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A Clinton Playbook That Doesn't Fit Their Opponent

Obama at a town hall meeting in Fallon, Nevada. (AP).

By Dan Balz
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama called for a cease-fire Monday in their acrimonious and racially tinged war of words. Given what is at stake for the Clintons in the Democratic presidential race and the unique nature of Obama's candidacy, there is little likelihood it will hold indefinitely.

Clinton and Obama seemed to sense Monday that their argument threatened to spiral out of control unless something were done to calm the waters. Both stepped forward to offer positive words about the other and in doing so helped ease growing fears within the Democratic Party about the intensifying combat between the two front-runners.

But how will the two manage to avoid keeping the subject alive?

Over the next six days, Clinton, Obama and John Edwards will meet twice for debates. Tonight's debate in Las Vegas may not be dominated by what happened over the weekend, but there is no escaping the topic. Clinton likely will be asked to defend or repudiate the words of BET founder Robert Johnson. Obama will be pressed about whether Clinton or her husband has played the race card against him.

On Monday, the Democrats will debate in South Carolina, on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in a state where racial politics are at the heart of the Jan. 26 presidential primary. Will the candidates be able to offer merely soothing rhetoric about their mutual commitments to the party's civil rights heritage or, knowing the significance that African American voters will play in the primary, need to find ways to gain an edge in the battle for their support?

After South Carolina, racial issues and tensions will follow the candidates through primaries in states like California and New Mexico, Georgia and Arkansas -- wherever there are substantial numbers of African American or Latino voters, or particularly where there are both.

An ongoing Clinton-Obama fight centered on race is the nightmare scenario to many Democrats. They fear that a continuation of the bickering and innuendo and accusations of what started it all would profit neither candidate, but ultimately could redound to the benefit of the Republicans.

As one African American Democrat noted privately, the more Clinton, Obama and their allies were wrapped up in a racial discussion, the more likely it would be that the Democratic Party would be stamped in the eyes of many voters as the party of minorities. Republicans, he said, would seek to exploit that image and turn white, middle-class voters against his party in the general election.

Yet it may be impossible to avoid a recurrence of the hostilities that erupted over the past week, if only because of the cast of characters involved, their identities, their histories and the communities closely following now every word uttered by either side.

The Clintons learned again over the past few days just how difficult it is to run aggressively against Obama. This has been a painful and recurring problem, first realized when they tried to slap Obama for derogatory comments aimed at the Clintons almost a year ago by Hollywood mogul David Geffen.

The resulting backlash against their war-room tactics suggested that in Obama they were not dealing with an ordinary opponent, and that delicacy and deftness would be required in any direct engagements.

Whether that is because he is a candidate running on hope and inspiration, or because he is the first seemingly non-racial racial candidate to seek the presidency or because there is simmering hostility toward the way the Clintons practice their politics, the lesson has been clear. Be careful with Barack.

The second reason why this may be an unavoidable part of the fight between Clinton and Obama for the rest of the nomination battle is that there is clearly what one Democrat called "hair-trigger emotions" in the African American community about language, particularly any language aimed at a black candidate.

What Clinton said a week ago about Lyndon Johnson -- she noted that it took Johnson to push through Congress the civil rights legislation that King had long sought -- was a variation of an argument she first made over Labor Day weekend when she argued that knowing how to make the system work can turn hope into reality.

In that speech she cited Teddy Roosevelt busting the trusts, FDR enacting Social Security and LBJ giving America the voting rights act and Medicare. "They got big things done because they knew that it was not just about the dream, it was about the results, and that's what we have to do again," she said. "We need to dream big, but then we have to figure out how to make those dreams a reality in the lives of Americans."

What she did in New Hampshire was to invoke King directly into the conversation: "Dr King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964." Clinton went on to mention the failure of John F. Kennedy on civil rights and concluded by noting of Johnson's success, "It took a president to get it done."

The linking of King's dream and Johnson's legislative victory -- rather than the more abstract comment about the difference between dreams and action -- triggered a negative reaction among some African Americans. Bill Clinton compounded the problem with his "fairy tale" remark that he said was aimed at Obama's Iraq war position but that some African Americans, including Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, took as a racial slap.

This is not said to excuse the Clintons, who ought to be as attuned to the racial implications of language as any two white politicians in America. Only to suggest that race simmers right at the surface of this conflict.

