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.
Last night, at a rally near the Manchester airport, Hillary Clinton packed 'em in. A thousand or so people listened to her deliver a long speech outlining virtually every policy position she has ever mentioned during the campaign. On one level, it was an impressive performance. She demonstrated a command of policy and facts. She spoke passionately about her intellectual passions. On another level, it was, perhaps, too much too late. As at least two reporters in the room --including Mickey Kaus--quipped, it seemed she was delivering a State of the Union speech, particularly the sort that her husband use to give. Remember how he would go over a long laundry list of policy proposals? One of the biggest cheers of the night came when she said that if elected president she would make sure the federal student aide form wouldn't be too long.
This was as good as she gets. The crowd was pumped--though it did lose some energy as she went on and on. (And on Election Day eve, you don't want to tire out supporters who have to get up early the next morning and start working for you.) She pointed out that she was the candidate who was strong enough and experienced enough to deliver the change that the American electorate yearns for. But she took no pot shots at her opponents. "Time to tell her story," a Clinton aide said to me.
It's not such a bad story. And did the size of the crowd indicate she might just be able to pull out a win in New Hampshire? Once upon a time--that would be sixteen years ago--another Clinton became the self-proclaimed "comeback kid" of New Hampshire. (That was after placing second in New Hampshire. Talk about chutzpah!) There's no reporter in New Hampshire I've spoken to who thinks that HRC can pull it out. Instead, we discuss how big Barack Obama's win will be--and what the point spread will mean. Some political commentators claim that if Clinton can hold him to a 6-point or less win, she can claim a moral victory. I dunno. Seems to me that whatever the win is, as long as it's more than a close call, the important statistic will be this: 2 for 2.
Campaigning in Dover, New Hampshire the day before the primary, Senator Hillary Clinton once again pounded Barack Obama for being big on talk and small on deeds. And before a crowd that could barely fill half of a modest-sized gymnasium, she continued to claim that Obama is a disingenuous politician, no noble and inspiring force of change. Using the thin opposition research her campaign operatives have managed to unearth on her rival, she recited what's becoming the campaign's regular litany of Obama's alleged hypocrisies. Saying you oppose the Patriot Act and then voting to extend it—"that's not change," she declared. Saying you're against special interest lobbying and then having a lobbyist co-chair your New Hampshire campaign—"that's not change," she thundered. Saying in a campaign speech that you will not vote to fund the Iraq war and then voting for $300 billion in war financing—"that's not change," she exclaimed. After the event, in an interview with Fox News, Clinton was even sharper. She referred to Obama's (and John Edwards') "hypocrisy," and said, "Senator Obama has changed many of his positions." Voters, she insisted, deserved to know this: "Talk is, as they say, cheap."
Her charges against Obama have generally been weak—standard truth-stretchers for standard political campaigns. But in casting Obama as a phony on the Iraq war, Clinton has veered close to outright lying.
At Saturday night's Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton served notice she was looking to tear down Barack Obama with two charges: he's a flip-flopper and he's all talk and no action. And moments after the debate ended, her aides trotted out to the so-called spin room to hammer home these points.
Consequently, it was no surprise that on Sunday morning, she began a day of campaign events in which she declared that New Hampshire voters should elect "a doer, not a talker" and that it was time to distinguish "rhetoric from reality." Her campaign released a statement emphasizing this line of attack that was headlined, "Rhetoric vs. Results, Talk vs. Action." It was not subtle:
At the debate last night it was clear when opponents were asked what change they had made:
Instead of telling New Hamphsire voters what he had done for them, Barack Obama defended rhetoric and talk and cited legislation that bans sit-down meals with lobbyists but allows them to stand up and eat together.
Obama talked about government reform, but denied that the co-chair of his New Hampshire campaign is a lobbyist. He talked about energy reform but couldn't defend his vote in favor of Dick Cheney's energy plan that gave the big oil companies billions in tax breaks. He talked about his speech against the war, but didn't explain why he voted for $300 billion in funding for the war and why he said as late as 2004 that he didn't know how he would have voted on the war.
The Clinton campaign was doing its best to stretch the little oppo research it has been able to dig up on Obama. When Obama voted for the energy bill--which passed the Senate on an 85 to 12 vote--he said that the measure had fallen short of what was necessary to achieve U.S. energy independence. Environmentalists did not fancy the bill, but over half of the Democrats in the Senate supported the legislation. Most of them came from states that would benefit from the subsidies in the bill--as did Obama. This vote was not a shining moment for Obama, but it represented a conventional political decision (help your state), not hypocrisy. As for the Iraq war funding issue, Obama, like other Democratic senators opposing the war (including Clinton), has voted for bills financing the war. Regarding Obama's New Hampshire co-chair, Jim Demers, the Clinton gang did have a point. He is a lobbyist for drug interests and other groups--but in New Hampshire, not Washington, the Obama campaign say. Still, he is an influence-peddler of the sort Obama has decried.
All told, though, the Clinton campaign did not present a strong case. Then came the robo-call charge.
Dem Debate in NH Previews Clinton's Get-Obama Strategy
By David Corn
At the Democratic debate on Saturday night in New Hampshire, John Edwards came to the rescue of Barack Obama. Not that Obama needed it. But it provided Edwards the opportunity to (a) whack Hillary Clinton and (b) grab for the change wave that propelled Obama to victory in Iowa. In a debate featuring few true policy disputes, the thrusts and parries defined the final Democratic face-off before the first primary election—and they revealed the Clinton campaign's strategy for taking Obama down.
At the Democratic debate on Saturday night in New Hampshire, John Edwards came to the rescue of Barack Obama. Not that Obama needed it. But it provided Edwards the opportunity to (a) whack Hillary Clinton and (b) grab for the change wave that propelled Obama to victory in Iowa. In a debate featuring few true policy disputes, the thrusts and parries defined the final Democratic face-off before the first primary election--and they revealed the Clinton campaign's strategy for taking Obama down.
Edwards' moment came when Clinton--in a much-anticipated move--went after Obama. She accused her Senate colleague of flip-flopping on health care. First, she said, he was for single-payer health care; then he proposed a different sort of health care reform. "I think that what we're looking for is a president we can count on," she added.
As far as punches go, this was no knockout blow. Clinton's previous attempt to pick a fight with Obama over the differences in their health care plans--a distinction too wonkish for most voters to worry about--did not succeed. But she was giving it another shot, hoping to depict the winner of Iowa as just another pol. Obama gently defended himself, explaining that he had once said that his preference would be a single-payer system but that he believed it would not be practical to scrap the existing system to make way for such a plan. And he noted, again gently, that he did disagree with Clinton and Edwards on the need for mandating health care coverage. He went on to point out, gently once more, that he and Edwards both have taken a stand on Social Security--advocating a small increase in payroll taxes--which Clinton has declined to do. The two bickered some more, with Clinton claiming Obama had waffled on the Patriot Act and Iraq war funding.
Then John Edwards swooped in. "Any time you speak out powerfully for change, the forces of status quo attack," he said. He was equating Clinton with those forces. She glowered at him. Edwards continued: