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The Campaign Season of Taking Offense

By Peter Baker
Barack Obama's campaign is outraged that Hillary Rodham Clinton's husband supposedly questioned the Illinois senator's patriotism. Clinton's campaign is insulted that an Obama surrogate would compare the supposed attack to McCarthyism. The Obama campaign is shocked that a top Clinton supporter would compare an Obama supporter to Judas Iscariot. The Clinton campaign is beside itself that an Obama state worker would mention Monica Lewinsky's infamous blue dress.

And all of that just in the past 48 hours or so. Call it the Year of Taking Offense. Somehow an election campaign that in theory is centered on the Big Issues of our day, such as war and recession, instead has turned into a sticks-and-stones contest. Instead of pressing each other on how they would fix health care or fight terrorism, the candidates are busy crying gotcha every time someone on the other side says something offensive or even something that could be perceived as offensive. And the shock, shock over the things being said on the campaign trail isn't even over what the candidates themselves are saying, but what their supporters are saying.

This is nothing new in politics, of course, but it does seem to be reaching a fever pitch this year. Hillary Clinton pushed out a New Hampshire campaign official for mentioning Obama's youthful drug use, offered regrets for some of her husband's statements that were taken as racially insensitive and distanced herself from an introducer at an event who implicitly raised Obama's drug use. Obama offered regrets that his staff attacked the Clintons over their use of the Lincoln Bedroom for fundraiser sleepovers and renounced a memo put out by a state campaign worker portraying the Clintons as racist. John McCain, now without a foe for the Republican nomination, repudiated a talk show host who spoke at his rally and mocked Obama's middle name, Hussein, and the Arizona senator denounced a Republican congressman for saying an Obama victory in the fall would be a victory for Islamist radicals.

The Apology Tour has only turned more intense in recent weeks. There was Samantha Power, the Obama foreign policy adviser, who had to quit after calling Clinton a "monster." There was Geraldine Ferraro, the former vice presidential nominee serving as a fundraiser for the New York senator, who had to quit for saying Obama was ahead only because he was a black man. And then of course there was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's former pastor and the man who married the Obamas and baptized their children. Obama spent the better part of a week trying to find a way to disclaim Wright's harsh statements about the United States without completely disowning a man he described as a virtual member of his family.

So what's going on? Is everyone just more thin-skinned these days? Some of the statements are patently offensive and would draw fire in any political year. Wright's sermons included especially provocative language and his close relationship over the years with the candidate raised real questions about Obama's views on the serious issues his minister addressed -- questions the senator tried to address with his speech on race in Philadelphia last week. But some of these other kerfuffles hardly seem worth the emotional energy they have generated and the feigned outrage comes across as contrived strictly for political gain -- look what they're doing to me! The eager embrace of victimhood may seem like a questionable campaign tactic, but everyone wants to keep the other camp on the defensive, portraying opponents as supposed purveyors of politics as usual. The Obama campaign did not get exercised about Ferraro's comments until after it was pressed to denounce Power, then it reached back to find an interview the former vice presidential candidate had given days earlier to try to change the subject.

The back-and-forth reached a particularly surreal moment during a debate last month when Clinton pressed Obama to distance himself from Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who had endorsed Obama.

"I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments," Obama said.

Not good enough for Clinton. "There's a difference between denouncing and rejecting," she said.

"I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting," Obama replied, "but if the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce."

Most of this is just chaff, accentuated by cable television, radio talk shows and the Internet, which chew on them endlessly. Should a candidate be responsible for everything his or her surrogates say? Should every unwise, overheated comment become a scandal? This situation has been exacerbated in part because the dominant contest of the moment -- the extra-innings showdown between Obama and Clinton for the Democratic nomination -- is so devoid of serious policy differences. With few exceptions, the two Democrats broadly share the same goals and positions on the major issues of the day and the choice between them has largely come down to their experience, capacity, judgment and character. So small moments become magnified.

The brewing controversy over Clinton's exaggerated version of her trip to Bosnia as first lady may prove to be more significant. Rather than a surrogate, it is the candidate's own words that have come under question -- and rather than simply being offensive, they raise questions about her veracity or at the least her memory. And as our Fact Checker, Michael Dobbs, first demonstrated and CBS News later confirmed through powerful archival video, her account of a war-zone trip under enemy fire does not match reality.

She now says she misspoke but that will probably not silence her critics. There will be calls for apologies. And so the only sniper fire she may see will be the political kind.

By Washington Post editors  |  March 25, 2008; 11:39 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Cheat Sheet  
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Whatever Hillary did or didn't do pales before the appalling lack of character shown by Obama's decision to strongly support the pastor of his church who is an obvious hate monger.