What also makes it unlikely there will be a permanent cease-fire is the nature of Obama's candidacy. Much has been made of the fact that Obama is a post-civil rights African American politician. His campaign bears almost no resemblance to Jesse Jackson's in 1984 or 1988. He has not sought to make race central to his political identity or his message. In fact, seemingly the opposite.

And yet it is unmistakable that his would be a barrier-shattering presidency -- or even nomination. Racial pride is part of the powerful force behind his candidacy.

I was among the many reporters who joined up with the Obama campaign in South Carolina in early December when he was campaigning with Oprah Winfrey. Almost 30,000 people greeted them at the University of South Carolina football stadium, and it was an overwhelmingly black audience.

The words Obama used that day were not markedly different than those he has used in front of white audiences -- invoking King's "the fierce urgency of now" and a call for support because "our moment is now."

Before white audiences, these words have resonance -- invoking generational change and an end to the old politics. But on that day and before that audience, they had an even more powerful appeal, one that registered unmistakably in the context of the long struggle for equality by African Americans.

So Obama, without explicitly running on a racial appeal, nonetheless can evoke emotions within the black community. This is what confounds the Clinton campaign right now. Their playbook does not fit their opponent. As one Democrat said Tuesday morning, liberals don't know how to run against a black man like Obama.

The risks for Obama in all this are just as clear as those for Clinton, which is why both pulled back on Monday. But it is now embedded in the campaign, and that's why it is doubtful we have heard the last of it.

By Washington Post editors  |  January 15, 2008; 2:02 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Balz's Take  
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Obama and Clinton have two major issues that they focus on. He on Iraq war and she on health care bill. Now parts of her health plan have passed congress and had to be vetoed by Bush. His opposition to the War in Iraq seems to be lacking, however. I don't remember him able to pull enough support for his issue to get it passed. Also where was Obama on the Petraeus' vote? And the Iran vote? In general I think he talks a lot, but rarely does anything controversial, and therefore I don't see him creating more transparency in the government or making big changes. I don't think Clinton will do that either, but she's not promising that.

Posted by: RedMenace1 | January 16, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse


That memo you linked to, which was not given to the press, did nothing but list a bunch of quotes from other people- The Clintons, their surrogates, and random media folk unrelated to Obama's camp. There was no comment or judgement added from the Obama campaign.

So, I think it's funny that after reading the memo, which contained no accusations of racism from the Obama campaign, you came to the same conclusion others have- that the incidences and quotes they sited could be seen as racially insensitive.

In other words, Obama's camp doesn't have to convince anyone of anything. The pattern is obvious, and the comments and backlash the Clintons have experienced are from their own doing.

All that said, I really don't think the Clintons are racist.
And I haven't heard anyone else call them racist, either.

I just think the Clintons will do ANYTHING to get elected, and if that means throwing someone- or an entire demographic- under the bus, they will.

Posted by: julieds | January 16, 2008 3:01 AM | Report abuse

bjoseph1: You are 100% accurate. I'm watching the debate and Russert is trying his best to get Hillary, but she is doing very well in answering the Gotca ??s.

Posted by: lylepink | January 15, 2008 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Dan Balz:
Stop your yakking. This race row is not from Clinton but from Obama's camp.

Here's Obama's campaign's modus operandi on race - look at the memo they are distributing to convince people that Bill Clinton is racist:

If Obama's campaign did not think that they would benefit from this whole racial bating brouhaha, Amaya Smith who is South Carolina Press Secretary of Obama for America would not have outlined this concerted South Carolina-wide effort at attacking Bill Clinton as a racist.

It appears that Obama's campaign plan is to decisively win South Carolina's black vote by stoking racial hatred.

In short, Obama plans to win, at the expense of the unity of the party and the country! So, who is the candidate of hope and change again?


Posted by: fjstratford | January 15, 2008 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Nissl claims that Obama voted the same way as Hillary on all those Iraq war funding bills "because there's been no other option." Please note the following votes by Dennis Kucinich:

Seems there was, at least, one other option ; )

Posted by: JakeD | January 15, 2008 9:21 PM | Report abuse

It is clear from your article where your loyalies lie Mr.Balz. You, along with people like Tim Russert, Chris Mathews and Brian Willimas have been twisting facts to suit your narrative that Clinton is evil and Obama is a Saint. It is funny that you guys have been condemning Clinton for the Fairy Tale comment. I am not sure why none of you have asked Obama, what he meant when he said in his Iowa spaech " They said this day will never come" It is obvious whom he meant, Why is the media silent on this comment of him gloating after the Iowa victory. It is the media (the likes of Balz. You, along with people like Tim Russert, Chris Mathews, Brian Willimas etc.) which has double standards when dealing with Obama and Clinton. If we had listned to you guys after Iowa, Clinton's candidacy was dead. After the NH burst of the media lies, you were quite for a week. Now I guess, the media's Obama Circus is back with a vengence

