Nobody was ever going to out-mediocre them again

Today’s history lesson: Back home in Arkansas after Georgetown University, Oxford, and Yale Law School, William Jefferson Clinton ran for governor in 1978, and won. He had previously run–in his twenties–for the U.S. House of Representatives and lost, then for state Attorney General and won. In 1979, he became the youngest governor in the U.S.

National attention; widespread political awe, admiration and envy; a seemingly limitless upward trajectory for a ‘boy governor’ and Southern political rock star who seemed to marry the best, or anyway most electable, elements of good ol’ boy (including the treatment of Arkansas women) and elite education. Then Clinton ran for reelection two years later–and lost, in a stunning upset and reversal, to Republican Frank White in deep-blue Arkansas.

Frank D. White

Frank D. White

So much for ‘electable’.

Quite the setback for someone who had run for every conceivable office from his time as a student.

As one might expect, soul-searching ensued. During this period, reportedly both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton opposed the death penalty. Bill Clinton had after a fashion opposed the Vietnam War.

So what did the highly educated and fairly well-traveled Bill Clinton conclude? 1) He was simply too good for the populace. As with Mark Twain’s Hank the Boss in Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the populace was not up to his level. And 2) he was never going to make that mistake again. In diluted parallel to the infamous determination made by George Wallace, Clinton resolved that nobody was ever going to out-mediocre him again.

My own take is that Bill and Hillary Clintons’ joint career has been shaped by and has fulfilled that determination ever since. They do not go out ahead of fellow pols on issues of peace and justice. They back-pedaled the early opposition to the death penalty, with its proven racial disparities, so despicably that Bill Clinton flew home to Arkansas during the 1992 campaign to be present personally for the execution of a learning-disabled African-American man. Bill Clinton has been called every name in the book, but if you really want to get his goat, try calling him a leftist. For decades, both Clintons have persistently courted the favor and money of big donors, choosing Wall Street and management over working families and labor. They viewed every rising Democratic politician who appealed to the working class as a threat. They undermined any  succeeding state Attorney General who moved in favor of employee rights or the working poor. They did little to nothing, putting it nicely, for women in Arkansas; not in law enforcement, not in academia, not in journalism. (Female wealthy family members do not count as exceptions.) Like some pale-blue and GOP pols in other border or near-border states, they dismantled the populist legislation of the early twentieth century.

And they left the Democratic Party in Arkansas a shambles.

The irony is that there was a grain of truth in Bill Clinton’s perception of his problem. Yes, on one hand the idea that somebody like Clinton was ‘too good’ is ludicrous. Yes, on the other hand the illusion that I’m just too good is one that anyone could succumb to temporarily.

But there were in fact individuals who resented Clinton’s early success. I can remember private conversations about the reaction. Educated people went to the polls with the attitude, ‘I’ll show him [he’s not so great].’ And they voted accordingly. And everyone waked up the next day to find that Arkansas had elected a Republican governor for [only the second time]* since Reconstruction. (In the next election, they reversed and put Clinton back into the governor’s office, where he stayed until the run against George H. W. Bush in 1992.)

Too bad Clinton didn’t take out his umbrage on his fellow cheesy white-collarites, who played a large part in voting him out, instead of on working people.

But instead the Clintons adopted the education-lite platform. If you replace crummy white bread with (fairly) good white wine, that’s progressive. No need to support the right to collective bargaining or to cap interest rates on loans.

There is a short moral in this story for 2016: Do not jump to the conclusion that you are too good. This moral is especially pointed not only for Secretary Clinton–who is assiduously courting elite GOP pols as I write this–but also for major media outlets. As I write, a dangerous narrative is shaping up, pushed from more than one direction, opposing the ‘elite media’ on one side to the crowd or ‘the mob’ on the other. The narrative is being pushed by Trump rallies on one side. But it’s being pushed by self-serving media representations on the other. Some take the form of less-than-clinical analysis of the many-headed. Generally the authors are not analysts.

My own perception of 2016 is shaped by my perception of earlier and ongoing issues.

The invasion of Iraq was a betrayal, and the media voices now raised in opposition to Donald Trump were not heard, for the most part, when George W. Bush was pushing the invasion of Iraq. The subprime-mortgage debacle was a betrayal, and the silk-stocking financial press was MIA. The selection of Secretary Clinton as Democratic nominee before a vote was ever cast was a betrayal, and the national political press did nothing to clarify what was happening.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave hope to millions of people. But Clinton allies behind the scenes took little account of that hope, as their emails amply make clear. Nothing transformative. Nothing inspiring. No passion for the public. At best, an endless obsession with the minutiae of self-advancement and appearances, greed and politicking.

And this attitude is shared to a disheartening degree by their allies in the media.

So, the inevitable response now becoming more and more explicit in 2016: You didn’t listen to us. So why should we listen to you?

*Correction. Winthrop Rockefeller was the first Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction.

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Secretary Clinton all smiles at newest Trump tape; will media mention Juanita Broaddrick?

For that matter, will they mention the invasion of Iraq?

The 2016 primary elections in Maryland, by the time we actually got sort of a chance to vote, were a mixed bag. Full disclosure–I myself voted (early voting) for Bernie Sanders and Sanders delegates, a Democratic senate candidate who won, a House candidate who didn’t, and some local judgeship challengers as well as incumbents. Not everybody made it. We had an overflow of good candidates in Maryland’s 4th district. Maryland’s 8th had a similar problem.

We did not have an overflow of good candidates in the presidential race. I supported Sanders heartily, but the fact remains that the Clinton team worked for years behind the scenes to shut out better candidates including Vice President Joseph Biden. Indications are that Clintonistas have spent more time playing keep-away, over almost eight years, than on producing public benefit. Thus the Clinton gravy train continues, and its big-money appeal looks to be the Clintons’ pattern of shafting labor. Note the boost for “open trade and open borders” in Secretary Clinton’s Wall Street-friendly and Wall Street-compensated speeches, as in recently hacked emails. Cheap labor is the Clinton track record.

Will they mention U.S. labor?

The behind-the-scenes domination and the lack of open participation were not small-d democratic. I was and am disappointed in Clinton ‘super-delegates’, who stacked the deck before a single vote was cast. Ditto media commentators who often referred to Clinton’s ‘delegate total’ without clarifying that it was padded by super-delegates. Predictably, an undemocratic process produced an undemocratic candidate. But given the stakes, it is frightening that a bunch of Democratic insiders, dominated by mega-donors, joined beforehand to boost any one candidate. Going forward, we need to make the nominating process more democratic. It would help if we had more clarity about what happened in the run-up to this ‘election’–but we don’t seem to have many news reporters available, to tell the public about it. (What is the good of all that access to individuals of prominence, if you burn the access any time you actually report something?) I am still curious to know whether the Clinton inner circle green-lighted Mitch McConnell’s opposition to President Obama from day one.

Senator McConnell

Senator McConnell

Envy and jealousy do a lot of harm when people are willing to act on them, especially insiders. I still think that President Obama has not gotten enough credit. I wish Mrs. Clinton had strongly supported and defended him, wish she were the Sanders or the Elizabeth Warren she sometimes channeled in the campaign, wish she would actually ‘fight for us’, wish she were solid on economic justice. But that’s not who she is. One of the recent Clinton flaps is Bill Clinton’s trashing Obamacare. We can only hope it’s not a glimpse of the future, under another President Clinton–a Wall Street agenda come to life–of undoing everything the Obama White House has accomplished.

It may be noted that the Democratic Party ‘nominated’ someone who openly speculated about assassination, when Barack Obama was her opponent in 2008. She does not handle being behind in a campaign well. She does not handle being ahead well, either. Right now, Clinton is openly jubilant about Trump’s difficulties with GOP biggies following the leak of his repugnant tape-recorded remarks. But then, Clinton’s most consistent appeal is to big-time Republicans, whom she has been working hard to attract.

Neither major party has given us much good regarding the major crime of sexual assault. The GOP does not seem to have much problem with the might-makes-right outlook. The Democratic Party should be better, and often is, but anyone focused on Election Day 2016 is not going to bring  up rape–given Hillary Clinton’s decades-long joint public career with her husband.

