obama. "The same old experience is irrelevant. You can have the right kind of experience or the wrong kind of experience. And mine is rooted in the real lives of real people and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change. And that was Bill Clinton in 1992."

"The notion that there is a particular kind of experience that he has had, or his wife has had, that is more relevant, I would disagree," he continued. "I believe I have the experience that the country needs right now. I think that's why we're doing relatively well in this race."

--Shailagh Murray

By Web Politics Editor  |  December 15, 2007; 2:06 PM ET
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Democracy is at stake in this election. We saw how Putin in Russia is staying in power after his term in office. We see how Musharaf in Pakistan is controlling the election process to stay in power. Now we would guess US is something different. But the fact that a former 2 term president is actively on the campaign trail says something about how these politicians try to make U.S. an aristocracy. Lately Bubba found himself in a corner when other's in the Hillary's camp were calling the shots for her campaign. Now just a couple of weeks before the caucus, Bubba has made his move. He has pushed aside whoever Hillary trusted to run her campaign. Now he is the sole architect for Hillary's white house bid. This is very dangerous. A former president should not be allowed to campaign for a candidate regardless of who that candidate is. When Bush ran for president, Bush Sr. did not get involved much. Hillary is the weaker of the Clintons. If she gets the nomination for the white house, we know who will be sitting at the president's desk in the oval office. Monica will find herself under the presidential desk once again while Bill sends Hillary along with Chelsea out of the country to talk to the Chinese or Kosovans. It is not what we want for our country. We have to vote against Hillary to prevent the Clinton shananigans of the 1990s from happening again.

Posted by: ChunkyMonkey1 | December 17, 2007 3:08 AM | Report abuse

Dana Milbank, this week:
"The 46-year-old freshman senator from Illinois, trying to topple the 60-year-old front-runner, never once utters the words "Hillary" or "Clinton." But the target of his stump speech is unmistakable -- and his derision is brutal."


Apparently Shailagh thinks Barack is cute, or something.

Posted by: zukermand | December 16, 2007 8:50 AM | Report abuse

I'll ignore jblade89's ravings. No reason to descend into the sewer he or she emerged from. So, let's talk about ichief for a moment. What exactly did Obama do to HRC in October?

IIRC, that was the Philadelphia evening when Edwards was on the attack - most of it legitimate, about the shifting positions that HRC has occupied over the years. Barack jumped in on the drivers' license issues, to dissect Hillary's attempt to occupy both sides of the debate over licenses for undocumented immigrants.

That's a legitimate dialog, although the underlying issue was a pretty shaky platform for the discussion. The Clinton proclivity for 'triangulation' has been a major concern for a lot of us since Clinton I. Voters should be able to believe that what they're hearing on policy issues today will resemble the candidate's views a week from now (although I think the license issue is a red herring for presidential candidates). That doesn't question her character on issues unrelated to the presidency. It questions whether we can really believe what she tells us today. (In case you need a reminder, we heard a lot from a gentleman from Texas about 'compassionate conservatism' and a non-interventionist foreign policy back in 2000, none of which are much in evidence these days, and most of us don't want to go down that road again.)

There have been howls of outrage since that night that this and related comments were 'personal attacks'. Why is it 'personal' to criticize HRC for her disastrous vote for Iraq II, which she has scuttled away from as fast as her two legs can carry her? Why is it 'personal' to criticize her dismal handling of the health-care issue in Clinton I, when she so antagonized Bill Bradley - a mellow and moderate soul - that he wouldn't speak to her for years? Why is it 'personal' to question why she was so eager to vote for Kyl-Lieberman that she risked allowing our beserker president a tool for another foreign policy debacle? Is it inconceivable that this vote was driven as much by a need for political cover as by conviction?

That's tough politics, but it's not dirty. Much of the anger is driven by an underlying sense of lese majesty - outrage that anyone should challenge her triumphal procession as the anointed candidate of the Demo hierarchy and her deep-pocket supporters - HRC has a well-documented tendency to bridle at any one who interferes with her predetermined course of action, and that seems to have infected her disciples, too. Well, that's a pity, but a lot of us out here need to be convinced, and she hasn't closed the deal with us on her own terms.

Besides, what's the equivalency between jumping her views on the Social Security cap on the one hand, and referring to non-existent 'rumors' of selling drugs on the other? There is none, of course. This hypersensitivity to anything that upsets her apple-cart isn't very convincing. I'm not about to award her the nomination by default, and neither are an increasing number of other voters.

Posted by: zoot1 | December 16, 2007 7:39 AM | Report abuse

It seems that the negative campaign is being run by thesame woman who railed against "personal attacks, right of the republican playbook" who then announced the "fun part" of the campaign, whose comment about Obama's "kindegarten" essay ended up being only a "joke."

