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.
Forget Swift Boats; this election year could become the battle of the armadas. Thanks to the success of misleading ads against John Kerry in 2004—as well as recent Supreme Court and Federal Election Commission actions—the current presidential contest promises to be more cacophonous and mud strewn than any in recent history, with a record number of down-and-dirty ads financed on the sly by big-money interests. Attacks bankrolled by "independent" groups—businesses, unions, and millionaires—and amplified by YouTube and reporters starved for news "will play a much greater role than ever before," predicts a top gop strategist.
Asked if Barrack Obama was ready to be commander in chief, Hillary Clinton ducked the question. When Obama suggested she is not as willing as he is to confront the special interests of Washington, she did not engage. Offered the chance to blast Obama for vowing to meet with the dictatorial leaders of North Korea and Iran in his first year as president, she took a pass. When Clinton did go on the attack at Thursday night's debate in Austin, Texas, she chose to focus on Obama's use of several speech lines borrowed (or plagiarized, according to the Clinton camp) from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a supporter of Obama. That was, she said, "not change you can believe in; it's change you can Xerox."
With the zinger, Clinton was trying to reinforce one of her campaign's themes: I offer solutions; he offers words. But during this portion of the debate, Obama came on strong. He brushed aside the plagiarism accusation as part of the "silly season in politics," and noted that the fine words of his eloquent speeches convey not only hope and inspiration but also support proposals for tuition tax credits for college, tax relief for working families, and military disengagement in Iraq. And Obama explained that inspiration is essential because "if we can't inspire the American people to get involved in their government," Washington will continue to be a city of gridlock dominated by corporate lobbyists. Clinton didn't have much of a reply to that. She did continue stick to her my-actions-speak-louder-than-his-words assault. But there was no new punch to this now routine line, and she appeared to gain no new ground in the battle between (his) hope and (her) experience.
Which means the debate was no game changer. Obama, who has not been his best at debates earlier in the campaign, performed well in Austin before a pumped-up crowd that cheered on both candidates. (Kudos to CNN for not shushing the candidates' supporters.) Clinton performed well, too, especially when it came to demonstrating her command of policy details and ticking off her legislative accomplishments. But at this point, she needs to do better than well and clobber Obama, and that did not happen. A recent poll in Texas--which holds its primary on March 4--shows the race between the two a statistical dead heat. That is, Obama, if the polls are to be believed, is catching her in the crucial state. And polls in Ohio--the other big prize on March 4--show Obama nipping at a still-significant Clinton lead. But there's still plenty of time for him to close in on her in the Buckeye State.
Barack Obama is a secret Muslim who refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance. During the Democratic primary campaign, the junior senator from Illinois has been hit repeatedly by virulent viral emails pushing false claims like these. The latest: Obama, due to his Muslim background, secretly favors Palestinians over Israelis.
An unsourced email being disseminated claims that "someone taped former Muslim Barack HUSSEIN Obama at a black church when he was in South Carolina" and that Obama said:
It's clear that we give too much money to Israel. [cheers] Why... do you know that every American gives approx .20 cents A DAY to Israel? [jeers] We keep hearing how tough the Israelis are... how great an 'ally' they are... --but what if we gave the SAME AMOUNT of money we gave THEM to the poor Palestinians--I bet THAT would bring them finally to the table. We could have a two-state solution... a two-state solution--just like former President Carter outlined in his latest book. We can't have peace in the Middle East until we solve that problem down in Palestine. George Bush should have thought about that before he went into Iraq...[etc.]
The email goes on to note that Obama sounds "a GREAT DEAL like Malcolm X." It asks, "Instead of the 'Manchurian Candidate,' is Obama the secret 'Farrakan Candidate'"? It then seeks to explain his purported anti-Israel bias:
Will Barrack's [sic] Muslim roots cause him to favor the Palestinians against Israel?
The angriest man in America this morning? It's not John McCain; it's Mitt Romney. McCain stands accused by The New York Times of having too cozy a relationship with Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist for telecom firms with interests before a Senate committee he led. But Romney must be gnashing his white-as-can-be teeth over the timing of this disclosure. Though the newspaper had been working on the report for months, it was not published until the revelations could do Romney no good. Which is why Bay Buchanan, who was a strategist for Romney, was braying on CNN last night about the Times' playing politics with this piece.
At the same time, she accused the paper of mounting a smear job. The story does put conservatives in an awkward position. Many hate McCain, but they despise The New York Times. So what do Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and the others do? It's like choosing between Stalin and Hitler.
Smear job did seem to be the preferred Republican reply. The first email to journalists the McCain campaign sent out in response to the story included quotes from Washington power-lawyer Bob Bennett, a Democrat who had represented McCain in negotiations with the Times. He had appeared on Fox News and called the article a "smear job," comparing it to the "smear campaign" waged against McCain in 2000 prior to the South Carolina primary. (In that ugly episode, McCain critics accused him of siring a child out of wedlock, of being brainwashed in Vietnam, and more.)
But the Bennett statements disseminated by the campaign did not dispute a single fact in the Times article, which noted that McCain had taken official action on behalf of one of Iseman's clients. In a real stunner, the Times story includes on-the-record comments from John Weaver, a former top strategist for McCain, who told the paper about a meeting he had with Iseman, during which he apparently warned her to stay away from McCain. This conversation, Weaver said, followed "a discussion among the campaign leadership" about Iseman. He added, "Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort." Iseman disputed Weaver's account of the meeting.
On a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning, Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's communications director, was asked if within the Clinton camp there was any sense that the campaign needs to "retool or overhaul." The answer: no. In fact, throughout the call, Wolfson and Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, showed no signs of any shifting. Instead, they signaled that the campaign's gameplan is to continue to pound away at Obama. Wolfson pushed two points: Obama "lifted" portions of a speech from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Obama seems to be backing out of a promise to participate in the public campaign finance system (and thus live within a spending limit) in the general election. "He's running on the power of his oratory and the strength of his promises," Wolfson said. Yet, he asserted, Obama's oratory is plagiarized and his promises are broken.
The problem: the Clinton campaign threw all this (and much more) at Obama before Wisconsin, and it didn't stick. Perhaps Clinton and her aides believe they have to pump up the volume on the attacks to have a fighting chance in Ohio and Texas on March 4.
Why do they believe they can triumph in those states? Wolfson and Penn were asked. "Growing scrutiny," Wolfson replied, is being paid to Obama--by the media, by the Republican Party, and by Senator John McCain, the likely GOP nominee. In other words, Obama's due for a fall--eventually. And the Clinton people will do what they can to bring about such change before Ohio and Texas. Their strategy appears to be to help tear him down, rather than find a better way to lift her up. The race got nasty before Wisconsin--and it looks as if it's going to get nastier.