For the record: I listened very carefully to Juanita Broaddrick on national television in 1999, and I believe her. It would be wrong not to say so. Sexual assault is the least reported, the least prosecuted, and the least convicted of all the major crimes. (The Obama administration has begun moving on the issue of sexual assault, including Vice President Biden’s public statements; the Clintons do not mention it.) But when I raised questions on social media, immediate responses from Clinton supporters were the usual troll litany–calling me “bitch” (naturally), “scumbag,” and “psychotic”–none of which I am–ridicule, shaming over my alleged lowly status or lack thereof’, advice to quit, counterfactual claims about Bill Clinton, and dismissing the issue because ‘he was not convicted’.

Not that I am crushed. Unlike the Bush family, I actually am from Texas, and doing that stuff to me is like the old joke about Have you got the wrong vampire. For what it’s worth, I also have a doctorate in Renaissance literature, and in an invective contest, I wouldn’t necessarily lose. But I prefer that we educate the public better about sexual assault. These bullies, after all, may be summoned for jury duty some day.

Back to the present

We can probably look forward to a new release of some sort, weekly, about both Trump and Clinton, over the next few weeks.

In the most recent release about Trump, some vulgar language came out on tape–rather than behind closed doors or on the Internet, where it usually appears. If you listen to the tape recording, you will also hear the jollification supported by Billy Bush, cousin to our 43rd president, nephew to our 41st president, successful entertainment host on NBC, which for years was in the tank for the Bushes. (Lauren Bush has recently appeared evidently supporting Hillary Clinton.) No question, Trump’s language was garishly offensive. (No wonder Hillary Clinton is all smiles nowadays. It is rare for the Clintons to have even the faintest,most tenuous claim to the moral high ground on any topic, let alone that of sexualized grossness.) Billy Bush sounds pretty appreciative on the tape.

Trump’s language was rich-guy locker-room talk. It was crude machismo, partly boastful and partly not. It may even have been Clintonesque. But I am not going to pretend that I was shocked by it. I wish I were. In any case, Joe Biden is wrong to call it “sexual assault.” There are some words that should not be used as metaphors–rape or sexual assault, lynching, mob, riot. They should characterize only the deeds themselves, not be trivialized to characterize discourse, however offensive.

If commentators and candidates now shocked, shocked about Trump feel resistant to my statement, then I invite them to try a single test. Here it is:

When was the last time you, major candidates or media commentators, et al., figuratively called someone a ‘child molester’? How about you, ladies of the WaPo? When was the last time you called someone a ‘child molester’ metaphorically?

No? So that means you know that there are some terms that should not be used metaphorically.

Makes me wonder why you don’t know that about rape. Has sexual assault been trivialized so successfully that it now ranks as mere scurrility?




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Toxic atmosphere 2016

Re the 2016 presidential election

My immediate political concern is the current atmosphere. Poisonous rhetoric swirls around both major-party candidates like a toxic dust cloud. It comes from both of them and goes at both of them. It comes from their allies and supporters, both sides, and is directed against their allies and supporters, both sides.

My concern is that there is a particular danger this year. If the two major-party nominees are a ‘charisma’ candidate (Donald Trump) and a ‘bureaucratic’ candidate (Hillary Clinton), as the terms are used in political science, then–not to be morbid–the lethal danger is to the charisma candidate.

Defining terms here: calling a nominee the charisma candidate is not the same as calling a private person charismatic. The charismatic, the bureaucratic, and the feudal/traditional were Max Weber’s classification of modes of authority. This tripartite classification was drawn upon in 1969 by Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson and Bruce Page, in the best book on U.S. politics that I have read–American Melodrama, about the 1968 election.

An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968

An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968

Of course, the poison is also aimed at and swirls around the major ‘third-party’ candidates–Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. At a time when death threats are an Internet commonplace in conversation threads, it would be almost odd and distinctive if a third-party candidate were not perceived as a threat and treated as such–i.e. with threats–in the dynamic that psychologists call projection.

I have seen and heard the trend on a macro level–national politics, national television, large daily newspapers–and at a micro level–un-neighborly spats and back-biting, sometimes motivated by envy, generally not checked by self-awareness, never from individuals one would characterize as brilliant.

From whatever combination of historical causes, there is a really lethal poison cocktail being passed around this year. (The historical causes will be a later topic.) Any time a sizable group of individuals feels that it has both a) the moral high ground and b) the upper hand, things are destined to get bad. And by ‘bad’, I mean fascistic. This one is hard to guard against, too: after all, most of us would prefer to have the moral high ground. And most people must have moments at least when they would like to have the upper hand, although that one might be harder to confess.

The cocktail of high ground and upper hand gets deadlier when distilled in our concentrated-in-a-few-hands news media.

It doesn’t sit well with me that raving about Trump as a ‘Nazi’ or a ‘fascist’ often comes from the very same people who helped get George W. Bush into the White House. They went along with the invasion of Iraq. They contributed to changing the Republican Party from anti-slavery in the 19th century to pro-segregation, pro-racial-disparities death penalty, pro-redlining, pro-economic inequality, etc., etc., in the 20th century.

Amnesia, much?

Not that I’m not used to media hysteria. It happens every time a presidential candidate comes along who is not controlled by the insider-media types. Secretary Clinton is eminently controllable. Thus she has a lock on The Boys on the Bus, including female boys on the bus. The reverse has been true of Mr. Trump.

Thus any fair criticisms of Trump’s candidacy end up part of an amalgam of hysteria that we have seen before–about candidates not remotely like Trump. The common denominator is that any time a candidate comes along who is not controlled by a few major media outlets, he/she is hysterically represented as a threat. Does anyone remember what the insider media said about Jesse Jackson, even while he was the candidate who received by far the most death threats?* Remember how they treated Ross Perot with blatant cross-cultural stereotyping? If your hatred of either Jackson or Perot is still so engrained that you can stomach any conjecture against them, however false, what is your excuse about Howard Dean?

Remember what the insider media did to Howard Dean, who was showing strong potential to take on the incumbent President George W. Bush? They represented him falsely as having an affair with a female staffer, for one thing. One of the most talented, capable, professional political candidates to come along in years–a successful physician and a candidate who had been elected repeatedly to office in Vermont–and CNN among other outlets ran a continuous loop of Dean supposedly screaming at a rally, with the crowd noise suppressed in the video so that he seemed to be making noise all by himself. Ridicule rampant. Stupidity, envy, and gratuitous ill-will ditto. To make matters worse, most of the media personalities who pulled no punches ridiculing a candidate with character and intellect pulled all their punches when it came to evaluating Dubya. If they’re getting anything right about Trump now, it’s too bad they cried wolf so often.

Some of them probably still tell Jimmy Carter jokes. Oh, yes–a reminder, in case you didn’t know. Some old-fashioned bigot ‘jokes’ previously aimed at African-Americans were converted, in the Carter years, into anti-Carter jokes. I decline to provide an example.

In the immediate future, there is not only an election at hand. Before that, and after, there is also a crucial need to rein in the blood lust. All hands. The Clintonistas may represent all the negative rhetoric as coming from one direction. Some Clinton supporters may honestly believe that it is. If so, they are mistaken.

A word to the wise is sufficient.


*It was Dan Rather, then on CBS News, who reported that Jackson received more death threats than the other candidates combined. Probably one more reason the suits couldn’t wait to fire him. Another badge of courage for Rather, in my opinion.

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WaPo report: razor-thin Clinton “edge” even in 50-state hand-picked poll

WaPo headline reverses the story

My morning paper on September 7 had an unusual feature. The 9-16ths-inch headline on The Washington Post’s front page trumpeted, “Clinton has edge in 50-state poll.” Inside, a special pull-out section on “CAMPAIGN 2016” seemed to expand the story.

Actually, it contradicted the headline.

Let’s start with the easy part–pictures.

WaPo front page September 7, 2016

WaPo front page September 7, 2016

This parti-colored map ran above the fold, spanning eight inches. Take a look at the colors. As shown, the paper designated ten states as “tossups,” purple on the map–Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin. —Georgia? Mississippi? Texas? “Tossups”?

WaPo also designated Alaska and South Carolina reddishly as “Leans GOP.”

The special pull-out had another graphic divided by colors–blue and blueish, red and reddish, purple–with poll numbers. (Page 21) Blue/-ish states totaled 244 electoral votes, red/-ish states totaled 126 electoral votes, of 270 needed to win.

Setting blue and red aside for the moment, that leaves 168 electoral votes in the purple ‘tossup’ column. Here’s where arithmetic, a closer look, and some effort at exactitude might come in handy.

Accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy

According to the Post’s own poll, among the ‘tossup’ states, Trump led in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Ohio–a total 55 electoral votes. Clinton led in the other six. (Those perennial tossups Arizona and Texas add up to another 49 electoral votes, yielding a total 230 for Trump without going into battleground states, but let’s not get ahead of the story.)

If something about this seems off-kilter, turn to page 24. That’s where readers finally get the breakdown on WaPo’s Survey Monkey numbers. (Yes, they used Survey Monkey–polling only people they had selected. See page 22.)

These were the stats for (selected) “four-way races,” i.e. twelve states with Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein included in the poll. In Ohio, rated a ‘tossup’ on WaPo’s front page, Clinton polled at 37 percent to Trump’s 40 percent. In North Carolina, also rated ‘tossup’ as mentioned, Clinton polled 40 percent to Trump’s 41 percent. In Texas, both candidates polled at 40 percent; in Colorado, both candidates polled at 37 percent (unlike Clinton’s ‘narrow leads’ viz the front pager). In tossup Arizona, Clinton polled at 37 percent, Trump at 39 percent. In Georgia, Clinton 39 percent, Trump 40 percent.

These numbers did not appear on the front page of the paper or the front page of the Campaign 2016 pull-out.

Further, Secretary Clinton polled at 40 percent or less not only in states where that might be expected–Texas, Georgia–but in states touted as winnable for her–Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin. She ran barely better than 40 percent in Florida and Pennsylvania. She polled barely at 50 percent, if that, in Rhode Island. She polled at under 50 percent in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Maine. In fact, about the only place in the union seemingly favorable for Clinton, outside of bedrock-blue states like Hawaii and Maryland, is Virginia.

This falls short of an Electoral College landslide. It must have been a crushing disappointment to the WaPo personnel who created that hand-picked sample. The entire thrust of the story is how narrow a needle Mr. Trump has to thread, to get to 270. But by the same token–i.e. WaPo numbers–Clinton’s reported “edge” teeters on the brink–a loss of two or three states.

There are other problems with this kind of reporting. Under the sub-heading “Utah is most uncertain state,” the reader finds–that Utah is still solidly GOP, even with a locally popular Libertarian on the ballot siphoning away red votes. Maybe the problem is with the headings.

But the bigger problem is with the nominee. The short story is that Democratic Party insiders and their GOP/Wall Street/insider-media allies selected the worst possible candidate for Democrats, in an anti-democratic process that was worse yet. She’s not a nominee in the sense of having been elected as such by voters. She is a pre-selected candidate who succeeded in being designated as official nominee.

The whole thing was a betrayal. In Barack Obama, the Democrats selected a president who was elected by both the popular and the electoral vote, in the most genuine election in years, probably the first relatively open election since Jimmy Carter won in 1976. Eight years later, the party and the nation should be moving forward, to build on the foundation created by President Obama. Instead, it took a giant slide backward–about 90 percent from jealous/envious passive-aggressive inertia, so far as I can tell.

In a bleak prospect, Clinton might be elected to the White House, with a GOP Congress elected to rein her in–thus giving us a lousy president and a lousy congress. If past patterns hold, that would pave the way for Clinton to make deals–benefiting the GOP, undercutting Dems and the public, with a big cut off the top for herself. And that in turn would set up a worse, and winning, GOP nominee next time.

By the way, remember Senator Mitch McConnell’s open vow, at the beginning of the Obama administration, to oppose President Obama at every opportunity? It will be interesting to find out whether the Clinton team green-lighted McConnell, and who else did.

Update 9/29/16

As of today, Real Clear Politics has Trump up nationally by 4 points in one poll, Clinton up by 1 point in another. A miserable showing for Democrats.

*Full disclosure–as Maryland public records would show, I am a registered Democrat.


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Double threat tonight: The presidential debate, and the media coverage afterward

Live-blogging the September 26 presidential debate

Warm-up thoughts, jotted down to start with

–Resisted temptation to use quotation marks around debate and coverage, in title above

–Bruising still not healed from media handling of that first Democratic primary debate on September 13, 2015. Lemmingword of the day: “commanding.”

–Guess we all got our marching orders. Anyone who wanted to curry favor have credibility with DC insiders (Chris Matthews’ term, not mine; again stoutly resisting temptation to use quotation marks) had to kiss the collective ink-stained ring and claim that Secretary Clinton won. And more; that she was commanding.

–Watching the debate in the privacy of home, I thought that Bernie Sanders won the discussion. Clinton and O’Malley seemed to be locked in a tight head-to-head race for the bottom, unless super-saturated self-promotion is your cup of tea. Sanders, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb all turned in stronger performances. Perhaps most media personnel do not have the luxury of private reflection. (Analogous to fundamental protection for election integrity: vote in private, count in public.) (Not the other way around.)

–For the record, I wrote about Mr. Trump back in August 2015. Compared him metaphorically to the breaker ball, in 8-ball (playing pool). (Television commentators using same line of thought called him a wrecking ball.) Then wrote about him further; also back in 2012 when he was pushing the birther line.

–Also for the record, I don’t actually think that all commentators dominating U.S. political press coverage are stupid. It’s just that their discourse is consistently hard to differentiate from stupidity. (That’s what hysteria will do for you. More on which later.) In the interest of full disclosure–my own big mistake was to prognosticate, in February, that the GOP candidate with the best chance to win was Jeb Bush. Shortly afterward, he dropped out. Rightly so: he had spent all his money.

–On that. Not to sound stubborn, but how dumb do you have to be, to spend $100M+ UP FRONT, in a campaign where your only hope of winning is by attrition? What delirium told Bush that his best shot was to try to dominate early, in a primary where all the attention was going to Donald Trump, exc when Ted Cruz or some other GOPer said something morally repugnant enough to attract media attention? (Thought for the day: Ted Cruz is the new Strom Thurmond.) Many, many political headlines gave Jeb Bush full credit for raising $110 million before the campaign ever started, amplifying the threat to the max. What possessed him not to save that formidable trove for later, after most other candidates had dropped out, when it might have enabled him to harvest the other candidates’ supporters and donors? For all the attention the money got him in the early months, he could have gone with social media blurbed by a couple of relatives.

Senator Cruz

Senator Cruz

–As the historical reference to Thurmond might suggest, it’s too bad a sense of shame, or conscience, didn’t curb the appetite for fatuous predictions. Media-insider amnesia has now become epidemic. Do any of the more self-satisfied types even remember that the co-founders of the Project for the New American Century were Dick Cheney and Jeb Bush? That the Vulcans in the GWBush administration were self-evidently determined from the beginning to invade Iraq? That they steered the U.S.A. into invading another country, on bogus claims of WMDs, costing blood and treasure? And that they did so with the aid of media inattention and sometimes media collusion? (Anyone remember Judith Miller, formerly of the NYTimes?)

More later. Probably tonight. Sad to say.

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Pneumonia and Dishonesty

As has now been disclosed, Secretary Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, September 9, according to the statement by her physician, Dr. Lisa Bardack. Her campaign revealed the diagnosis on Sunday, September 11–five hours after a videotape aired her condition.

Clinton is helped into van

Setting aside duplicity, spin and careerism, from the perspective of the body politic there are several genuine concerns.

First, for the record–I am still a human being with a heart, and I wish her a speedy and full recovery, as I would anyone. Notwithstanding the poisonous rhetoric around both Clinton and Trump, I wish them good health. To do otherwise would be fascistic.

Also for the record, ‘anyone’ includes prison inmates. Do you wonder how the for-profit private prisons now infesting the United States are treating their prisoners who come down with pneumonia? Linked here is one answer. Here is another.

1. One central concern is Clinton’s untruthfulness. The health of a U.S. chief executive is a legitimate topic for public discourse. Clinton had a coughing fit on camera on September 5 (Labor Day), and made a junior-high joke about being allergic to Trump. According to her physician’s statement, she had a “follow up evaluation of her prolonged cough” on September 9 and was then diagnosed with pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious illness (see below), regrettably too common in the U.S.
Following the coughing spell in Cleveland, Ohio, Clinton dismissed health questions as “conspiracy theories.” Coincidentally, the trip to Cleveland was the first aboard her new campaign plane, on which–as numerous news outlets have reported–Clinton has also recently begun having in-flight conversations with reporters. During the chats, she made light of her cough, attributing it to “seasonal allergies” and telling reporters that she was taking antihistamines.
Following the September 9 diagnosis, instead of just disclosing through staff that she had pneumonia and would be scaling back campaign activities ‘for a few days’, or some such statement, Clinton appeared in several public events without mentioning the diagnosis. She left the September 11 memorial so abruptly that the press was not aware of her departure. The campaign kept the development from the press for some ninety minutes. Her spokesman then exaggerated the time she had spent at the ceremony. The campaign attributed her leaving early to her being “overheated” as well as “dehydrated,” while temperatures in New York City on that partly cloudy morning hovered in the 80s. Only after the video surfaced did the Clinton campaign disclose the September 9 diagnosis, without specifics as to whether she had had a chest X-ray or how long she had had the pneumonia. Only after the disclosure of the diagnosis have further reports surfaced that several people in Clinton’s New York office had pneumonia last month, some of whom ended up in the emergency room.
Last night (9/12), CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Secretary Clinton, who phoned in. To polite but probing questions as to why she continued campaigning with pneumonia, Clinton answered that she was determined to be at the 9-11 ceremony. She said again how hot and “muggy” it was in New York. She also said, twice, that her publicly released medical records are equivalent to those released by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Asked why she didn’t just reveal the pneumonia, she said with a warm chuckle that “I just didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal.” This cringe-worthy claim is already much quoted–and is typical of the way Clinton herself keeps giving rise to speculations of must-be-the-blood-thinner. Not only did cable commentators dismiss the assertion (immediately), it is contradicted by reports that Clinton hid the pneumonia from most of her own team.
Following the news uproar, both Clinton and Trump have said that they will release fuller medical records. When Cooper asked Clinton last night whether “details about your medical history” would be released, however, Clinton did not answer the question directly. She also ducked mention of her health problems in 2012. Adding to the other irritants, Clinton brought up her 2012 health problems in responding to FBI inquiries, to explain some lack of recollection and her use of the private email server while she was working from home.
Side note: the best article on Secretary Clinton’s health problems that I have seen so far is this by Todd Frankel.

Condensing three further items, saving two more

–Looking at the length of concern #1, above, I’m realizing that other concerns have to be edited for length. So, shortening the following–

2. That Clinton has media figures openly shilling for her is an ongoing concern. When a legitimate issue flares up on the campaign trail, it gets worse. This item is painful, and I’m going to keep it short. Google “Clinton” “health” “conspiracy,” and millions of results include articles that–at best–dismiss any mention of Secretary Clinton’s health as ‘conspiracy theory’. NBC and MSNBC in particular are ludicrous. NBC has tried gamely to smooth things over for Clinton. Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews have ‘conspiracy theory’ on the brain. Maddow has not hesitated to ‘debunk’ every mention of Clinton’s health as a tinfoil-hat production.
Some of the spin continues even now that the pneumonia has been disclosed. The newest line is that pneumonia is ‘not serious’. I myself am startled by that one (see #4, below). Naturally, Clinton surrogates would try this one, but it is also being pushed by some commentators and a few reporters.
Another line is that Clinton has “walking pneumonia”–which is not actually pneumonia, nor is it a medical diagnosis or a medical term. No, she doesn’t. She has real pneumonia.
Then there’s the Clinton “stumble.” The video clip shows Secretary Clinton unable to stand or walk on her own. She leans on a post and on the arm of an aide. Then she is lifted into the van as she sinks, her feet dragging. This is not a “stumble.”
“Penchant for privacy”? More accurately, Secretary Clinton seems to feel that she must always have things other people never have. The president of the United States gave up his Blackberry. But Secretary Clinton had her own private communications technology installed in-home. (I do not recall whether State was billed for it, or if so, how much.) Other candidates have taken time off during campaigns, for health reasons, and have said so openly. But she seems to feel uniquely entitled to keep her health issues off the grid, even if it means dissembling. This is not a “penchant for privacy.” It is a penchant for tasteless entitlement. (Sorry, but no, I don’t understand it. Neither does anyone else who grew up on Jane Eyre and Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain, Shakespeare and Dickens.)

3. Her aides, or her team, do not serve her to handle issues appropriately. Yes, I know; it is unlikely that she allows them to speak frankly. But it is still a concern that Clinton aides won’t, or can’t, tell her the right thing to do. They wouldn’t, or couldn’t, persuade her that openness about the pneumonia diagnosis would be best. Maybe they didn’t realize it themselves; maybe they knew better but couldn’t speak; either way, they are presumably her own personnel choices. This concern is not just a matter of campaign gamesmanship (although if you compare Clinton’s campaign to Barack Obama’s in either 2008 or 2012, you have to cringe a little). The graver issue is that if she has an entourage of this sort when she’s just a candidate, if her people are this way when she is a mere candidate, what chance is there that as president she would appoint people who would counsel her or guide her adequately?

4. Health is a genuine concern. Regardless of political attacks and political defenses, the real concern is the candidate’s actual health. Setting aside the pneumonia for the moment, Secretary Clinton has had a serious concussion that by her own admission gave her double vision and (talking to the FBI) caused some loss of memory. According to her husband in the past couple of days, she has a history of dizzy spells and dehydration. Then there is the blood thinner–a drastically strong medication, and I have seen its effects on people near me.
This is not to imply that everyone on blood thinners is mentally impaired. An old friend of mine takes a blood thinner, with no loss of mental acuity whatever. But then she works out strenuously with a trainer; she watches her food intake–not ‘dieting’, but sidestepping alcohol and sweets in favor of vegetables and proteins; and she paces herself at work, in a high-powered and cerebral job with much responsibility. Does any of this sound like Secretary Clinton? Clinton’s campaign lifestyle is like a World War II-era pamphlet on what not to do–fast pace, grueling schedule, too little exercise and too much food, and rich on-the-road food at that. Anyone who has to travel a lot, or anyone who has to take several trips back-to-back, knows the pull of out-of-town food and scheduling.
Without saying that Secretary Clinton’s ill health is dire, pneumonia is still ill health. Arguing otherwise is ludicrous, and a disservice to the public. I had pneumonia myself, last winter, combined with bronchitis, as I have written elsewhere. I knew about the bronchitis (four severe bouts), did not know about the pneumonia, finally got a chest X-ray on the fourth trip to the clinic–got the diagnosis of “lung infection”–and landed in the hospital. Meanwhile, of course, I had been going to work. Full recovery took me a few months.
So far as I know, I did not infect anyone. However, I caught my bronchitis and pneumonia from a nice guy I ride a shuttle bus with–finding this out when he casually mentioned that he had come down with both, too, a few weeks before I did.
Apparently other people are as unacquainted with pneumonia as I was. A UK periodical just ran a piece posing the questions ‘What is pneumonia?’ and ‘What are the symptoms?’ Answer: pneumonia is a lung infection. Symptoms include coughing, physical weakness, tiredness, and death (as one of my doctors pointed out). The risk of pneumonia is one reason why elderly patients are in danger if they stay in the hospital too long. (In medical argot, these are “Complications after surgery” — cf. “contractions in childbirth,” or don’t-get-me-started.)

A few commentators have already proposed that presidential candidates should be compelled by rule to disclose their medical records. I concur. And the rule should be that declared candidates have to provide their medical records before nomination.

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What are “pay to play letters”? –

Those Democratic National Committee emails —

Other DNC emails released by Wikileaks in Friday’s first batch contain splashier exchanges of personalities and worse, including the plot to paint Bernie Sanders as an atheist.

But the email thread I want to know more about is the one about “pay to play letters.” Here is the full text of the first email in the exchange, sent May 18, 2016:

From: Lopez, Jacquelyn K. (Perkins Coie) [] Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 3:35 PM To: Alan Reed; Comer, Scott; Brad Marshall Subject: SEC letters and donations Hi all, Can we set up a time for a very brief call to go over our process for handling donations from donors who have given us pay to play letters? Want to make sure we have a robust process in place to make sure that donations that come in from those donors, in any form, get put into the operating account. Let me know when would be a good time for you all. Thanks, Jackie Jacquelyn Lopez | Perkins Coie LLP ASSOCIATE* 700 Thirteenth Street, N.W. Suite 600 Washington, DC 20005-3960 D. +1.202.654.6371 F. +1.202.654.9949 E. *Admitted in State of Florida; Admission to DC Bar pending.

First question: what are “pay to play letters”?

Questions about this phrase sent to Perkins Coie, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Lopez, and another attorney at Perkins Coie who also worked for the DNC as referenced in the emails, have not been answered.

[UPDATE 7/26/2016:]
Some SEC answers about the “Pay to Play Rule” are linked here. Presumably the “Pay to play letters” will turn out to be related to this rule.

The SEC’s regrettably named “Pay to Play Rule” is (Rule 206(4)-5). 202 pages linked here. Summary by law firm Covington Burling linked here. To note:

In general, “pay-to-play” refers to various arrangements by which investment advisers may seek to influence the award of advisory business by making or soliciting political contributions to the government officials charged with awarding such business.

It would be nice to know which Clinton donors fall into this category.

So, only a few clues for the moment:

1. The question pertains to the SEC; email subject line is “SEC letters and donations”
2. Donors have sent these letters in the past
3. — and apparently routinely
4. since (a) the email as written seems to expect that everyone will know what is meant, and (b) none of the recipients email back saying, ‘What are [you talking about]?’

The focus of the replies is agreeing on a time when everyone can be on the call. (For extra clarity, the final email in the exchange is pasted in below.)

More later. To:,, Date: 2016-05-19 16:58 Subject: RE: SEC letters and donations

Great, that time works for me as well. Scott, good on your end? Jacquelyn Lopez | Perkins Coie LLP ASSOCIATE* 700 Thirteenth Street, N.W. Suite 600 Washington, DC 20005-3960 D. +1.202.654.6371 F. +1.202.654.9949 E. *Admitted in State of Florida; Admission to DC Bar pending. From: Brad Marshall [] Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2016 2:59 PM To: Alan Reed; Lopez, Jacquelyn K. (Perkins Coie); Comer, Scott Subject: RE: SEC letters and donations same From: Alan Reed Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2016 2:55 PM To: Jacquelyn Lopez; Comer, Scott; Brad Marshall Subject: RE: SEC letters and donations We’ve been doing the Operating Acct process set up by Graham for a while now but happy to do a call. Perhaps Tuesday around 4 pm? From: Lopez, Jacquelyn K. (Perkins Coie) [] Sent: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 3:35 PM To: Alan Reed; Comer, Scott; Brad Marshall Subject: SEC letters and donations Hi all, Can we set up a time for a very brief call to go over our process for handling donations from donors who have given us pay to play letters? Want to make sure we have a robust process in place to make sure that donations that come in from those donors, in any form, get put into the operating account. Let me know when would be a good time for you all. Thanks, Jackie Jacquelyn Lopez | Perkins Coie LLP ASSOCIATE* 700 Thirteenth Street, N.W. Suite 600 Washington, DC 20005-3960 D. +1.202.654.6371 F. +1.202.654.9949 E. *Admitted in State of Florida; Admission to DC Bar pending. ________________________________ NOTICE: This communication may contain privileged or other confidential information. If you have received it in error, please advise the sender by reply email and immediately delete the message and any attachments without copying or disclosing the contents. Thank you. ________________________________ NOTICE: This communication may contain privileged or other confidential information. If you have received it in error, please advise the sender by reply email and immediately delete the message and any attachments without copying or disclosing the contents. Thank you.

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Hillary Clinton about 2008: “Eventually I just decided I had to withdraw”

Sunday, May 1 (May Day):

CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper, Tapper interviewing Secretary Clinton, established two points. First, in spite of polls showing widespread doubt about Clinton’s honesty, Clinton still tends to make recklessly inaccurate statements in public venues. Second, Clinton and strategist Karen Finney suggested no particular place for Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic national convention. They offered no specific suggestions as to how Sanders delegates might contribute.

To the first point, this pick-up line from Clinton:

“There comes a time when you have to look at the [realities],” Clinton said. “In fact, in ’08 I was much closer in both popular vote and pledged delegates to Sen. Obama than is the case right now, but eventually I just decided that I had to withdraw and support Sen. Obama because the goal was to make sure we had a Democrat in the White House.”

The statement is posted at Clinton actually said that in 2008, she “eventually just decided I had to withdraw.” Link here. The interview was taped Friday (April 29).

Tapper had asked Clinton whether she was the presumptive nominee, as Trump styles himself. She demurred but said appropriately that she is on the path to the nomination.

But leaving behind the appropriate and dignified, again to the fore comes Clinton’s compulsion to overreach. It wasn’t enough for her just to tell Tapper that she was ahead, and that she hoped for party unity. Asked about the 2008 campaign, she had to rewrite history. In actual fact, Clinton did not ‘withdraw’ from the 2008 Democratic primary until June. In fact, she did not withdraw; she lost. The comments below from National Public Radio on June 5, 2008, are representative:

“From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Robert Siegel.

This Saturday, Hillary Clinton will concede – maybe. She’s expected to congratulate Barack Obama on winning the Democratic nomination. But there have been mixed messages from Clinton’s campaign and she is not planning to release her delegates.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON: Senator Clinton’s behavior since Obama clinched the nomination has some of her strongest supporters worried that she is undermining Obama at a historic moment that should be his to savor. Congressman Charlie Rangel is the dean of Clinton’s own state delegation in the House.

Representative CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): The New York congressional delegation are with her to the end, but we thought the end was the end.

LIASSON: The end Rangel meant was Tuesday night [June 3, 2008], when Clinton delivered what many Democrats are calling her less-than-gracious non-concession speech. To give you an idea how much anguish this has caused even her most loyal supporters, listen to Bill Galston, a former top aide in Bill Clinton’s White House.

Mr. BILL GALSTON: I was an early supporter and remain supportive of her candidacy as long – as long as there – the candidacy was at stake. Having said that – how to put this? This is really hard for me. She’s not doing either herself or Senator Obama any favors.”

The issue in 2008 went beyond a less-than-gracious concession speech. As previously written, one Clinton campaign tactics in 2008 was to keep referencing the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as proof that anything can happen in an election.

It can hardly be expected that Clinton would bring up that issue in a Sunday morning interview. Still, she could have refrained from egregious distortion.

Other parts of Clinton’s statement above may be more colorable but also are problematic. The timeline of the 2008 election shows that on May 1, 2008, Sen. Clinton did indeed have more delegates than Bernie Sanders has now. However, she also had to lend her campaign $1 million of her own money. (On April 29, she had come on ABC saber-rattling against Iran.) A few days later (May 5) she lent her campaign another $425K.

The first week of May was big in 2008. On May 5, Clinton’s campaign argued that the total needed to win nomination should be 200 additional delegates, an attempt to move the goalposts. On May 7, Clinton reminded audiences about the killing of RFK in 1968 once in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and once in Washington, D.C. (There is no evidence that the times recorded are the only occasions Clinton used this talking point. It was and is a delicate item for reporters.) On May 8, she told USA Today that “Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening.” She later walked back the comment. She is now walking back her “off the reservation” comment about Trump or others, used as the tease by CNN this morning.

Less colorful but also problematic

Other statements Clinton and her strategist Karen Finney, in today’s CNN round table, could raise concern. Clinton said early, in response to questions about working with Sanders, that she looks forward to working with Sanders “in the lead-up to the convention” and “in the lead-up to the platform.” If this phrasing was more carefully chosen than some of her other comments, it does not suggest much place for Senator Sanders and his delegates in Philadelphia.

In the CNN round table, Sanders strategist Jeff Weaver reiterated that Sanders will stay in the race until the Democratic convention. Finney’s comments paralleled Clinton’s. While making nice to Sanders in general terms, Finney refrained from specifics. She referred to “conversations” with Sanders about “what he thinks is important for the platform.” Finney suggested that Clinton agrees with Sanders broadly on his positions, or some positions, but has different approaches as to “how we get there.”

None of this raises hope that Sanders supporters will be part of the national conversation, from the perspective of the Clinton campaign in 2016.

Clinton on convention platform

Back to the “I just decided I had to withdraw” line —

Clinton’s insistence on rewriting history is the more baffling for being so unnecessary. Virtually any candidate could have put the same thing better. A witty, self-deprecating Barack Obama or Jack Kennedy might have made a joke out of it. “Eventually, after going down [xxx] delegates after that last primary, I just decided to withdraw. Primaries aren’t everything.”

Something along those lines. But for Hillary Clinton, the way to sum up the 2008 primary–which she lost decisively–is with an insinuation that she withdrew voluntarily. There was no follow-up question about ’08.

Yet the Clinton allies fret about media coverage, and about that persistent perception of untruthfulness.

[Edited slightly from morning post]




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Hillary Clinton on using other people’s words (2008)

There is a great Saturday Night Live parody of Hillary Clinton literally turning into Bernie Sanders:

(Video clips of the hilarious skit are widely available on the Internet, here and here among other places.)

Now let’s get back to that topic of amnesia about 2008.

On Thursday, February 21, in the 2008 campaign, Senator Hillary Clinton leveled a singular accusation against Senator Barack Obama.

From transcripts:

“SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That’s, I think, a very simple proposition. (Applause.) And you know — you know, lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in; it’s change you can Xerox. And I just don’t think —

SEN. OBAMA: Oh, but that — that’s not what happened there —

SEN. CLINTON: No, but — you know, but Barack, it is, because if — you know, if you look — (jeers from the audience) — if you look — if you look — if you look at the YouTube of these videos, it does raise questions.”

The exchange attracted some attention on the campaign trail, although with less than success than the Clinton campaign presumably hoped. As discussed by anchor Lloyd Robertson on CTV Television the same night,

LLOYD ROBERTSON: And the two Democratic contenders for the U.S. Presidential nomination struck a few sparks tonight during a debate in the crucial state of Texas. At one point the moderator asked Senator Barack Obama how he responded to charges from Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign that he was guilty of plagiarizing a speech by the Governor of Massachusetts. Obama pointed out that the governor, Demal Patrick, was a co chair of his campaign.

BARACK OBAMA  (Democratic Presidential Candidate): The notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who was one of my national co chairs, who gave me the line and suggested that I use it I think is silly.

Less pointed than the criticism itself is the remarkable fact that it came from Hillary Clinton, who is now going around trying to sound like Elizabeth Warren.

As I wrote in 2008, as a feminist I would like to vote for a woman for president. But the fundamental problems with Mrs. Clinton remain exactly the same now, as then, including her ability to say nice-sounding things, good things, and then to turn around and either do the opposite or use her language as a smokescreen for economic rapacity.

Quite simply, this is a candidate who has never marched in the vanguard for economic justice. She is still GOP Lite, the Republicans’ stop-loss candidate, as Mr. Koch’s recent comments confirm.

As fallible human beings, we all fall short of perfect truth. But Mrs. Clinton carries a pleasant, complacent deceitfulness into pathology territory, like a spouse in denial. She can sound so nice that, at least when she feels relatively comfortable, she resembles some of the moms you remember from the PTA, down to earth, reasonably sensible–and then she trots out a line about the other candidate that turns out to be either exactly the reverse of true, or far more applicable to herself.

Take for example her habit, or pattern, of accusing others of exactly her own problems, like the accusation that Obama was using someone else’s words, or the (dog-whistle) harping on Obama’s alleged inexperience. There was also her other jaw-dropping line on Barack Obama in 2008:

“Well, you know, Senator Obama, it is very difficult having a straight-up debate with you, because you never take responsibility for any vote, and that has been a pattern.”

As I wrote back then, I never did think this was a particularly good read on Obama, whose positions generally come across as measured and rational–well thought out, in other words.

The criticism applies better to the Clintons. Clinton’s vote for George Bush’s war is the perfect example. The public overwhelmingly recognizes that the Iraq resolution gave Bush the cover he needed to invade Iraq. But did Mrs. Clinton acknowledge that? No, her version of the story was that she voted for the war in order to rein in Bush.

As for Bill Clinton, he is rapidly becoming the epicenter of defensiveness. In this election cycle, he has spoken to audiences as though he thinks the Iraq War should not even be brought up. As I wrote in the 2008 election, Bill Clinton is now (again) lumbering around testy and blustering, bullying reporters and blaming the media for his wife’s problematic candidacy. The main difference is that President Clinton was red-faced in 2008 and is pale and thin now.

This is not a matter of appearances. It’s the conduct that is unbecoming. And yet the Clintons themselves seem to feel little doubt that Bill Clinton is adored wherever he goes. (The grain of truth in this representation is that, as in 2008, the Clintons fare better with audiences and voters in communities with less access to the Internet. In 2008, Hillary Clinton did better with seniors, as she does to some extent now, in some regions. In 2016, she often does better with African-Americans–especially in the Deep South states with the widest racial disparity in Internet access.)

Back to Mrs. Clinton’s own career. To recap: she was a good student in college and at Yale Law; flunked the bar exam; moved to Arkansas and re-took the bar exam there; passed. Married Bill Clinton, who became Arkansas’ attorney general and then governor for several terms, after an early loss.

Her law career in Arkansas? Her law career was as the governor’s wife. Look where she worked. For all Mrs. Clinton’s high-sounding rhetoric about ‘fighting for us’, ‘standing up to the NRA’, etc., did she take a low-paying public-service job in the Public Defender’s office? No. Did she go to work as an Assistant District Attorney, fighting crime? No. Welfare or Child Services? No. Did she work as a labor lawyer, helping organizers in Arkansas? Pursue corporate malefactors for workplace abuses or environmental abuses? Sexual harassment? Get real. This is no Norma Rae. Mrs. Clinton went for a ‘good’ job, a job she got as a pol’s wife,  in the most established law firm in Arkansas. (For perspective, check out statistics on the employment situation for most young adults with first-professional degrees in the late 1970s.)

Back to February, 2008 —

By the way, what Obama had said was,

“We are going to rid the tax code of these loopholes and giveaways. We’re going to stop giving a penny of your money to anybody who ships a job out of Texas, Ohio or anywhere else to another country. We’re certainly going to begin to get the tax code to reflect what the needs of middle class families are, so we can rebuild a strong and prosperous middle class.”

Surely every Obama voter, including this one, believes that we would be better off if these goals had been achieved. But they have been obstructed, to the last syllable, by Republicans in Congress and out. And they were never boosted successfully, or effectively, by the Clintons or by Hillary Clinton’s top allies. The globe-trotting Clintons have been considerably more engaged in reaping big bucks abroad than in keeping American jobs at home.

In hindsight, it looks as though Clinton’s accusation of plagiarizing was basically an indirect attack on Obama’s statement itself. She couldn’t outright come out and oppose keeping jobs at home or getting rid of corporate giveaways in the tax code. But she could signal indirectly, to interested donors, that she had her mind on other things.

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Defeat amnesia: More on Hillary Clinton comments in 2008

More on Hillary Clinton in 2008–

The previous blog (Friday, April 15) was a reminder of Senator Hillary Clinton’s 2008 comments on assassination. Specifically, she instanced as the reason for her staying in the 2008 race the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968. As a parallel to the effect of that tragic event on the 1968 race, she said that her husband had won his race in 1992 in June.

Below is some of the discussion–just some of it–stemming from Clinton’s repeated remark. The commentary quoted below, while trenchant,  is only the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, as I wrote previously, Clinton had actually made the same reference several times before on the campaign trail. It was her using the explicit word “assassination” in a conversation with a newspaper’s editorial board that had such impact in May, 2008.

There are a few concerns here. One is the series of shifting and implausible explanations Clinton gave for her remarks; see below. Another is her not apologizing to the other candidates–Senators Barack Obama and John McCain–who had a vested interest in the remarks. (She rushed to apologize to the Kennedys.) There is a strong concern about a presidential candidate’s referring to assassination in a heated race; see below. And last, there is the strong possibility that many newer voters this year have never been informed about the character Clinton displayed as candidate in 2008.

From transcripts

May 23, 2008: Fox News Network: FOX SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRIT HUME 6:00 p.m. EST:


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

Clinton then apologized–to the Kennedy family–for her remarks:

“I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nominations, primary contests that go into June. That’s historic fact, and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.