Most recently we've seen her top deputy predict what the republicans will do as a smear should Obama win. He not just reiterated an already acknowledged fact by Obama that he has used coke, he took it a step further by "wondering in advance" would republicans try to call him out as a drug dealer as well.

A man admits to using coke (one of the few things any politician has ever done--tell the truth) and a senior campaign official for his opponent "mispoke" by asking was he a drug dealer/sharer.

Something in that coffee ain't black.

Yes, many believe that Obama is inexperienced and won't be able to stand up to the Republicans. I beg to differ. He has shown great strength by competing head-on against one of the most successful political families in recent history--the Clintons.

I think he can handle the republicans just fine.

If we wanted to focus on negative campaigning by Republicans, which (based on facts) would you rather see:

A chilling series of ads of teenage Obama using drugs


A chilling series of ads of a failed healthcare, jennifer flowers, monica lewinsky, the vast right-wing conspiracy, the hearings, gore vs hillary--shall I go on?

If America is more concerned about what a candidate did as a teen vs what a candidate and her husband did while in "office" then I will concede that Obama is naive and inexperienced.

Until then....

Posted by: dcis1 | December 15, 2007 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Messiah Obama (Oprah's He's the one) and his disciples have been targeting Hillary Clinton from day one with the same vicious, false, slandererous accusations that the Bush campaign used in 2000 against Al Gore.

The bunch of liars who got in the White House by claiming to be Christians had the gall to raise questions about Gore's character. The American people fell for it in 2000. I don't think we're quite as stupid now as we were then, especially since Al Gore's achievements make Dubya's pale in comparison.

After Obama's brazenly telegraphed attacks on HRC in October, Obama now acts so injured (I just saw him whining in a news clip on TV) because his record is being scrutinized. He seems well practiced, somehow, in the role of victim and cry baby, that is when he's not trying to follow Dubya's example and become American's preacher-in-chief.

Posted by: ichief | December 15, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse

You know I heard Obama talk about Hillary's less than frank answers on her responses to issues. e.g. licenses.

Is this personal or negative attack?

Hillary brings up his essay as a Kindergartener or his frank disclosure his use of drugs as a youth.

Or is this personal or negative attack?

I think Clinton supporters ought to think about their candidate with more scrutiny.

As an Obama supporter I praise him for not bringing up why Hillary put up a man that ...., .... or ....... anything that crossed his path. Of course that's an issue between a man and a women. But it does go towards her experience and judgment.

With all of the disclosures about his escapades, I wonder about this "women."

And I wonder whether Democrats ought to take into consideration that she hasn't been vetted yet. Wait until the Republicans bring out Bill latest escapades in the General election.

You don't he's done it .... EXPERIENCE tells me that it's been more than one....

Posted by: juandgarza | December 15, 2007 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Hillary Clinton has shown her true self to the American people. It is the same true self that was on display in the White House when she whined about the "vast right wing conspiracy" that was attacking her philandering husband.

BOTH CLINTONS lied about Monica. It led to his impeachment by the House and near conviction in the Senate.

We cannot go back to those days. And -- no surprises -- Hillary is not different today than she was then.

I will take Barack Obama -- as he is -- any day over the corrupt Clintons.

Posted by: jade_7243 | December 15, 2007 6:34 PM | Report abuse

President Obama? If you guys think the Republicns will let Obama's past cocaine use and rumors of selling it just slide by them then as Democrats we are asleep.

Although I like Obama, I want to win. With Justice Stevens and Bader Ginsburg set to retire from the Supreme Court, I will take my chances with Mrs. Clinton. Obama is sure to loose to any Republican in a state by state contest. The Clintons have won twice before.

On Obama's best day he could win no more tha VT(3), MA(12), CA(55), NY(31), IL(21), DC(3), HI(4), thats 129 Electoral Votes, less than half of what he needs to be President.

Posted by: jblade89 | December 15, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry for former President Clinton...

This behavior is unbecoming of him.

Obama/Biden '08!

Posted by: Big_Blue | December 15, 2007 4:04 PM | Report abuse

'President Barack Obama'-----l love the sound of that in my mouth.

All you Obama haters, try to get used to this sound because it will come to pass.

I pray for this country every night and Obama is our only great hope.

