Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Other Clinton

The same breed of journalist that mindlessly reports every Republican lie without further comment or historical context is oddly incapable of keeping personal opinions out of the Clinton-Obama campaign. Unfortunately, even the best bloggers (like Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo) are viewing this campaign through the same distorting lens.

The latest blow-up is over Bill Clinton's comparison of Obama's strength in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson's success in 1984 and 1988. The outrage aimed at Clinton centers on the assumption that Clinton was desperate to remind voters everywhere that Obama is black (actually, bi-racial) and that most of Obama's support is derived from black voter loyalty.

Yet the only reason this story has any life in it is due to the editing of the original tape.

In the widely repeated video, the off-camera David Wright of ABC asks "What does it say about Barack Obama that it takes two of you to beat him?" However, Wright had first asked Clinton whether he thought a black candidate like Obama could win in South Carolina. So the question of race was raised by the reporter and that portion of the tape was cut out.

Clinton apparently declined to answer this initial, loaded question since it was obviously intended to stir up a controversy where none should exist. His response to the insulting "two Clintons" question begins with a reference back to the first loaded question when he chuckles and says "that's just bait, too." Clinton then answers both questions simultaneously by pointing out that Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in 1984 and 1988 and goes on to praise Obama's campaign skills and point out that Obama has run a good campaign "everywhere." Obama is, according to Clinton, "a good candidate with a good organization." It seems quite likely that in Clinton's mind, he was denying that race was the primary motivation for Obama's strength across the country and that racism (the premise of the deleted question) had not stopped Jesse Jackson from winning in South Carolina twice.

UPDATE & CORRECTION: The reaction of so many to the limited video tape has finally gotten ABC to post a transcript but, oddly, not a video, of the full Clinton conversation. In the transcript, there is no reference by any reporter to the odds of a black candidate winning in South Carolina. But there is a question about charges of race baiting. It is still hard to twist these comments by Clinton into some sort of racial slur.

FURTHER UPDATE: It appears that the primary source of this unfair attack on Clinton is Jake Tapper of ABC News. And he is at it again with a false accusation that Clinton wants the US to "slow down its economy" in order to fight climate change. Clinton actually said the opposite. Tapper defended himself by claiming confusion over what Clinton really meant but others find this hard to believe. Tapper is one to watch as the campaign continues.

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