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What Obama wishes he could say

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0508/10010.html What Obama wishes he could say By JOHN F. HARRIS & JIM VANDEHEI | 5/1/08 11:58 AM EST Obama and his
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2008
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      http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0508/10010.html

      What Obama wishes he could say
      By JOHN F. HARRIS & JIM VANDEHEI | 5/1/08 11:58 AM EST

      Obama and his supporters have so far refrained from
      rummaging through the Clintons' dirty laundry.

      Thrown off his game by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright
      uproar, Barack Obama’s strongest answer to Hillary
      Rodham Clinton is one he won’t give: Senator, do you
      really want to get in a contest with me over who has
      more unsavory personal associations?

      For all the coverage about the rising heat between
      Clinton and Obama, this year’s nomination race still
      is a mild affair by historical standards — restrained
      by a powerful sense on both sides that there are lots
      of things they could say but shouldn’t.

      There is one theme, however, that runs through
      not-for-attribution conversations with both sides:
      Each candidate thinks the other has unmitigated gall.

      The Clintons, to hear associates tell it, are more
      contemptuous than they ever acknowledge publicly about
      what they believe is Obama’s breathtaking arrogance —
      the way he blithely dismisses the ideological
      showdowns and policy achievements of the 1990s as “old
      politics,” the way he thinks his thin résumé leaves
      him qualified to lead the country. Lately, the
      contempt level on the Obama side toward his rivals
      likewise has been soaring.

      More precisely, things that many people around the
      candidate have always believed about the Clintons —
      about their trail of controversies, about their style
      of politics — have in recent weeks seemed much more
      relevant. That’s made the temptation to say them in a
      more public fashion more powerful.

      A couple weeks ago, we wrote a column about what
      Clinton would say if she said what she really thought.

      Fairness dictates that we take a crack at the other
      side of the question: What arguments has Obama taken
      off the table, even though he thinks they are true?

      Like the earlier column, sourcing on this one must
      stay pretty opaque. And like the earlier column, this
      one is intended as a reflection, not a validation, of
      the views expressed in a collection of
      not-for-attribution conversations with political
      associates about the behind-the-scenes thinking of the
      Obama camp.

      The one line from the what-Clinton-thinks column that
      most agitated Obama supporters was our assertion that
      Clinton, for better or worse, was a known commodity.
      Her “baggage” has already been “rummaged through.”

      To which Obama supporters say: Oh yeah?

      All manner of Clinton controversies, Obama partisans
      argue, have not been fully ventilated.

      This includes old issues, like Hillary Clinton’s legal
      career, which includes lots of cases that never got
      much public attention even during the Whitewater era.

      It also includes new ones, like recent stories raising
      questions about the web of personal and financial
      associations around Bill Clinton. Since leaving the
      presidency, he has traveled the globe to exotic places
      and with sometimes exotic characters, raising money
      for projects such as his foundation and presidential
      library and making himself a very wealthy man.

      Which gets us back to gall. In the fantasies of some
      of his high-level supporters, Obama would peel off the
      tape to say something like this:

      You want to talk hypocrisy? How about piously
      criticizing me for Jeremiah Wright when you have a
      trail of associations that includes golden oldies like
      Webb Hubbell? (‘90s flashback: He was one of Hillary
      Clinton’s legal partners and closest friends, whom she
      installed in a top Justice Department job before
      prosecutors sent him to prison.) It also includes
      modern hits like Frank Giustra. (In case you missed
      it: There was a January New York Times story, which
      did not get the attention the reporting deserved,
      highlighting how this Canadian tycoon and major Bill
      Clinton benefactor was using his ties to the
      ex-president to win business with a ruthless
      dictatorship in Khazakstan.)

      Obama has never pressed Clinton to talk about Marc
      Rich, even though the former fugitive financier who
      won a controversial pardon from Bill Clinton gave
      money to her first Senate campaign.

      He has never mentioned her brothers, even though Hugh
      and Tony Rodham once defied Bill Clinton’s own top
      foreign policy advisers by entering into a strange
      investment in hazelnuts in the former Soviet republic
      of Georgia (they later dropped the deal) and Hugh
      Rodham took large cash payments for trying to broker
      presidential pardons.

      Obama is likewise galled to be lectured by Clinton for
      not being sufficiently committed to universal health
      coverage. Why is it, his team asks, that Democrats
      have done so little to advance a long-time progressive
      goal for the past 15 years? The answer has everything
      to do with Hillary Clinton’s misjudgments when she was
      leading the reform effort in 1993 and 1994.

      Most irritating of all to Obama partisans is what they
      see as her latest pose: that she is selflessly staying
      in the race despite the long odds against her because
      of devotion to the Democratic Party and the belief
      that she is a more appealing general election
      candidate.

      It is an article of faith among most people around
      Obama that the Clintons were a disaster for the party
      throughout the 1990s. When Bill Clinton came to town
      in 1993, Democrats were a congressional majority, with
      258 seats in the House. When he left in 2001, they
      were a minority with 46 fewer seats. There were 30
      Democratic governors when he arrived, 21 10 years
      later.

      As for electability, the Obama side believes — for all
      his trouble winning lower-income whites in recent
      primaries — that it is ludicrous to believe she is the
      stronger candidate in the fall.

      A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found nearly 60
      percent of voters think Clinton is dishonest. Think
      about that: Only four in 10 voters do not think she
      lies when she needs to. A majority hold an unfavorable
      view of her.

      Will those numbers improve if she wins the nomination
      and Republicans resurrect the scandals, the Bill
      Clinton sexual affairs and her Bosnia fib with the
      same intensity they brought to the Wright uproar?
      Unthinkable.

      Now that the Democratic superdelegates are facing
      their moment of decision in this close race, you might
      think it would be time for politesse to give way to an
      unvarnished discussion about both candidates' real
      strengths and liabilities.

      The Obama side is frustrated with the news media for
      not carrying more of its argument. His operatives
      thought a Newsday story looking exhaustively at her
      legal career — including the revelation that as a
      young lawyer she attacked the credibility of a
      12-year-old rape victim — would provoke a herd of
      other coverage. It did not happen.

      If he really wanted, Obama could generate all the
      coverage he wanted about Clinton’s past by leveling
      accusations in his own words. But that is not going to
      happen.

      Politically, he correctly believes that he would be
      called out as a hypocrite if he practiced the
      conventional art of attack politics after preaching
      against it.

      And, to view his motives in the best light — a benefit
      of the doubt extended by his own team — he believes
      this campaign would also undermine his governing
      strategy if elected. He has told associates it would
      be impossible to win support for a progressive agenda
      unless he assumes the presidency as a uniting figure
      who can transcend the personality-obsessed brand of
      combat that has dominated Washington for the past
      generation.

      “I told this to my team, you know, we are starting to
      sound like the other folks, we are starting to run the
      same negative stuff,” he told a crowd in North
      Carolina this week. “It shows that none of us are
      immune from this kind of politics. But the problem is
      that it doesn’t help you.”
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