Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Vast Clinton Conspiracy

Appearing at The Jaundiced Eye, the Independent Bloggers' Alliance, and My Left Wing.

"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Any residual sympathy I had for the Clintons as targets of the "vast right wing conspiracy" was expended in the umpteenth chapter of "The Endless Saga of the Eternal Primary." This because team Clinton insists on borrowing heavily from the very playbook they so famously decried. The tactics should be familiar to those who've watched the machinations of that very VRWC: insinuations of guilt by association, reliance on the media of the right wing noise machine, faux populism and disingenuous charges of elitism, and, of course, blatant distortions of reality. With a self-righteous arrogance befitting the Bushes, it seems the Clintons are operating from the belief that it's only wrong when other people do it. And in their Bush-league hypocrisy, the charges of motes they hurl only make them seem totally oblivious to the many beams in their own eyes.

Witness their exploitation of the Ayers red herring. As per Clinton biographer Carl Bernstein:

Which raises the question: Is the Clinton campaign's emphasis on the Ayers-Obama connection significantly different or less spurious than the familiar (McCarthyite?) smears against Hillary, particularly those promulgated and disseminated by the forces she labeled "the vast right-wing conspiracy" in the 1990s?

Like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton has (at least so far as this reporter and biographer has been able to determine) consistently rejected the ideological rigidity of the radical Left and -- especially -- the notion of revolutionary violence as a means of political change in contemporary America, despite claims to the contrary by the VRWC. Like Obama -- and John McCain for that matter -- she has valued her friendships with individuals who figured in the Left-wing and anti-war movements of the 60s and Vietnam era. And like Obama and McCain, she has never wavered from her belief and faith in establishment politics, within the two-party system.

As Bernstein explains Hillary has carefully expunged much of her own idealistic interest in radical politics -- such as the Black Panthers trial -- from public accounts; even going so far as to bury her thesis on Saul Alinsky in unobtainable Wellesley archives. Yet her campaign has attempted to leverage Obama's even more tenuous link to radicalism. Notes Bernstein, with dismay:

One of Hillary Clinton's most winning attributes -- and Bill Clinton's too -- has always been their understanding of the complexity of American politics, and the danger of ideological demagoguery (witness their fight against the "vast right-wing conspiracy" and excesses). The resort by Hillary and her campaign to guilt-by-association--of which the Bill Ayers allegations are but one example: see Louis Farrakhan, or a comparatively-obscure African-American writer and perhaps -- communist party member named Frank Marshal Dixon, whom Obama knew in high school in Hawaii -- is, even for some of her most steadfast advocates, particularly dismaying. Like Gov. Bill Richardson and Senator Christopher Dodd, among others who have abandoned the Clintons, many old Clinton hands had hoped, judging from Hillary's triumphant and collegial senate years, that she -- and Bill -- had left behind such tactics when the Clinton Presidency ended in 2001 and the Right-wing threat to the Clintons' tenure in the White House had abated.

"The sad irony," noted Jonathan Alter in Newsweek, "is that these are the same [guilt-by-association] attacks used against her husband in the elections of the 1990s. The GOP tried to destroy Bill Clinton for his relationships (much closer than Obama's tangential connections) with Arkansas crooks, sleazy fund-raisers and unsavory women...

But, alas, no bit of Republican-style chicanery is too loathsome for the desperate Clintons to embrace. And, as this blogger was particularly dismayed to learn, a key architect of their new attack machinery is none other than Sidney Blumenthal.

Former journalist Sidney Blumenthal has been widely credited with coining the term "vast right-wing conspiracy" used by Hillary Clinton in 1998 to describe the alliance of conservative media, think tanks, and political operatives that sought to destroy the Clinton White House where he worked as a high-level aide. A decade later, and now acting as a senior campaign advisor to Senator Clinton, Blumenthal is exploiting that same right-wing network to attack and discredit Barack Obama. And he's not hesitating to use the same sort of guilt-by-association tactics that have been the hallmark of the political right dating back to the McCarthy era.

Almost every day over the past six months, I have been the recipient of an email that attacks Obama's character, political views, electability, and real or manufactured associations. The original source of many of these hit pieces are virulent and sometimes extreme right-wing websites, bloggers, and publications. But they aren't being emailed out from some fringe right-wing group that somehow managed to get my email address. Instead, it is Sidney Blumenthal who, on a regular basis, methodically dispatches these email mudballs to an influential list of opinion shapers -- including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers -- in what is an obvious attempt to create an echo chamber that reverberates among talk shows, columnists, and Democratic Party funders and activists. One of the recipients of the Blumenthal email blast, himself a Clinton supporter, forwards the material to me and perhaps to others.

. . .

But, rather remarkably for such a self-professed liberal operative like Blumenthal, a staggering number of the anti-Obama attacks he circulates derive from highly-ideological and militant right-wing sources such as the misnamed Accuracy in Media (AIM), The Weekly Standard, City Journal, The American Conservative, and The National Review.

To cite just one recent example, Blumenthal circulated an article taken from the fervently hard-right AIM website on February 18 entitled, "Obama's Communist Mentor" by Cliff Kincaid. Kincaid is a right-wing writer and activist, a longtime critic of the United Nations, whose group, America's Survival, has been funded by foundations controlled by conservative financier Richard Mellon Scaife, the same millionaire who helped fund attacks on the Clintons during their White House years. Scaife also funds AIM, the right-wing media "watchdog" group.

Suddenly, Hillary's endorsement in longtime foe Mellon Scaife's paper seems not so terribly surprising.


Any reader of David Brock's "Blinded By The Right" will recognize, in Blumenthal's modus operandi, the familiar tactic of force-feeding propaganda from far right venues to more mainstream sources, and into the established media narrative. After years of defending against this very tactic, he seems to have learned it well.

Some Clinton supporters who also knew about Ayers have been discreetly trying to catapult the story out of the right-wing sandbox into the wider mainstream media. On April 9, Fox News' Sean Hannity interviewed fellow right-winger Karl Rove, who raised the Ayers-Obama connection. The next day, ABC News reporter Jake Tapper wrote about Ayers in his Political Punch blog. The following week, on his radio show, Hannity suggested to his guest, George Stephanopoulos, that he ask Obama about his relationship with Ayers at the upcoming Philadelphia presidential debate. Stephanopoulos, who was Bill Clinton's press secretary, replied, "Well, I'm taking notes." The following night during the April 16 nationally televised Presidential debate, Stephanopoulos dutifully asked Obama about Ayers, who is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Possibly more insulting is watching the Clintons turn to that mainstay of Republican politics: making fun of pointy-headed intellectuals. Is there anything more disingenuous than the obviously well-heeled pol insisting that it's the other guy who's part of the elite?

In the annals of sheer audacity, I never thought anything could top the mind melting hypocrisy of the scion of one of the wealthiest, most insulated families in the world -- an alumnus of both Yale and Harvard -- convincing blue collar voters that he was just plain folk. Okay, Dubya still wins the prize on the faux populism scale. But there also, Hillary refuses to be outdone. Exploiting for all it's worth, Obama's "bitter" faux pas, she has once again joined forces with the Republican competition. This time to paint the black son of a struggling single mother as an "elitist," and her Wellesley and Yale educated self, as someone who couldn't tell arugula from iceberg lettuce.

In her latest triangulation two-step, Clinton has partnered with McCain on an all out assault on voter intelligence, with the shamelessly pandering "gas tax holiday." To drive the point home, this woman, whom the Secret Service has protected from all concerns automotive since 1992, set out on her own blue collar comedy tour of gas station photo-op destinations.

Would you want to have a cup of coffee with this woman?