David Geffen’s reported remarks that NY Sen. Hillary Clinton was “incredibly polarizing,” calling her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “a reckless guy,” and speaking of both Bill and Hillary, “Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling,” were obviously unexpected by the Clinton campaign and deeply resented by the candidate.
The campaign’s public reaction seemed disproportionate and out of control, as shown by campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson’s retort that
“Our expectation was that Sen. Obama, who was running a campaign premised on changing our politics, who has decried the politics of slash and burn, would denounce the comments, say that these comments don’t represent his thinking or his campaign. We were, frankly, surprised that he didn’t do that. It makes you wonder whether or not he agrees with them. It’s a little ironic that the candidate on one day would say, ‘I want to change America. I want to change politics. I want to lift us up. I want to stop the politics of slash and burn,’ while at the same time his leading supporter in California is attacking [President Clinton] and Sen. Clinton in very personal terms.”
The reference to Barack Obama comes because Geffen recently held a fundraiser for the Illinois senator and Clinton rival. But in normal-people-land, it would seem curious to lash out at a third party, Obama, for insults Geffen directed squarely at oneself and one’s spouse.
Geffen is not a surrogate for Obama; he just raised some money for him. It’s evidently frustrating for Sen. Clinton to have lost the support of such an influential donor, but her mouthpiece Wolfson would have it that Obama is now responsible for every utterance out of Geffen’s mouth.
Imagine how that would work if that were true. Obama would give Geffen a list of things not to say. Or maybe Geffen would call Obama’s campaign before speaking with a reporter, so he wouldn’t make a mistake. Yeah, right. David Geffen is nobody’s sock-puppet.
I suspect that of all the things Geffen said, the most offensive to Hillary Clinton was the word “they.” Meaning Hillary and Bill. When you’ve got one of the Democratic party’s biggest supporters pointing out the problems “they” bring to the campaign, Hillary becomes unstuck. She’s known to have a thunderous temper; and I’m sure it was her anger that launched Howard Wolfson on his fool’s errands in the media yesterday.
Bill Clinton is a “now you see him, now you don’t” presence in Hillary’s campaign. When she needs him, magically he appears. But then she snaps her fingers and he’s gone, along with his name. The banner across the top of her campaign website reads “Hillary for President,” and the links all refer to someone only named Hillary: “Join Team Hillary,” and “Hillary on Iran,” and
In her first HillCast, a regular series of web broadcasts, Hillary talks about the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act, her new plan to stop the president’s escalation and to start redeploying troops out of Iraq.
“Clinton” is in the URL and in the legally required notice, “Paid for by the Hillary Clinton for President Committee.” If you can make it out, you can see Bill Clinton’s scribbly signature on the home page, affixed to a fundraising appeal. When the campaign needs cash, “now you see him.” But when the candidate is trying to establish her bonafides on the issues, “now you don’t.”
And yet. Hillary Clinton is campaigning against Obama as a more experienced candidate, even though she has been elected official no longer than he has, because she’s counting her eight years in the White House as First Lady as a relevant credential. Who was she living with during those eight years? Someone who is actually much admired these days by certain kinds of Democrats who wonder what happened to a party that seems to have been taken over by strangely irreconcilable “netroots.” But obviously someone Hillary thinks has a lot of unwelcome baggage.
Strange that the most successful Democratic politician since the 1940s is such a pariah, and even stranger that he’s a pariah now, nearly a decade after Monica Lewinsky and the other scandals have faded into confused memory. You have to wonder. If Hillary Clinton built her campaign on themes taken from Bill’s 1992 and 1996 wins, wouldn’t that have some potential appeal? We do have dynasties in American politics, and for the most part, they are reassuring to voters. We wouldn’t have Teddy without Jack. We wouldn’t have W without his daddy. We wouldn’t be bothering with Hillary — an uninspiring leader, a boring speaker and a too-cautious policymaker — if it weren’t for Bill. Bill, older and wiser, might be the perfect candidate for 2008 if the Constitution didn’t bar him from running. Geffen’s remarks would have bounced right off him.
It is a family dynamic, not a political one, that’s being played out here. There’s a lot of rage just below the surface, rage that has been controlled, tranquilized, compartmentalized and banished–mostly. But we caught a glimpse of it today.
*UPDATE: Arianna Huffington made some of these same points in an earlier post that I didn’t see til later. My excuse is I had about a 20 hour day yesterday that began early in Boston and ended late in SoCal.