Obama's behavior disqualifies him from the Presidency as well as the Senate. He's a disgrace.

Posted by: AndyfromVA | March 25, 2008 11:03 PM | Report abuse

blah, blah, blah about nothing important. Stop reading the Post, stop listening to CNN or FOX News and just for one night listen to the McNeil Lehrer Report on pbs. No mindless, gleeful trashing of this person or that thing on a 24 hour spin cycle. You will hear the unsexedup news of the day and analysis from what I fear are the only remaining journalists left in America. After a few minutes, the rage at the MSM for twisting and packaging and spinning to fit their opinions, but never the facts, dies away. Your mind calms and you can focus intelligently again on an issue and perhaps even learn something important. The Press is failing the American people by facilitating and creating the daily spectacle we call running for President. You set the terms of how you cover it all and you have the power to change it.

Posted by: shoobie75 | March 25, 2008 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Hillary cannot tell the difference between truth and lie. If she cannot tell the difference between dodging sniper fire and a welcome poem from an eight-year-old girl, how will she respond to the 3 a.m. red phone call? She is commander-in-lies, and from day one she will lie to the American people. The Clinton dynasty is destroying the Democratic party in their effort to destroy Senator Obama. Wolfson can accept Carville's vile attacks on the nation's first and only Hispanic governor, but the Obama campaign is not permitted to defend itself. Does the Empress with no clothes on expect only eunachs to surround her? The party will lose the younger generation of voters, and many in the mainstream like myself, a life-long senior citizen party member. The Clinton dynastic machine may prevail but it will leave the republic and the party in ruins.

Posted by: shirleylim | March 25, 2008 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Embellishing a story is one thing... attending a racist hatefestering antiamerican anti-semite, anti-white church for 20 freaking years is another. Obama is one scary man. Imagine that much hate and racism in the President of our country? I thought George W. Bush was the worst thing that could happen to our country. I was wrong. Barack HUSSEIN Obama is as scary as his name sounds.

Posted by: harbisonrealestate | March 25, 2008 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Embellishing a story is one thing... attending a racist hatefestering antiamerican anti-semite, anti-white church for 20 freaking years is another. Obama is one scary man. Imagine that much hate and racism in the President of our country? I thought George W. Bush was the worst thing that could happen to our country. I was wrong. Barack HUSSEIN Obama is as scary as his name sounds.

Posted by: harbisonrealestate | March 25, 2008 9:19 PM | Report abuse

IF you loved your political party and its people, would you fight hard to become President? (sure)

IF you loved your party and its people, would you rage an intense battle against the other contenders? (Of course)

IF you loved your party and its people and your political views were nearly a carbon copy of the other candidate from your very same party, would you continue to slander your peer even when your chances of winning were absolutely, totally gone?

IF you really loved your party and its people, would you suggest that the other party's candidate is better suited for the job?

Come on, Democratic Party, press, and America. Is it not clear whom Hillary loves?

Posted by: tlkraft5 | March 25, 2008 8:08 PM | Report abuse

nvthumbs-Actually, the Democratic Party was traditionally the Party of the Farmers, and Working Class.

THEY, sold out to elitist Lawyers proclaiming to now champion Unions, Laborers, Immigrants, Welfare Recipients, Socials Workers, Government Employees and SOCIALISTS in General! :-(

When Jimminey Cahter, sold out the Farmers, it was the END of the Democratic Party. At least for ME, and most people in my Mother's Texas Farming Family!

Gosh Darn, seems WE were not alone! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 25, 2008 6:26 PM | Report abuse

All this just demonstrates the descent of the Democratic party. Where once is was a proud institution whose most important advocacy was for a safety net to cushion society's weakest from the worst of life's vagaries, it now reflects the influence of its dominant component (women/feminists) and holds that life must now be all bliss, all the time. No risks should ever be taken, and no one's poor widdle feewings must ever be hurt.

Posted by: nvthumbs | March 25, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Whoa! Did I miss a newscycle somewhere? Where is the outrage over Obama's far more upsetting lies about having heard Wright speak atrocities? Oh, wait, I forgot The Speech took care of all that unpleasantness!

So, Clinton just had to wear a bullet proof vest, but was not actually being fired on...O.K. move on....

Posted by: wizevich | March 25, 2008 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Hillary earned, at least, the right to run as independent. There are several reasons for that: a) A three way would be more impartial to the nomination process, particularly if Howard Dean and his liberal gang (note that most of supporters are presidential LOSERS) deny the FL and MI of their right to vote. b) Losing the democratic nomination is not the end of the day as Sen. Lieberman in CT figured out. c) Blacks and latinos can vote for their candidates instead of being left with a sold out character like Gov. Richardson. d) There would be more time to properly check Obama's skeletons and "love" for the country. What is Obama's rush? e) McCain voters may have a choice of either Hillary and Obama. Maybe, voters will wake up and end up choosing the less of evil. f) We would have a three way heated debate until the elections, in contrast to the crooked system that helped elected Bush twice, actually three times. Ours is no perfect system and being inflexible since the old days of independence is not helping us select the best one for the presidential job!

Posted by: ckewu | March 25, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I think it is particularly striking how the Obama campaign has suddenly gone so steeply negative against Clinton has he fell in the polls last week. By Friday, his campaign was essentially calling Clinton a liar, untrustworthy and of bad character.

The spectacle of Obama clawing at Clinton so viciously and disrespectfully as he was down in the polls for reasons having nothing to do with her (his Rev. Wright story), was really unappetizing and unmanly.

Posted by: ephemerella | March 25, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Which just goes to the point of the article that the populous is becoming so quick to jump on any perceived offense that any meaningful dialogue over real issues is squelched. I have yet to see a meaningful debate take place in any of the past three presidential elections because there is not deliberation over an issue, only a set of canned postures dragged out to insert into any opportune moment. Demagogue doesn't even begin to cover the spectrum.
In many cases, the Democratic primary is closer to a bloodbath over Pepsi vs Coca Cola than an exchange over guiding philosophies. In the end, the public gets what they deserve because the advertising $$ drive how they behave in the grocery store and in the voting booth.
Perhaps this is the year that an independent candidate will emerge and will show a better way. I don't hold a lot of excitement for any Party's leading candidates right now.

Posted by: steve_anderson | March 25, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

President Bush does nothing but "misspeak"
Hillary Clinton does nothing but lie. Definitions as follows:

lie 2 (l)
1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.
2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.
v. lied, ly•ing (lng), lies
1. To present false information with the intention of deceiving.
2. To convey a false image or impression: Appearances often lie.
To cause to be in a specific condition or affect in a specific way by telling falsehoods: You have lied yourself into trouble.
lie through one's teeth
To lie outrageously or brazenly.

[Middle English, from Old English lyge; see leugh- in Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: lie2, equivocate, fib, palter, prevaricate
These verbs mean to evade or depart from the truth: a witness who lied under oath; didn't equivocate about her real purpose; fibbed to escape being scolded; paltering with an irate customer; didn't prevaricate but answered honestly.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
ThesaurusLegend: Synonyms Related Words Antonyms
lie - a statement that deviates from or perverts the truth
falsehood, untruth, falsity - a false statement
fib, taradiddle, tarradiddle, tale, story - a trivial lie; "he told a fib about eating his spinach"; "how can I stop my child from telling stories?"
jactitation - (law) a false boast that can harm others; especially a false claim to be married to someone (formerly actionable at law)
whopper, walloper - a gross untruth; a blatant lie
white lie - an unimportant lie (especially one told to be tactful or polite)

mis•speak (m s-sp k )
v. mis•spoke (-sp k ), mis•spo•ken (-sp k n), mis•speak•ing, mis•speaks
To speak or pronounce incorrectly: The lead actor misspoke his lines.
To speak mistakenly, inappropriately, or rashly.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
ThesaurusLegend: Synonyms Related Words Antonyms
Verb 1. misspeak - pronounce a word incorrectly; "She mispronounces many Latinate words"
enounce, enunciate, pronounce, sound out, articulate, say - speak, pronounce, or utter in a certain way; "She pronounces French words in a funny way"; "I cannot say `zip wire'"; "Can the child sound out this complicated word?"

Posted by: marthadavidson | March 25, 2008 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I take NO OFFENSE at Dimocrat IGNORANCE when it comes to whether President McCain misspoke about Iranian Involvement in al-Qaida Iraq.

See, it is truly embarrassing to openly admit ignorance of Iran's open support for Sunni Hamas, that there are Sunni Iranians, or even that there are Iranians of Jewish Faith!

It is NOT John McCain who is the Victim of that sort of misguided Joking!

Oh, and BTW-The Washington Post has run at least 2 articles discussing Iranian Influence with al-Qaida Iraq! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 25, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Protestant and Catholic are part of the majority culture in this country, therefore mixing them up would be less understandable. The Shia and Sunni thing might be a bit more cautionary than mixing up Sikh and Hindu, but not much more because Sunni and Shia both start with the same letter.