Posted by: bjoseph1 | January 15, 2008 8:22 PM | Report abuse

If Obama is opposed to this way, where is the specific Senate bill he has sponsored to start the troop pullout. Please give us the bill number. If he opposes it, he can act to end it.

Posted by: jkstiles | January 15, 2008 7:49 PM | Report abuse

No more so than you people are "ignoring" the FACT that some like Dennis Kucinich voted against the Iraq war resolution and every subsequent funding bill -- why has no one bothered to address that point -- I guess we will have to agree to disagree on the definition of "consistent" . . .

Posted by: JakeD | January 15, 2008 7:30 PM | Report abuse

JakeD would probably prefer to have people ignore his unfounded complaint about Barack Obama's position on the Iraq war. In fact he would probably prefer to be able to parrot the Clinton campaign's distortions without having to actually back anything up with facts.

I've been reading ridiculous comments signed "JakeD" for some time now and I tend to ignore them but I'm glad to see people like illinois2 so cogently report how Barack Obama has been consistent, diplomatic and right.

Posted by: edhere | January 15, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

JakeD, I think the previous posters have covered my problem with your statement pretty well. In 2002 Obama called it a dumb war at the same time that Clinton told Saddam Hussein that it was "disarm or be disarmed." In 2004 he said that he didn't know what he would have done had he read the NIE, but that from his point of view "the case was not made." From my point of view he was trying to be nice about Kerry/Edwards, since he *was* giving the keynote at the DNC convention. Since then they've voted the same on funding - because there's been no other option. Hillary's vote has got us stuck there. Hopefully either will gradually move us out of Iraq and force the Iraqi government to make the moves it needs to make. But the essential point remains: Obama had the good judgment to oppose the war in 2002. Clinton and Edwards did not, but Edwards later explicitly apologized. Clinton has not. I eagerly await a more detailed description of her rationale, but it has not been forthcoming.

Posted by: Nissl | January 15, 2008 6:40 PM | Report abuse


Obama didn't compare himself to JFK or MLK. He responded to Hillary Clinton's remark about "false hope" (in the NH debate) by saying:

"False hopes, what does that mean? Is that the message we want to send the American people? To focus on constraints instead of possibilities?" Obama told a crowd that packed a high school gymnasium in Salem, N.H. "Did JFK say, 'The moon, it looks too far, let's have a reality check here? We can't do it.'"

The ironic aspect is that two of the Clintons' remarks that have landed them in hot water -- the "fairy tale" and LBJ/MLK ones -- were more objectionable on their merits than for racist purposes. The fairy tale comment is simply misleading -- to suggest Obama was wishy-washy on the war is is patently false, as is the implication that it's somehow inconsistent to fund a war that's already been (wrongly) waged. Meanwhile, the LBJ/MLK comment suggests that the candidate believes power and change comes primarily from the top (President/LBJ) and not from the people (activists/MLK). But I guess arguing the merits is less sexy than an all-out brawl on race.

Posted by: RyanMcC1 | January 15, 2008 6:13 PM | Report abuse

A few points:

To giub99: It's not the same thing to suggest the Clintons are "racist" as to believe they run a careful machine that would inject race into the debate if they thought (1) it was to their advantage and (2) they could get away with it. I don't doubt that they are not racist, but I also don't doubt they attempted to generate a fake racial controversy and blame Obama.

The Clinton points on Obama's Iraq record seem pretty underwhelming. Riddle me this Batman: why would someone oppose a war at the *least* politically savvy time to do so, only to reverse positions and agree with war as it is losing popular support? Recall how we were saturated from 2002 on with how the administration oversold WMD, with the Downing St memo, with the stark divisions within the intell community, etc. Answer: he, like me and many Americans, has never changed position that the Iraq war was never properly justified at the outset -- no imminent threat, etc. But when the issue is American soldiers deployed in a foreign theater of war, when the issue is how to be effective, when the issue is how to minimize loss of life, etc., the whole question changes. There is no inconsistency in voting for troop support, while maintaining that the war was never properly justified in the first place.