“BAIER: The first video there was Hillary Clinton talking to a South Dakota newspaper editorial board, where, as you heard, she mentioned the assassination in 1968.

The second video, an apology late this afternoon, scrambling before cameras, after the Barack Obama campaign put out this quote:

“Senator Clinton’s statement before the editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign,” Bill Burton, campaign spokesman.”

I am not always a fan of the political coverage on Fox. But this was one occasion when Fox News commentators got it right:

“KRAUTHAMMER: It was an amazing gaffe. She has spoken in the past about how about in ’68 and ’92 the campaigns have gone on long into June, but she had never uttered the word “assassination.” And the reason is that you don’t in presidential campaigns.

We all worry about it, and we worry about it in particular when you have the first African-American candidate who can be the president.

And that’s not a paranoid fascinating. You remember that Colin Powell was on a wave of support in 1996, and thinking of running. According to Bob Woodward, his wife Alma had said that he could not run, and, in fact, Woodward writes that she had said she would leave him if he ran for one reason–she thought he would be assassinated.

We have a history of that in our country. It was obviously on the Powells’ mind, and it is in the back of people’s minds today. And you worry about it. Whenever you see a presidential candidate wade into a crowd, everybody worries about it.

But for her to say the word is astonishing. I have to attribute it to fatigue, exhaustion, because raising it in this context is really toxic. She had to come out and apologize immediately. But I think it resonates.

BAIER: There are people out there, obviously, Nina, who will say she has said this line a million times. Today she used the assassination. Why?”

Note the point made by Bret Baier in passing–that Clinton had made the same reference often before. (This time, she made it unavoidably explicit.) The suggestion is borne out in further commentary:

“NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “FORTUNE MAGAZINE”: There are some people who are speculating that she did this purposely, which is, I think, insane, because it was so politically stupid, why would she do that?

I think probably what it was was a bit of a curtain raiser for us on her private conversations, as in things could happen. This is why she’ll stay in this race and why her husband Bill is encouraging her to stay in the race, because things could happen.

But I agree with Charles, the idea of mentioning the word “assassination.” We know that Barack Obama has been subject to threats. He has been under secret service protection for more than a year now because of that.

It’s a troubling kind of link to make, and it probably doesn’t help her standing with the Obama campaign.”

On May 23, 2008, from a different place on the political spectrum, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann hosted similar perspectives:

“KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

At Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the first time, Senator Hillary Clinton actually invokes the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 as a reason for her not to drop out of the race with Senator Obama.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON,  (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?

We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.


OLBERMANN: Why in the name of all that all of us hold dear, would anybody ever say anything like this? Can she in good conscious continue in the race for president after having said anything like this? Is her political career at an end?

An official statement from Senator Clinton`s campaign: “She was simply referencing her husband in 1992 and Bobby Kennedy in 1968 as historic examples of the nominating contest going well into the summer. Any, any reading into it beyond that is inaccurate.”

Howard Fineman on the extraordinary statement and its ramifications for Senator Clinton and her presidential bid. Jonathan Alter on why — even if it were appropriate – she would say it, since it`s not like the sudden retirement or incapacity of a candidate, would mean the Democrats would simply not run anybody.

And a Special Comment: This time Senator Clinton, you have gone too far.”

Olbermann makes a good point on the lack of internal logic in Clinton’s comment: hypothetically anything could happen, but the hypothetical event would not necessarily change everything. The historical event in 2008 was that no presidential candidate before had done what Clinton did.

“OLBERMANN: Obviously, the operative word here is assassination. She used it at least once before, as a historical marker to time two months ago, but all the references since to, even timing — to even Robert Kennedy`s death had avoided that word. That word is a third rail word in American politics, is it not?

FINEMAN: It sure is. And it shocked her today and shocked the world of the campaign. I`ve been on the phone and blackberrying (ph) with leaders on both camps and elsewhere. And you saw Hillary Clinton in that supermarket there looking kind of dazed herself. I think she realized that she had done something here that`s going to be very hard to repair.

Even though David Axelrod, the leader of the Obama campaign told me in similar words, he said, “Look, I assume she didn`t mean anything here. You know, it`s too dark a thought to think otherwise.”

As pointed out in Friday’s post, Clinton’s examples (1968 and 1992) were not good examples in the first place. If Hillary Clinton was going to defend long primary seasons, she had better examples:

“She could have cited 1984 or 1988, Mike Dukakis, she could have even talk about Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford battling it out to the floor of the convention in Kansas City in 1976. And she`s got something on her mind there that, I think, has troubled a lot of people somehow.”

Olbermann was among commentators (and others) who noticed that Clinton addressed her apology of sorts to the Kennedys, not to Obama or to the public:

“OLBERMANN: She also apologized for it when she did, an apology might be too strong a term. She expressed her regrets, specifically to the Kennedy family, but not to Senator Obama,  not to Senator McCain, who was another candidate in this race while this term is out there. Does that not seem to have left even the regret`s part of the job sort of half done?

FINEMAN: Well, it was a double pass there, Keith. She not only didn`t actually apologize to the Kennedy family, she said, “If somebody is upset about it, then I`m sorry.” And, of course, she completely avoided the main subject here, which is the notion that she somehow even inadvertently or somehow subconsciously in some weird way, was bringing up the possibility that there might be some cataclysmic change – you know, event in the campaign here like that.

So, she didn`t – she seems constitutionally incapable of just saying — I screwed up. And her sort of lead footedness about this here is being observed by all the people who are still undecided about whom to back.”

Clinton in 2008

Again, aside from the graver issues, there is that off-the-mark choice of 1968 and 1992 in the first place. The horse race was different then:

“OLBERMANN: Yes. Howard made a great point. The other practical political issue in this, the invoking of the assassination of RFK in June as a landmark, as a fixed time in the process, or even her husband clinching in June of 1992 — it`s apples and oranges historically, isn`t it? Because in `92, the Iowa caucuses were on the 10th of February; in 1968, New Hampshire was March 12th. June then is not June now.

ALTER: Right. The other thing that`s really important to understand is the first part of her answer where she referred to her husband, that somehow, like he didn`t clinch the nomination until June of 1992 is preposterous. He had had the nomination wrapped up for weeks by that point. Now, because California didn`t vote until June, as a technical matter, he wasn`t over the top, but the race was long since over.”

RFK in 1968

Olbermann’s special comment was forceful. Here, in part:

“She actually said those words.

Those words, Senator?

You actually invoked the nightmare of political assassination?

You actually invoked the specter of an inspirational leader, at the seeming moment of triumph for himself and a battered nation yearning to breathe free, silenced forever?

You actually used the word “assassination” in the middle of a campaign with a loud undertone of racial hatred — and gender hatred — and political hatred?

You actually used the word “assassination” in a time when there is a fear, unspoken but vivid and terrible, that our again-troubled land and fractured political landscape might target a black man running for president?

Or a white man.

Or a white woman!

You actually used those words, in this America, Senator, while running against an African-American man against whom the death threats started the moment he declared his campaign?

You actually used those words, in this America, Senator, while running to break your “greatest glass ceiling” and claiming there are people who would do anything to stop you?”

Moving back rightward on the spectrum, on May 25, 2008, Fox News’ Chris Wallace addressed Clinton’s comments. Wallace interviewed Terry McAuliffe, chair of the Clinton campaign, who of course denied that there was anything dark in Clinton’s line of thought. Here in part:

“MR. WALLACE: I want to ask you a couple of questions, then I’m going to get off this.

When Governor Huckabee made a bad joke at the NRA about someone pointing a gun at Obama, he immediately apologized and he personally called Obama to say he was sorry. Has Senator Clinton personally called Obama?

MCAULIFFE: No, and nor should she. Let’s be very clear. I will say this again.

This has nothing to do with Senator Obama. This was all about Hillary Clinton, her campaign, Chris, and her timeline.

WALLACE: But given the fact that people have been so offended, wouldn’t it make sense for her simply to call and say, hey, listen, if this caused you any heartburn, I’m sorry?

MCAULIFFE: Chris, I don’t why you’re saying everyone’s offended. The press corps, it’s a quiet weekend, everybody got overhyped, they had a big weekend talking about it.