Posted by: nkgilb | December 15, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Bill's attack on Obama is a sign of big desperation from the Clinton campaign. It will not have any effect on Obama surge. Moreover, Bill's support for Edwards to win Iowa is also a sign of how devious the Clintons are; knowing fully well that Edwards lacks enough money to mount a serious challenge on Hillary, an Edwards' win invariably, according to Bill is a Hillary win.
Hillary Clinton Campaign is a sinking ship
The most recent early states and national polls show that Hillary's campaign, which until her Philly debate fumble was a poll-dominant inevitability, is currently sinking lower every day. And there seem to be that no effort being make to stop the decline was working. Below are several of the efforts to save Hillary's campaign that has failed:
* CNN's rigged debate and after debate spin
* Her campaign's rush to play the gender card
* Bill complaining of his wife being pilled on
* Arm-twisting of the NY Gov to help her on immigration
* Bill's daily show in Iowa
* Her accusation of the opponents for mud-slinging
* Novak's scandal rumor
Below are Hillary's campaign new efforts that will not save it from crashing to the ground:
* Her current mud-slinging on Obama
* Racking up thousand and one endorsements
* Even the endorsement of NH's Gov's wife, Dr. Susan Lynch
* Going to church on Sunday
* Aggressively attacking Obama
* New emphasis on her (actually John Edward's) healthcare
* Getting all the Senators, Congressmen, and other members of the democratic establishment to endorse her
With all due respect to the theory of inevitability, which was built on polls, Hillary's current consistent slide in the polls and her current lack-luster performance in match-up against top 5 Republican nomination candidates is the final straw that broke the Carmel's back.
Now, Bill is out and telling us to expect Hillary to loose Iowa, NH, and SC and still win the nomination. I thought that Bill's admission means that Evita is dead, but good old Bill would want to keep people in the dark as to the status of the race.
Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign is crumbling faster than Dean's and do not expect that downside momentum to stop.
If Hillary loose Iowa and NH to Obama, she is out of this race.

Posted by: FIgwealor | December 15, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse

ichief, thank you! It's about time someone noted that nasty cheap shot he took. I was appalled when I heard that he said that. I'm a democrat who was and still is willing to vote for either of them, and i was so shocked when he made those comments. His rabid supporters act like the sun shines out of his a-- and i pretty much bought that goody goody image of him, but i thought that was so out of line, and way worse than anything hillary said about him afterwards. Her biggest problem is that she should have made it very clear what she was responding too.

and julieds. You follow the politics of hope and at the same time spew names and act so hateful. so many nasty obama supporters, i don't get this. ?? It's really hard to want to hear what you have to say about Obama when you're foaming at the mouth. Simmer down!

Posted by: jessi_lc | December 15, 2007 3:44 PM | Report abuse


Obama has held office for 11 years- 4 years longer than Hillary.

NEWSFLASH, Mr Clinton: It's not about YOU, it's about your WIFE.
It's YOUR WIFE who lacks experience.

Obama has MORE experience than Bill's wife.

Stop lying, Bill.

Furthermore, it's the Clinton's who have gone personal and dirty. Sending emails lying that Obama is a muslim? Implying he was a drug dealer? ARE THEY SERIOUS??? Obama has made distinctions of policy, but is too classy to bring up Bill's blow jobs and their illegal finance dealings. (and i have been, too, until this outrageous BS from the Clinton's)

The Clinton's are the epitome of dirty old politics.

Posted by: julieds | December 15, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Political_Sage | December 15, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

where is Obama firing or atleast not accepting endorsement from Wyoming senator when he takes cheap shots at personal life of Hillary and Bill clinton during endorsement speech? whom is Obama kidding. and regarding the drug use issue,
drug use is an issue, not because of drug use itself. its about consistency of his book. he has already lied about teens, its 20 now. but was it 20? 22? 24? that throws away books assertion of teens. now since one assertion goes flawed, what else will be flawed? how many more inconsistencies? did he lie in his books about facts? one fact a lie.. more facts possible lies. then there is judgement call on talking about it in high school infront of teenage kids. do the teachers unions approve it? do the anti-drug community approve it? what do the youth counseling NGO's think about this issue?

Posted by: chris29 | December 15, 2007 3:06 PM | Report abuse

There has been a turn in the campaign alright. It happened last fall when Obama's advisors were telling him he had to attack Hillary Clinton, and he telegraphed to the media that he was going to do just that. During the Oct. debate in Philadelphia, Mr. Holier than Thou Obama, Mr. Edwards, and the moderators went on the attack. Guess what? The media hysterically supported the male attackers and have done their good old boy best to keep the insane Hillary haters revved up ever since.

Oddly enough, when Hillary Clinton turned the tables and started being more aggressive in response to her attackers, Obama suddenly became the "victim," receiving unlimited, gushing sympathy and support from the media.

He's still playing the "victim" with the aid of the press, but for this darling of the Naderites, it's okay.

Posted by: ichief | December 15, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

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