And last, if folks want to fairly quote the bit from 2004 about I can't say how I would have voted, at least finish his statement to the effect, from where I stood in 2002, the case had not been made. That's an important omission that takes the wind out of the argument.

Posted by: dan.moylan | January 15, 2008 5:58 PM | Report abuse

"OBAMA PORTRAIT MUSIC VIDEO" on Youtube - Don't Miss It!

For those of you who still have not heard:

There is a WONDERFUL and INSPIRING music video on entitled "Obama Portrait Music Video by Bjarne O."
You can use the free downloaded high-quality stereo version from the composer's website in DVD form to show at house parties and fundraisers. Even people who knew nothing at all about Obama have been moved: either a thrilling introduction, or further inspiration for those of us who already know and fight for Obama.
The music soundtrack, which incorporates excerpts from the famous 2004 speech, can also be downloaded separately in high-quality.

It is an uplifting and informative campaign tool - so please, SPREAD THE WORD!



Posted by: annevilla | January 15, 2008 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I am SO tired of Obama supporters blaming Hillary for everything and acting like Obama is a saint. After he lost the NH primary to her, his campaign co-chair pulled the race card on her by claiming that she didn't care about Katrina victims:

This is what Obama's CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR said:

"Those tears also have to be analyzed," Jackson said. "They have to be looked at very, very carefully in light of Katrina, in light of other things that Mrs. Clinton did not cry for, particularly as we head to South Carolina where 45 percent of African-Americans will participate in the Democratic contest, and they see real hope in Barack Obama."

Jackson continued: "We saw something very clever in the last week of this campaign ... We saw a sensitivity factor, something that Mrs. Clinton has not been able to do with voters that she tried in New Hampshire. Not in response to voters. Not in response to Katrina, not in response to other issues that have devastated the American people -- the war in Iraq -- we saw tears in response to her appearance. So her appearance brought her to tears, but not Hurricane Katrina."

I can't believe how Obama supporters can be so blind to how offensive those accusations are! And then to accuse Hillary of pulling the race card because the media kept playing select snippets of her words is rediculous!

Hillary was simply referring to the need for a President to be strong enough to push through legislation that some members of govt will strongly oppose.

"I would point to the fact that that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the President before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became a real in people's lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it, and actually got it accomplished."

Hillary was not denigrating MLK at all, but Obama's camp sure did kick Hillary by accusing her of not caring about Katrina victims. I'm tired of all the bias in the media and all the hypocrisy of the "peace-loving" fans of Obama.

Posted by: calliope.nyc06 | January 15, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

JakeD; You are correct about how The Media has misrepresented what Bubba, Hillary, and Mr. Johnson said and how they were put in a position of having to respond. This whole thing was, to put it mildly, an attempt by The Media to Help Obama when he made the stupid remarks comparing himself to MLK & JFK.

Posted by: lylepink | January 15, 2008 5:53 PM | Report abuse

First of all, thoughtful piece, Mr. Balz.

With all these words flying around, has anyone stopped and wondered: Maybe Sen. Obama actually IS the person he appears to be? He doesn't stoop to bite the Clintons' bait, even though much of it is 100% fallacious.

It seems to me that even the MSM can't get a grip on the possibility that Sen. Obama truly is a man of integrity who happens to be a politician. He's already stated that, should he have to compromise his character to win the Presidency, he'd rather lose. (I don't doubt him as Michelle would surely change the locks.) The only other pol I've heard make a similar statement is Chuck Hagel.

The truth is, despite the smears thrown around by Clinton flaks, nothing's sticking.

One more thing: The person who Clinton truly should denounce this evening is Charlie Rangel. Sadly, I don't see that happening.

Posted by: GordonsGirl | January 15, 2008 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Of course, lukewesol, I am only taking into account what was said to prove your point (that's not "out of context" though and not a straw man argument). That's exactly how court cases are won every day across America. For the last time, I am NOT voting for Clinton either.

Posted by: JakeD | January 15, 2008 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Here is the "Experience" you all are voting for.

Posted by: mev47 | January 15, 2008 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Senator Clinton's were clearly pounced-upon and distorted by Barry Obama's campaign---they knew she won New Hampshire and got all her momentum back...they were looking for ANYTHING to knock her down. Obama should not make this campaign about race, what a shame!

