Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Surmountable Hill

Peggy Noonan with a very interesting and accurate take on the Geffen/Obama/Hillary dustup:

Mr. Geffen should be braced for a lot of bad personal box office -- negative press, searching profiles, strained relations. We're probably about to see if the Clinton Machine can flatten him. Little doubt it will try. John Dickerson wrote in Slate this week of Bill Clinton generously sharing his campaign wisdom: "Your opponent can't talk when he has your fist in his mouth." Among some Democratic political professionals this kind of talk is considered tough and knowing, as opposed to, say, startlingly belligerent and crude.

But the outcome of the Geffen-Clinton episode is worthy of watching because it is going to determine whether it is remembered as the moment in the 2008 campaign when it became clear you are allowed to criticize Hillary -- or as the moment it became clear you are not.

Howard Wolfson, Mrs. Clinton's spokesman and an emerging dark prince among political operatives -- he is, in the strange way of Washington, admired by journalists for his ability to mislead them -- quickly responded with a challenge: If Mr. Obama is a good man, he'll renounce Mr. Geffen and give back the money he contributed in his famous Hollywood fund-raiser. This was widely considered a brilliant move. Is it? Now everyone who follows politics even cursorily will have to have an opinion on whether Mr. Obama should apologize, which means they'll have to know exactly what Mr. Geffen said, which, again, boiled down, is: I've known them intimately for almost 20 years, and they're bad people and bringers of trouble. It's good for Mrs. Clinton that America is going to spend the weekend discussing this? It's good that Mr. Geffen's comments, which focused on the area on which she is most touchy and most vulnerable -- the character issue -- will be aired over and over again? Mr. Wolfson might have been better off with, "We're sorry to hear it, as Mrs. Clinton thinks the world of David."

Mrs. Clinton has never gone after a fellow Democrat quite the way she's going after Mr. Obama, and it's an indication of how threatened she is not only by his candidacy but, one suspects, his freshness. He makes her look like yesterday. He makes her look like the old slash-and-burn. I doubted he could do her serious damage. Now I wonder.


A Surmountable Hill

February 24, 2007; Page P16

Republicans and conservatives have been trying to sink Mrs. Clinton for years, but she keeps bob-bob-bobbing along. "Oh those Clinton haters, what's wrong with them?"

Only a Democrat could hurt her, and a Democrat just did. Hollywood titan David Geffen, who now supports Barack Obama, this week famously retagged the Clintons as an Ivy League Bonnie and Clyde. Bill is "reckless," Hillary relentless -- "God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary?" In an interview that seemed like an audience, with the New York Times's Maureen Dowd, Mr. Geffen said, "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling." In this he was, knowingly or unknowingly, echoing Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator, who said in 1996 of the then-president, "Clinton's an unusually good liar. Unusually good. Do you realize that?" Mr. Kerrey suffered for the remark and was shunned within his party for a while, but didn't retract.

In her column Ms. Dowd labeled the campaign operation "Hillary Inc." but Mr. Geffen got closer to the heart of it: It is the Clinton "machine" and it "is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective."

He's probably about to find out how true that is.


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