Paul Waldman has a must read article in The American Prospect on how Hillary Clinton is applying Karl Rove style tactics in her campaign against Barack Obama. He writes:
Three weeks ago, I wrote that Clinton was working to make voters uneasy, utilizing just enough fear to encourage them to stick with the known quantity in the race. But in the time since, her campaign has begun to appear more and more as though it’s being run by Karl Rove or Lee Atwater. Pick your tired metaphor — take-no-prisoners, brass knuckles, no-holds-barred, playing for keeps — however you describe it, the Clinton campaign is not only not going easy on Obama, they’re doing so in awfully familiar ways. So many of the ingredients of a typical GOP campaign are there, in addition to fear. We have the efforts to make it harder for the opponent’s voters to get to the polls (the Nevada lawsuit seeking to shut down at-large caucus sites in Las Vegas, to which the Clinton campaign gave its tacit support). We have, depending on how you interpret the events of the last couple of weeks, the exploitation of racial divisions and suspicions (including multiple Clinton surrogates criticizing Obama for his admitted teenage drug use). And most of all, we have an utterly shameless dishonesty.
On some of these points, Clinton hasn’t yet reached GOP levels of underhandedness. But on the simple question of honestly characterizing their opponent, the Clintons are giving any Republican campaign in memory a run for its money.
The latest example is the Clinton camp’s extremely effective effort to twist some remarks Obama made about Ronald Reagan and the years since his presidency beyond all recognition, which came up in their debate Monday night. In an interview with the editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal, Obama had said that Reagan had successfully “changed the trajectory of America, in a way that Richard Nixon did not, and in a way that Bill Clinton did not,” a claim few people of any ideological stripe would dispute. He also said, “I think it’s fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time over the last 10 or 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.”
For those of you who don’t know, the “party of ideas” is a concept that people have been throwing around for quite some time in Washington, and it is almost always used in a value-neutral way, meaning the party that at a particular time appears to the public like the one offering something new and grand, and that seems to have political momentum behind its ideological thrust. Both parties want to claim the “party of ideas” mantle, but you can acknowledge that at one time or another your opponents have successfully grabbed it without saying their ideas are actually right. But Hillary Clinton responded this way:
“I have to say, you know, my leading opponent the other day said that he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last ten to fifteen years. That’s not the way I remember the last ten to fifteen years. I don’t think it’s a better idea to privatize Social Security. I don’t think it’s a better idea to try to eliminate the minimum wage. I don’t think it’s a better idea to undercut health benefits and to give drug companies the right to make billions of dollars by providing prescription drugs to Medicare recipients. I don’t think it’s a better idea to shut down the government, to drive us into debt.”And if you listen to the tape, the italics are right there in her voice. Bill then chimed in, taking the distortion to an even higher level: “Her principal opponent,” he claimed, “said that since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas.”
Waldman also discusses other dishonest attacks from Clinton such as the distortion of Obama’s positions on Iraq and Social Security. He turns to the big question:
The question this raises is how we really feel about ethically questionable campaign tactics. The fact is that we’re very quick to forgive a politician we support for hitting below the belt, if the belt in question is around the waist of another politician we dislike. We might ask ourselves, however, whether our readiness to do so is different in kind from the Republican willingness to tolerate torture, so long as it’s done to “bad guys” (OK, so many of them won’t just “tolerate” it, they’ll applaud it enthusiastically). Try to imagine that it’s nine months from now, Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, and flyers begin appearing in mailboxes charging that as an elder of the Mormon church, Romney participated in bizarre, cult-like rituals that may or may not have involved slaughtering puppies. Would you say that the attack was beyond the pale, but crack a secret smile when Romney was forced to deny that he was a puppy-killer?
My answer is no, I would not be happy to see Hillary Clinton win by using such tactics. This type of behavior is dangerous to our public discourse and dangerous to democracy. We have all known for years that the Clintons have no difficulty with lying, but lies such as this are far more damaging to democracy than many of their previous lies. We knew about Bill Clinton’s sexual conduct before he was elected and nobody should have been surprised he’d lie about that if caught. Basing a campaign on lying about the opponent is a far more serious matter.
One of the reasons I have voted Democratic in recent years has been because of the manner in which Republicans have distorted public debate. For a democracy to work effectively the voters must know what they are voting for. The Orwellian propaganda efforts of the GOP which are based upon distorting the facts have led to our current situation of having an incompetent and dishonest president who has done immeasurable harm to our nation. We must not allow the only alternative to such a party in a two party system become a mirror image.
I hope that party leaders step in to put an end to such dishonest tactics. I hope that the news media does its job in reporting the truth whenever Clinton or any other candidate spreads lies. Ultimately this responsibility to police our public officials falls to the voters. Democrats should make it clear to Hillary Clinton that we already have one Republican Party, and if she wishes to imitate them we are not going to vote for her, whether in a primary or a general election.