Senator Clinton could have been more specific in her comments, but TO THINK THAT THE CLINTONS ARE RACISTS - IS LUDICROUS....We all know this is untrue.

Posted by: giub99 | January 15, 2008 5:19 PM | Report abuse

You're either being dense or you're willfully ignoring the context of Sen. Obama's 2004 comments. Here's the full text. It's very difficult to misconstrue:

From July 26, 2004 New York Times:

In a recent interview, he declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time.

''But, I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,'' Mr. Obama said. ''What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made.''

But Mr. Obama said he did fault Democratic leaders for failing to ask enough tough questions of the Bush administration to force it to prove its case for war. ''What I don't think was appropriate was the degree to which Congress gave the president a pass on this,'' he said.

Bottom line: On the same week that Sen. Obama called the Iraq war "dumb" and articulated the reasons why it shouldn't be waged, Hillary Clinton said, "So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interest of our nation. And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein, this is your last chance. Disarm or be disarmed."

Posted by: RyanMcC1 | January 15, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Shame someone forgot to tell Charlie Wrangell who blew it with his Obama comments. Sure the RNC is laughing their backsides off and they should be.

Read my lips, Edwards or Obama are the nomintee, I'll vote them. Clinton is and forget about it. I'm not alone in this either.

My disgust with the Clintons and their establishment supporters is now so great that it can't be overcome. Mc Cain will do a good job and we won't have all this dung being thrown. I expect the ultra right wing will now start a movement to have a constituional ammendment to specify that only white males can be President.

That's a disgusting idea, but after seeing Hillary, Bill, Johnson, Wrangell and too many other, I can see where it might happen. Obama didn't start this and tried to restrain himself and his campaign, but you can only kick a dog for so long. Stay tuned!

Posted by: NoMugwump | January 15, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

No, jefft1225 and yiannis, I am NOT taking the specific question of how Obama would have voted IF HE WAS a Senator -- he said "I don't know" even though, and I haven't disputed, in his position as a non-Senator, he opposed the war. I happy leaving it there (and I am not voting for Hillary Clinton either).

Posted by: JakeD | January 15, 2008 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Your point is based on a straw man argument; you're only taking into account what was said to prove your point rather than the context of the individual events.
Statistics and quotes can be used in many ways most of those ways favor the person quoting them and they can be twisted to make any point no matter how they were intended...but in the end it just shows the desperation in the Clinton campaign in trying to swing voters who might not hear how the words were intended. Politics as usual for the Clinton's maybe their next of many slogans should be..."In it to win it" easily changed to "In it to win it, by any means" ~"Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely"

Posted by: lukewesol | January 15, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

A Clinton-Obama truce would be good. It was all beginning to look like an ugly sequel to "Primary Colors":

Posted by: connectdots | January 15, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The Clintons play such dirty politics, it's disgusting. I will vote for anyone but Hillary. Of course Obama voted for funding for the war, they were already in it. Was he supposed to just ignore the troops? Duh! If he had been president we would have never gotten into this mess in Iraq.

Posted by: vflex | January 15, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I am saddened by all of this . I watch in 2004 a brave mans reputation brough low with lies and innuendoes from a group who planted the lie. The American people allowed themselves to be influenced, who believing the lie voted in the lier and his cronies. Getting the President they deserved resulted in the death of hundred of thousands men women and children based on lies and deceit. The question one needs to ask. If the Clintons are willing to lie to gain power, how great will be the lie when they attain office. Will the American people allow themselves to become party to the lie. They have been given the second chanch to prove their worth. Lets hope they do not blow it this time.

Posted by: gcr | January 15, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

As for Obama's major accomplishments, my personal favorites are as follows:

In Illinois: Required taping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases to protect against wrongful conviction.

In the U.S. Senate: The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act which requires full disclosure of who receives federal funds in a publicly accessible database.

Both of these were introduced and championed by Obama (the latter in conjunction with R Tom Coburn) and enacted into law. The IL bill initially faced some pretty stiff opposition.

Posted by: illinois2 | January 15, 2008 4:08 PM | Report abuse

JakeD: Various posters on multiple threads have explained to you how Obama can claim that his war position is consistent. You simply insist on raising this tired old canard over and over again, as far as I can tell, because if you repeat a lie often enough some people will begin to believe it is true.