Posted by: edbyronadams | March 25, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

alee21 - Of course they were. She purpoosefully lied. And she did about her part in the Irish Peace Accord, too. Over in Europe they are having a field day with that claim. She had NOTHING to do with it. She showed up at the end and, in the words of the actual particpants, made herself a pain in the a*s. The sum total of Hillary's experience is a botched secret heath care task force, composed of industry insiders that deserved to go down in flames, an throwing a bunch of abused women under the bus in her attempts to hide Bill's philandering. Clitnon and her folk are tearing the Democratic Party apart. No one with even an ounce of self respect will vote for her and we Obama folk are rapidly turning against her supporters and your silly causes, too. Keep it up and your "choice" will revolve around using a made in China plastic coat hanger.... and you can thank the CLitnon's for their globalization schemes that got coat hangers outsourced, too!

Posted by: mibrooks27 | March 25, 2008 2:02 PM | Report abuse

"mixing up Shia and relatively understandable".....OK, let's substitute the pretty exactly analogous "mixing up Protestant and Catholic" when discussing Northern Ireland (or the Hundred Years' War, perhaps)and see how 'relatively clueless' that makes Senator McCain.....

Posted by: galerosen | March 25, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Misspeaking is mixing up Shia and Sunni and is relatively understandable. However, understanding from Democrats was in short supply.

Posted by: edbyronadams | March 25, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Call it the Obama and Emil Jones Show. It's a lot like American Idol.

Emil Jones, by the way, single-handedly killed a bill that would have extended price caps for customers of Commonwealth Edison and other utilities.

Jones has also attempted to block proposed laws cracking down on his state's pay-to-play tradition - whereby companies hoping to win government contracts have to contribute to the campaign funds of officials.,0,4656523.column

Posted by: howdy999 | March 25, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Why is the media harping about Hillary's comments on her Bosnia trip? As one eyewitness put it: "To be sure, it was not the safest trip for a First Lady to take: there were serious risks in traveling to Bosnia, even for the President's wife under the vigilant protection of the U.S. military. It took some guts for her to go." Enough said already.

Obama on the other hand claims authorship on legislation he didn't even work on (Wash Post 3/24). He doesn't even ask the real authors if he can claim it as his own. He stumps in front of huge American Idol type crowds about all of his great accomplishments.

It is a ploy he used to great effect in the Illinois Senate with the help of Emil Jones who handed him the sponsorship of virtually everything that any other Democrat worked on. Fortunately, Dodd had the good judgment to push Obama back. I guess Obama wants Dodd and others (those that have graciously endorsed him) to play the same game that he and Emil Jones played in the Illinois Senate. The Republicans are going to make mince-meat of this come November. They are already harping about Obama's thin resume. When you stack Obama's experience up with McCain's and then inundate voters with images of Wright damning America, who do you think is going to win?

Let's take a look at who the real phony is.

Posted by: howdy999 | March 25, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I am deeply offended at your proclaimed offense at my offensive retort to the offensive statement you made towards what you perceived to be an offensive retort to my...


Posted by: rat-the | March 25, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Hillary's Bosnia Misstatement Was Not In Prepared Remarks

3/25/2008 8:24:37 AM

The Obama campaign is falsely claiming that Hillary's Bosnia misstatement was in her prepared remarks, pointing to this webpage.

In fact, that is a transcript of her remarks as delivered. The Bosnia misstatement was not in her prepared remarks.

Posted by: alee21 | March 25, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Republicans thank the doomed candidate for reducing the stature of Barack Obama to just another politician status. McCain couldn't have done it without you.

We also must thank the freepers for getting the ball rolling on the revelation that Obama has endorsed with both money and devotion a bizarre Afro-Centric view of America and the world. Without them, Obama would still be leading in national polls.

Thank you all. Let the further unmasking of the empty suit proceed.

Posted by: edbyronadams | March 25, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Liar Liar Pants on Fire!!

It turns out that Clinton didn't "MISSPEAK"

She was READING her speech when she said:

"I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base"

Look at the speech on her website and you'll see that that LIE was in her prepared remarks!!!

How can you say you "MISSPOKE" if you are READING the lines?

If Hillary is MISS POKE, does that make Bill MR POKE?

Posted by: rust1d | March 25, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Obama's campaign is finally realizing that they will have to speak up to fight against these attacks from the Clinton's and start getting their numbers back in line, even if they are winning the delegate race at this time;

Hillary vs. Barack:
The Google Factor-

Posted by: davidmwe | March 25, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

OH LOL! You forgot to include that during their 20 some-odd "Debates", their Stance was that they pretty much agreed on Stances;

Namely that Bush is Bad, and Dick is the Devil! ;~)

What? Bushie isn't RUNNING?

Ohhhh. Daaaaarrrnnnn.

!!!!, then McCain is going to be JUST LIKE BUSH!!!! :-)

That's the Ticket! ;~)


Posted by: rat-the | March 25, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

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