But you know what I’ve got to tell you? Chris, out in Puerto Rico and South Dakota where I just was last week, and Montana, this is not what they’re talking about. They’re talking about $4-a-gallon gas. They’re not going away for Memorial Day weekend. They’re talking about having —

WALLACE: I’ll tell you somebody who was offended. Charlie Rangel — one of your big supporters, one of the people who helped get Hillary Clinton into politics running for the Senate from New York — said it was one of the dumbest remarks he’d ever heard. So there are a lot of people who were offended.”

Wallace, often well prepared for interviews, can actually produce follow-up questions. In this case, he pointed to an obvious inconsistency in Clinton’s saying that she mentioned Robert Kennedy because she was thinking of Ted Kennedy (whose brain cancer had just been announced). Chronology is key:

“MR. WALLACE: Last question. Senator Clinton explained her reference to the Kennedy assassination by saying that the family is on her mind because of Ted Kennedy’s recent illness.

But as you point out, more than two months ago, here’s what she told Time Magazine: Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A.

So it’s not true that she started thinking about this and it was on her mind because of Ted Kennedy’s illness.”

McAuliffe gamely, if less than coherently, did his best to shore up Clinton’s explanation:

“MCAULIFFE: Maybe, obviously, in this context. She has had thousands of interviews since she talked in March to Time Magazine. Thousands and thousands. Maybe on this one editorial board she was [back ?] because she was thinking about Senator Kennedy and the brain cancer and all of that issue.”

On May 27, 2008, MSNBC’s Hardball, addressed the topic.

“Let`s take a look right now at what Senator Clinton said.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just — I don`t understand it.


MATTHEWS: You know, Senator Clinton has said in her defense, which is quite right, to make a defense in this case, she said that her comments were taken out of context. I would suggest that she didn`t say them in context. They came out to the public in the context of the following, unintended or not — the Ted Kennedy health problem right now, which everybody cares about, the fact that everyone cares about the safety of Barack Obama and worries about it, the fact that some of us fell a sort of deja vu about 1968 all the time, just in general, atmospheric times (ph), not about an assassination, the sense that Barack Obama is staying in the race for some outside event — not Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton — for some outside event, obviously not this tragedy, but something like another Jeremiah Wright story. There`s a lot of context. And then the horrendous joke by Huckabee last week where he talked about — week before last — where he talked about a noise at an NRA convention, he thinking — let`s say, comically, that it must have been Barack Obama falling off his chair because he saw somebody with a gun, as if that could ever be funny.

After quoting Clinton’s explanation and apology to the Kennedy family, Matthews continued,

“Roger, Jim Clyburn jumped on this. Of course, he said it was beyond the pale. His office put out that statement. The AP story went out that night, the Associated Press, Senator Hillary Clinton referred Friday to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 — in the 1968 campaign as a reason she should continue to campaign despite increasingly long odds.”

It wasn`t the Barack Obama campaign that went after her, it was the people trying to figure out what she was talking about.”

Regardless of political affiliation, on-air discussion of the Clinton comments mainly stayed appropriate and thoughtful. On Hardball:

“ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: The first rule about talking about political assassination is you never talk about political assassination. I mean, I accept her at her word that she didn`t mean to say any of this, but you just don`t go there. We all have lived in times when a president, or most of us, has been assassinated, when a senator has been assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. There were what, two attempts on the lifes of — on the life of Gerald Ford. It was no — and it was widely reported that Colin Powell did not run for the presidency because his wife was so worried about his physical safety.

We all know why Barack Obama has Secret Service and the other candidates don`t. Hillary Clinton has it because she`s a first lady, former first lady. You don`t go there. Especially if you`re searching for a reason to stay in the race, you don`t want anyone to think it`s because you think something terrible will happen to your chief opponent.

MATTHEWS: Chrystia Freeland, your sense of this story. Does it have a scar (ph) factor here?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “FINANCIAL TIMES”: Yes, I think it does. I mean, I think that Roger is right that Hillary Clinton certainly misspoke. But in misspeaking, she broke an unwritten and really important political rule. I think the reason it had so much resonance is it`s really logical to believe that a big reason why Hillary Clinton is staying in the race is she is waiting for some unknown event to befall Barack Obama,  surely not a tragic one, more like a Reverend Wright turbocharged type event.

But I think that`s. . .


If it might be argued that the Hillary Clinton of 2016 differs from that of 2008, it is far more apparent that the Chris Matthews of 2016 is different from the Matthews of 2008. Would that we had that earlier Matthews back. He’s starting to look better, in hindsight.

Referencing the horse race

Clinton’s using 1968 as example was the more problematic in being factually wrong on its own terms. The Democratic primary race in 1968 did not go on for very long:

“MATTHEWS: I`d like to go back to the real veracity of what she said because she said that her campaign`s running into June. And I`m often reminded of being on the boardwalk in Cape May one time, watching a Stanley Cup playoff in the summertime, because sometimes, these things do go too long, including sports playoffs.

But the only reason I would have the problem with it right up front is the fact of it. Bobby Kennedy didn`t begin his campaign in 1968 — I`m reading this wonderful book (INAUDIBLE) plug this book, “The Last Campaign” by Thurston Clark [ph]. It`s a heck of a book. You know, it`s a really good book. But it points out again it was a very short campaign. It began in March of `68. And of course, he was assassinated in June.

Bill Clinton`s race was over by March of `92.


MATTHEWS: Why is she claiming these as examples or precedents for staying all the way through June, if she needs them? Why does she need a precedent?

TODD: I don`t know . . .

MATTHEWS: Nobody`s telling her to leave the race. Next week is the end of the primaries. What`s the rush?”

Matthews is basically right: there was no onslaught of advice to Clinton to drop out of the race anyway. She had no need to harp on “June.” Commentator Chuck Todd also noted the oddity of the choice:

“TODD: Well, she`s using the wrong — I mean, if she would use `84, `76 with Reagan…


TODD: … or `84 with Gary Hart and Mondale, those would be much more factually correct, where the June primaries actually meant something. But I actually think what we`re seeing here is she made a mistake. You know, this idea that somehow she`s staying in the race because something could happen as far as Senator Obama,  when it comes to maybe a scandal or something like that . . .”

June 1976. June 1984. Not June 1968. I remember the 2008 election; you didn’t have to be a Republican to wonder whether Clinton’s wish was father to her thought. The suggestion was logically inescapable.

And as said, it was all over the air waves–this in a year when the major media outlets were overwhelmingly predisposed to treat Clinton as the favorite, from day one.

Last up, on May 27, 2008, NPR’s All Things Considered:


The holiday weekend has afforded time to reflect on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s apparent inability to understand why so many Americans are upset by her mention of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Senator Clinton has shown evidence of a tin ear before, but her allusions to a past assassination for whatever reason displayed a deeper disconnect with an American trauma. Her assertion that her husband did not sew up the nomination in 1992 until mid-June, that’s factually wrong. Governor Bill Clinton was generally recognized as the Democratic front-runner from the time that Paul Tsongas withdrew in March, and he said so in his own memoir.

But more troubling was Senator Clinton’s reference to the assassination of Senator Kennedy 40 years ago on June 5th. These are thoughts better not articulated lest they have an effect on some disordered mind. From Lincoln to the Kennedys, we know the unhappy possibilities. We live with the sorrowful awareness that a talented soldier statesman, Colin Powell, agonized about running for president and finally decided against it when his wife, in tears, implored him not to expose himself as a target on the campaign trail. We live with memories that resulted in Senator Obama’s receiving Secret Service protection earlier than any other presidential candidate in history.

In a Washington Post-ABC poll last March, almost six of 10 Americans worried that someone might try to harm Senator Obama. Among African-Americans, the figure was eight of 10. We do not need to be reminded that one of our leaders can suddenly be struck down. Senator Clinton may have thought she was just helping her waning candidacy, but I imagine that she’s reduced her chances of being designated for vice president, only a heartbeat away from the presidency.

This is Daniel Schorr.”

Schorr’s grave and thoughtful commentary underscores the grim resonances of a slip like Clinton’s, in such a context.

Hillary Clinton not only repeatedly used the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as a talking point on the viability of her campaign in 2008. She basically imagined or created the context. Contrary to what Clinton was saying about her husband’s 1992 race, Bill Clinton had wrapped up the race in March, not “June.”



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