I suppose it won't kill me to answer your disingenuous question one more time, so here it goes:

Obama emerged as a vocal opponent of the Iraq invasion in 2002, before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

In the Convention quote that you and Bill Clinton are so fond of mangling, he avoided slamming the pro-war votes of the new Democratic presidential and vp nominees by humbly noting that it was possible that members of Congress had had access to information/intelligence that he, as a state legislator had not. Nevertheless, he reiterated his antiwar position by adding "What I know, is that from my vantage point, the case was not made."

Some have suggested that as an early war opponent, Obama should have refused to vote in favor of any war funding bill. As one of his emphatically antiwar constituents, I can tell you that I neither wanted nor expected that of him. Like Obama, I still strongly feel that we never should have gone into Iraq. However, once the invasion was fait accompli, the question of whether we should invade obviously became moot. War funding votes were not, then, about whether we should have gone to war, but how to draw from our ill-advised invasion the best possible outcome. Because this was, as Obama so eloquently put it, a "dumb war" and a "reckless" one, good solutions to the conflict are elusive and I think reasonable people can easily differ on how to handle the current circumstances. I pay attention to what my Senators and Rep. in Congress do, and I think Obama has served me consistently, honestly, and very well.

Posted by: illinois2 | January 15, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

JakeD using the same argument one can take every comment one ever made out of context to make it sound whatever they want it to.

This might be why you are parroting your candidate but it's not how we conduct a civil discussion in this country. This time it has to be different.

Posted by: yiannis | January 15, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Preferential Media Treatment

Among the Democratic Candidates who do you Believe is Getting the Most Preferential Media Treatment?


Posted by: jeffboste | January 15, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

JakeD--you obviously disagree with us but please stop playing stupid. On Iraq, there were two separate policy issues: (1) whether to go in or not and (2) what to do once we were there. Your effort to confuse the two in order to make Obama look as bad as the Clintons is dishonest.
As for the quote you take out of context, Obama's "I don't know" ... well, the rest of the statement concludes that from Obama's perspective, the case to go into Iraq just wasn't made.

You can disagree honorably, but "half-truths" are nothing more than sophisticated lies.

Posted by: jefft1225 | January 15, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Can ANYONE explain what is untruthful about Obama's record in Iraq:

(a) Obama was against the war in 2002 (I assume we all agree on that one),

(b) in 2004, Obama said "I don't know" re: whether he would have voted against the war (I realize he said much more than that in 2004, but that's not the question right now), and

(c) since 2005, as a U.S. Senator, he voted FOR every Iraq war funding bill (if anyone has a record vote otherwise, please let me know -- cf. Dennis Kucinich voted against the initial authorization to go to war in Iraq AND every subsequent funding bill).

Posted by: JakeD | January 15, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

The Clintons should have said they misspoke, which was probably the case.

By continuing their "attack mode" they play into the narrative of "anything goes" which Obama inoculated himself with.

That is the single most important nationwide antipathy against the Clintons: They will do and say anything to get what they want.

Hillary chose to run on her experience as first lady, not on her own legislative accomplishments. Bad judgment and bad advice.

Posted by: yiannis | January 15, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse


Please point to what I have "lied" about. I also just looked up the New Hampshire debate where, for the first time, Obama and Hillary's records were compared and contrasted -- Obama was asked, what is your major accomplishment in the Senate, and he said it was passing ethics reform and getting legislators to be prohibited from having lunch with lobbyists -- Charlie Gibson pointed out "Well, wait a minute. You can have lunch if you're standing up, not if you're sitting down." So if that's his main claim for legislative accomplishment, people have the right to know.

Posted by: JakeD | January 15, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse


Obama's shining example of federal legislation prohibits lobbyists from paying for a SIT DOWN lunch but does not prohibit that very same lobbyist from paying if he's STANDING UP!!!

Posted by: JakeD | January 15, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

It's the condescension from the Hillary camp that feels like a knife in the back to so many of us. From "naive and irresponsible" to "shuffle and jive" ...
Bill Clinton is a very smart man. So when trashes Obama for supposed "inconsistency" -- fairy tale! -- on Iraq, he is lying. After all, Obama himself has always maintained that once we made the mistake of going into Iraq, we were left with "no good choices." And he would not simply abandon the troops in order to force Bush's hand.
Clinton--both Clintons--know this and yet they use this and other lies to create the false impression that Barack Obama is nothing special.

Maybe it would be different if they lied in order to defeat somebody who promoted irresponsible wars or racism or callous indifference to the sick and the poor.

