As if to prove the point that the Democratic Party is in for a rough and nasty slog through spring mud, here was Hillary Clinton backer Geraldine Ferraro trying to steal headlines from Eliot Spitzer by insisting last week that Barack Obama wouldn’t even be in the race if he wasn’t black.
Clinton said she disagreed with her pal Ferraro, but didn’t seem too upset. Both sides have these problematic supporters who “say things that kind of veer off into the personal,” she said. This prompted Team Obama to complain that Clinton was giving a “wink and nod” that “anything goes.”
We can expect this kind of thing to continue for at least another five weeks, until the Pennsylvania primary on April 22. The smart money says it will only get worse as the race continues through a long hot summer to the convention in Denver in late August.
To those of us whose deepest desire is to see Republicans ousted from the White House with the same kindness and courtesy of a city marshal evicting a Bronx family in deep rent arrears, this is not good news. It means more scorched-earth volleys like Clinton’s ad that Obama can’t even be trusted to answer a ringing red telephone in the White House. Such charges, of course, are quickly employed with glee by GOP nominee John “My Friends” McCain, who lobs them back into the Democrats’ trenches like unexploded grenades.
I made the nearly fatal mistake of offering this cowardly, pacifist perspective on a cable-television show on primary night on March 4, as the last returns were rolling in from Dallas. Seated next to me was a pleasant woman representing the editorial page of a prominent broadsheet newspaper that, come to think of it, gave Clinton a nice big endorsement back in January. She insisted that the upcoming internecine warfare among the Democrats is nothing to worry about. “I think that’s what democracy is all about,” she said. “Democracy is messy.”
Luckily, this was just a local station which could not be received by this paper’s owners, who reside somewhere in Arizona. All newspaper publishers get spasms of delight from the prospect of nonstop political mud-wrestling. Such open warfare is guaranteed to sell papers (or in the case of a free publication like ours, more futon and cosmetic-surgery ads).
Even worse for my employment prospects was being shown up as a peace-loving wuss by New York’s effete paper of record. The Arizona owners like to think of themselves as a kick-ass crew and tend to replace employees more often than toner cartridges in their printers (actually, the guy who used to replace the toner went in January). That night, I lay awake worrying about how to redeem myself if one of the publisher’s emissaries caught my craven performance.
The solution quickly arrived: This fire must be fed, not doused. Therefore, since it is the Obama campaign that has been pulling its toughest punches, here is a handful of suggestions for television ads to be used against his opponent. Each is guaranteed to throw more fuel on the flames, if not much light on the question of presidential qualifications.
They are offered in the totally self-serving collective interest of the news business to make sure the contest goes down to the wire, right up until the last uncommitted superdelegate is fleeing for his life through Denver’s thin air, campaign operatives in close pursuit.
Ad #1: Opening: Clip of Hillary Clinton at January debate in Nevada. Clinton: “You’ve got to be able to manage and run the bureaucracy.” Dissolve to exterior shot: The White House. Interior: A secretary is seen at a bookshelf, filing materials. She idly picks up an unfamiliar loose-leaf binder. Close-up shows the title in bold letters: “Rose Law Firm Billing Records: Whitewater.” She leafs through the pages, then, binder in hand, walks into what is clearly the Oval Office. “You won’t believe what I found,” she yells. Out of camera view, a woman’s voice is heard: “Dammit!”
Voiceover, as images of computerized billing records scroll across the screen: “For two years, as prosecutors’ subpoenas went unanswered, Hillary Clinton insisted she couldn’t locate billing records from her old law firm involving a scandalous real-estate deal. Then one day, they suddenly turned up, right in plain sight in the White House. You call that organized?”
Closing title: “Ready on Day One?”
Ad #2: Opening: Cartoon graphic of a jet flying across the Atlantic from the U.S. to the Urals. Cartoon continues: A character who resembles Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat is seen welcoming a beaming Bill Clinton and a well-dressed Western businessman on the tarmac. Close-up on Borat character, who says: “Welcome, former President Clinton and friend, to glorious nation Kazakhstan.” Sound of machine-gun fire and screams are heard in background. “What was that?” asks Clinton. “Is nothing,” answers Borat character. “Maybe some goats get loose somewhere. Come, let us go make some nice business here.” Scene fades as Clinton, friend, and Borat character walk away happily arm in arm.
Voiceover: “While the American government was criticizing a ruthless and corrupt regime in Kazakhstan, former President Clinton brokered a meeting between a millionaire donor to his presidential library and the nation’s dictator. Surprise, surprise: Two days later, Clinton’s pal cut a deal to buy into local uranium projects. Maybe our ex-president thought he was on a goodwill mission, offering his own ‘Cultural Learnings of America.’ “
Closing title: “What will he do this time in the Oval Office?”
Ad #3: Opening: Photo montage of explosions and carnage in Iraq. Dissolve to exterior shot of Capitol Building, then camera pans along Senate office hallway, stopping at door with brass nameplate: Senator Hillary R. Clinton. Title overlay with dateline: “Washington, D.C., 2002.” Inside, an aide knocks on door of senator’s inner office, then opens it a crack.
“Senator, Bob Graham called to remind you to make sure you read that National Intelligence Estimate report on Iraq, the one he says shows Bush is hyping all that stuff about Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction.”
Clinton’s voice, heard from within: “Oh gosh, I forgot. Can’t we have someone go down and take a look for me? Take some notes? I’m swamped.”
The aide, leaning inside the door, addressing an unseen Clinton: “Oh, I wish we could but, y’know, it’s classified. Senators only.”
Clinton’s voice: “Well, for gosh sakes. I can’t just drop everything. Besides, he said it’s 90 pages long. It’ll take me hours.”
Aide: “OK, no sweat. Just wanted to let you know he’d called.”
Cut to clip of Clinton speaking at the January 30 debate in Los Angeles: “Certainly I did an enormous amount of investigation and due diligence to try to determine what, if any, threat could flow from the history of Saddam Hussein being both an owner of, and a seeker of, weapons of mass destruction.”
Voiceover: “Due diligence? Senator Bob Graham was so disturbed after reading the classified intelligence report that he decided to vote ‘No’ on the Iraq war. Clinton never read the report. And she voted for the war.”
Fade to shot of Senator Obama, seated in Kennedy-esque rocking chair, reading late at night in a pool of golden lamplight. A pile of big heavy books is beside him.
Closing title: “Obama: He’s diligent. And he loves to read.”