Sunday, January 10, 2010

Scandals and Game Changers

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, which chronicles the 2008 elections, and written by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, is certainly going to raise eyebrows inside the beltway with the level of dirt being dished. Some of the juiciest bits have already come to light, and they do not put top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and former President Bill Clinton, in a positive light.

It's plenty scandalous, but perhaps what's more scandalous is the fact that the media ignored many of these stories during the campaign even though there were inklings of issues that should have otherwise demanded closer scrutiny.

Marc Ambinder pulled some of the best of the worst:
On page 37, a remark, said "privately" by Sen. Harry Reid, about Barack Obama's racial appeal. Though Reid would later say that he was neutral in the presidential race, the truth, the authors write, was that his
encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.
The relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton are also thrown in to the fray as the Clinton campaign had to put together an effort to confront what was likely an inevitable leak on Bill cheating on Hillary in a significant way:
The authors write on page 50 about the "war room within a war room" that Hillary Clinton put together to deal with questions about her husband's "libido." The circle of trust included media strategist Howard Wolfson, lawyer Cheryl Mills and confidant Patti Solis Doyle.
The war room within a war room dismissed or discredited much of the gossip floating around, but not all of it. The stories about one woman were more concrete, and after some discreet fact-finding, the group concluded that they were true: that BIll was indeed having an affair -- and not a frivolous one-night stand but a sustained romantic relationship. .... For months, thereafter, the war room within a war room braced for the explosion, which her aides knew could come at any moment.
Bill also managed to step in it with comments that could be construed as racist when it comes to Obama. Senator Ted Kennedy was apparently offended about his conversation with Bill Clinton:
(Page 218): "Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago this guy would have been getting us coffee."
That too could also be construed as Obama rocking the boat and upsetting the staid situation in the Senate; it was unheard of for someone who was such a junior member to run for President before even being in the Senate for an entire term. The fact is that for Obama to have such a meteoric rise was just amazing (and that he did so with entrenched interests in his own party displaying such views) is all the more remarkable.

For all the talk about how Republicans are racists, there seems to be plenty of it to go around.

Finally, then there is the continuing soap opera that was the Edwards' family. John Edwards was forced to can his campaign, but the media seemingly ignored John's infidelities during his wife's battle with cancer.
And John and Elizabeth (who the book says was known to Edwards insiders as "abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending, crazywoman") fought, in front of staffers, about the affair. The authors describe a moment where Elizabeth, in a such a state of fury, deliberately tears her blouse in the parking lot of a Raleigh airport terminal, "exposing herself. 'Look at me," she wailed at John and then staggered, nearly falling to the ground." (That's page 142.) (This was in October, by the way, well before the media took the reports of the Hunter affair seriously.)..
How exactly was that ignored by the media that was following the Edwards campaign? Why was no one willing to run those reports and why was it that only the National Enquirer thought it newsworthy that John was cheating on Elizabeth for months?

Now, where do we stand on all this? Reid has issued an apology, but is that truly sufficient? His comments clearly show that Reid is tone deaf (continuing a trend on that point), but his condescension and racist attitude is out of step with the Democrats' constituencies. I wouldn't be surprised to see him forced out at the next earliest opportunity, although GOPers are pushing for him to step down from the Senate Majority leader position now. As they point out, there's a wee bit of a double standard when GOPer Trent Lott was forced out for his inappropriate statements, but Reid gets a pass.

Bill Clinton continues to be a cad and the politics of his relationship with Hillary is a soap opera that makes the Edwards' family values look tame by comparison. His comments about Obama don't help his cause either.

Worst of all, the media's failings in reporting during the 2008 election season stands out the most. They were missing in action on the issues most important to voters looking to the media for answers on the various candidates' character and judgment.

That's the real message of the 2008 election - the ongoing inability of the media to report the news objectively.

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