Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
All campaigns spin. All candidates spin. But there is something about Clintonian spin that is...well, spinnier than conventional spin.
Here's an example. Last Thursday, following the mis-moderated Clinton-Obama debate of the previous evening, the Hillary Clinton campaign decided to follow up by blasting Barack Obama on two issues that had been tossed at him the previous evening: his past support of a handgun ban and his connection to William Ayers, a former Weather Underground radical who has become a distinguished professor and education expert. During a conference call that morning, Howard Wolfson and Phil Singer, two senior Clinton aides, hammered Obama for having held a fundraiser in 1995, during his first campaign for state senator, in Ayers' apartment. At the time, Ayers, who has admitted taking part in bombings during the 1970s (which never caused any loss of life) and who was never arrested for any of his radical actions, lived near Obama, and the two served on the board of a nonprofit that provided grants to groups working on poverty issues. Obama, Wolfson insisted, had "to be more forthcoming" about Ayers.
During that conference call, I asked Wolfson whether Senator Clinton supported the pardon Bill Clinton issued in 2001 to two Weather Underground radicals: Linda Evans, who was sentenced to prison for participating in a series of bombings in the 1980s, and Susan Rosenberg, who was charged with being part of a bank robbery that left a guard and two police officers dead. Whether or not the Ayers matter was a non-issue, if Hillary Clinton's aides were going to bash Obama for having once had a connection to a former radical who had never been arrested, it seemed fair to wonder if she had opposed her husband's pardons of two radicals who had served time for their crimes.
"I wish you could conduct a campaign on policy and policy differentiation," Howard Wolfson, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign communications director, said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday morning. He added that Clinton "would like nothing more."
This was moments after Wolfson and Phil Singer, another top Clinton aide, had hammered Barack Obama for having held a fundraiser during his first state senate campaign in Illinois at the home of William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois and a former aide to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who was a member of the radical Weather Underground Organization, which was responsible for several bombings in the early 1970s. Ayers was never arrested for his activities. But in 2001, he did say, "I don't regret setting bombs." The issue had come up during the previous night's debate. Responding to a question about Ayers, Obama had said, "the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense." Wolfson, this morning after, insisted that Obama had "to be more forthcoming about that issue" and state clearly whether it had been "appropriate" to attend a fundraiser at Ayers' home.
When it came time for questions for Wolfson, I asked an obvious one: Did Hillary Clinton believe that it had been appropriate in 2001 for President Bill Clinton to have pardoned two members of the Weather Underground as he left office? The two recipients of Clinton's munificence were Linda Evans, who was sentenced to five years in prison for her participation in a string of 1980s bombings, and Susan Rosenberg, who was charged with participating in a bank robbery that left one guard and two police officers dead. And, I continued, has Senator Clinton ever criticized this decision? Has she ever said anything publicly about it? Rosenberg, I noted, had been apprehended with 740 pounds of explosives in her possession.
Just as Senator Barack Obama's connection to working-class voters is being questioned (unfairly) by Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain (two true populists, right?), the Bard of the Blue-collar America, Bruce Springsteen, has endorsed Barack Obama, declaring that Obama "speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music." Prior to the start of the Democratic primaries, Springsteen was not jazzed by anyone in the Democratic race, according to a source quite close to him. But the Jersey boy has now jumped in with a full power chord, at an important moment in the race. It's doubtful his endorsement--or that of any singer, celebrity, artist, writer or intellectual--can shift large number of voters. But it's sure better to have the Boss on your side that against you.
Last week, Hillary Clinton released a statement celebrating the tenth anniversary of the historic Good Friday Agreement that led to peace in Northern Ireland. She noted,
Ultimately, the real credit for peace can only go to the brave people of Northern Ireland, as well as the leaders of Ireland and the U.K. But I also know that helping to advance the peace process and to achieve the Good Friday Agreement is one of my husband's proudest accomplishments as President. And I too am proud to have played a role in that effort.
The statement--and Clinton's assertion that she had been part of the peace process--did not draw much media notice, a sign that her Irish troubles might have eased. Last month, the Barack Obama campaign had challenged her claim to have "helped to bring peace to Northern Island." And that triggered a transatlantic tempest. David Trimble, the former First Minister of the Northern Ireland, called Clinton "a wee bit silly" for claiming to have been a figure of an importance in the peace process:
She visited when things were happening, saw what was going on, she can certainly say it was part of her experience. I don't want to rain on the thing for her but being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player.
But then Clinton's campaign posted on its website a statement from John Hume, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with Trimble, in which Hume declared: "I can state from firsthand experience that she played a positive role for over a decade in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland." And Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams told the Irish Times that Clinton played an important role in the peace process. I met the senator on many occasions....I always found her to be extremely well-informed on the issues."
These endorsements from Hume and Adams did not fully support the claims from Clinton and her camp that she had been a significant participant in the Irish peace process. On NPR, she had said, "I wasn't sitting at the negotiating table, but the role I played was instrumental." And appearing on CNN on March 4, Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman, had said, "We would not have peace today had it not [been] for Hillary's hard work in Northern Ireland." Still, Hume's and Adams' statements did somewhat counter Trimble's dismissive remarks. And the campaign flare-up flared down.
But what was the truth? Had Clinton been instrumental? Was McAuliffe correct to say Northern Ireland would today be a bloody landscape had it not been for Clinton? Looking for an expert on the Irish peace process, I contacted Paul Bew. He is a prominent--perhaps the most prominent--historian of Northern Ireland. A professor at Queen's University Belfast, Bew last year published Ireland: The Politics of Enmity 1789-2006, a much-acclaimed work, which is part of the Oxford University Press's Modern Europe series. He once was an adviser to Trimble, and he was appointed to the House of Lords in 2007, in recognition of his own contributions to the Good Friday Agreement.
From John McCain's speech to the Associated Press' annual meeting on Monday:
Long ago in my career, I made a decision to be as accessible to the press as the press would prefer me to be....I believe in giving great access to the press....I much prefer long back and forths, where reporters have multiple follow ups and I have an opportunity to explain my views in greater detail...I think reporters are better able to meet their first responsibility of ensuring an informed citizenry if they are allowed to press a candidate for more than a gotcha quote or a comment on whatever the cable driven news environment has decided is the process story of the day....[T]he responsibility of an informed citizenry is as much my responsibility as it is yours. I don't believe in deceiving voters about my positions, my beliefs or how I would govern this country were I to have the extraordinary privilege of serving as President. I want voters to know and understand my positions.
So how come McCain's campaign has refused to address questions about his connection to Rod Parsley, the megachurch pastor who has called for the eradication of Islam? I've called his campaign a dozen or so times to ask for a comment on McCain's relationship with this fundamentalist leader--McCain campaigned with Parsley, accepted his endorsement, and called him a "spiritual guide"--yet no one at McCain HQ would respond. As far as I can tell, McCain has not given a straight answer to the question: will you renounce the support of a person who calls Islam a "false religion" and urges its destruction? His alliance with Parsley is one position McCain does not seem eager to explain.