But the Clintons are using dishonesty to make Obama pay for doing the right thing. They are abandoning the very good things they say they stand for ... for what noble cause, exactly?

That is why, I think, so many of us feel betrayed.

Posted by: jefft1225 | January 15, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

TomJx -- So right. Along with, "I don't want to see us fall backwards...some of us are right, and some of us are wrong." The remarks HRC made amidst The Tears are by no means racist, but they are condescending.

Posted by: kparrparr | January 15, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse


You still haven't explained why you think it's a distortion of Obama's record to point out (a) Obama was against the war in 2002, (b) in 2004, Obama said "I don't know" re: whether he would have voted against the war, and (c) as a U.S. Senator, he voted FOR every Iraq war funding bill.

Posted by: JakeD | January 15, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Clarification: MLK was NOT running for office. Obama is.

To connect the dots...why is Clinton saying Obama needs someone else's help (i.e., Hillary Clinton) to accomplish anything politically? He's perfectly capable of doing so on his own, as he's shown in his work in the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate. Just look at the legislation he's worked on and gotten passed!

Posted by: TomJx | January 15, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Everyone accepts the need for both a movement and laws to establish change permanently. What was offensive about Clinton's remarks was the implication that Obama could NOT do the latter. That he could NOT get bipartisan support for bills. That he could NOT be an effective president. Why? Because he could only peddle 'false dreams' to the American people. Rubbish. He's the real deal.

Posted by: TomJx | January 15, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm one of these people following every word spoken by the candidates, their surrogates, the media and other commenters like me. It's exhausting. That said, I think the issue is the "baiting." Because the Clintons are "attuned," as you said, they know that if they put these things out there, defensible as they may seem, they're going to ruffle feathers. Looking back, I have to remember that the "fairytale" and the MLK/LBJ remarks were made when the Clintons' backs were up against the wall. Desperate times, etc. Only the polijunkies can quote chapter and verse on who said what when. Meet the Press is a much bigger forum, and the race thing took a quantum leap. Or dive. So I fault Hillary there. Can't wait to see how it plays out tonight.

Posted by: kparrparr | January 15, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

It shouldn't be difficult to "run aggressively against Obama." The problem is that the frontrunner, with the exception of John Edwards, are failing to run on the issues. Like Edwards, let's talk about specific plans for ending poverty, eliminating discrimination, making college education more accessible, stimulating the economy. If Obama and Clinton want to continue the silly rhetoric war, more power to them, but I'm going to support the guy who's doing more than just talking.

Posted by: more | January 15, 2008 2:51 PM | Report abuse

An oddly thoughtful intervention amidst a storm of shamefully divisive remarks and post. Nice shot Mr. Balz. I've been following this vaudeville since it's beginning and I've notice how aggressive and personnal Mrs. Clinton & co comments were meanwhile Mr. Obama and his supporters comments were as much irrelevant to the challenges our nation face yet much more quiet and "fair". It is reasonnable to criticize a politicial opponent, by laballing their coment as ill-advised for exemple, but it is lame to consistently imply that your opponent's candidacy is a fairy tale for every little mistake your notice (or create).

Posted by: hsibomana | January 15, 2008 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Clinton stuck her foot in her mouth...

American people notice foot in Clinton's mouth...

Clinton blames Obama for her foot being in her mouth...

Lesson: Be careful where you put your foot.

Posted by: PulSamsara | January 15, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Well, the Clintons *could* run on a positive platform, articulating their vision for the future of the country and arguing it's better than Obama's. The problem is that I'm not sure they have one, and their extremely high negatives aren't going to go down much anyway. So they have to resort to the typical slash and burn politics - suing to suppress the vote in NV, distorting Obama's Iraq record (MTP, Bill C. in NH), state senate votes (repeatedly ever since the "fun part" started in IA), health care plan (NH mailer and in debates), social security plan (NH mailer again), etc. People are going to have to look at these tactics and decide what they think about them. Maybe the base wants to run an aggressive, divisive, Rovian candidate right back at the Republicans, who knows. Obama's recent red state endorsements, though, suggest that Clinton could be poison in the general election.

Posted by: Nissl | January 15, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

I've been knocking on doors for the Obama campaign up in Harlem. In the last week, we have seen a dramatic increase in the African American community for support for Obama.

The Clintons are going to be in for the shock of their lives, because I believe in Harlem it will be a blowout for Obama.

Posted by: vbalfour | January 15, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

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