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January 19, 2008

The Telephone Man

Most of us have played a game called Telephone. The instructive exercise involves passing along a brief message from person to person by whispering it quickly in their ear, and at the end comparing what was originally said to the message at the end. It proves that people filter messages to such an extent that the final product almost always bears no resemblance to the original.

Meet Bill Clinton, the one-man telephone game. Saying that his "legs fell out" -- whatever that means -- when he heard Barack Obama's recent reference to Ronald Reagan, he proved that he either hadn't read it for himself or just decided to lie about it (see update below):

Bill Clinton joined his wife in targeting Barack Obama's statement about Republican ideas, saying that his "legs fell out" when he read it.

"Her principal opponent said that since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas," Clinton told a crowd in Pahrump this morning. "It goes along with their plan to ask Republicans to become Democrats for a day and caucus with you tomorrow, and then go back and become Republicans so they can participate in the Republican primary. I'm not making this up, folks."

He then asked which ideas were better in the last 15 years "than the new ideas I brought to Washington," outlining issue-by-issue where Republicans stood on his accomplishments.

"I can't imagine any Democrat seeking the presidency would say they were the party of new ideas for the last 15 years. But it sounded good in Reno I guess," he said. "So now it turns out you can choose between somebody who thinks our ideas or better or the Republicans had all the good ideas."

Well, if that had been what Obama had actually said, I suppose Clinton would have had a point. Unfortunately, Obama said nothing of the kind. He didn't say that the Democrats didn't have any new ideas for 15 years or fifteen minutes. In fact, he didn't say anything about ideas at all.

Here is what Obama actually said about Ronald Reagan that made Bill Clinton's legs fall out:

I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times...I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

Where did Obama mention ideas at all? In fact, rather than praising Reagan, Obama argued that Reagan had the blessing of fortunate timing more than anything else. It hardly ranks as an endorsement of the man himself, something John Edwards also managed to misinterpret. Obama doesn't mention any ideas at all, and only references themes of dynamism, optimism, and entrepeneurship -- and how they succeeded only because America was ready for them.

That's it. Obama didn't say that the Democrats lacked ideas. He correctly stated that the Clinton administration did not change the trajectory of America, and that's obviously true enough. After attempting to nationalize the health care industry, Clinton lost Congress and wound up triangulating back into Reagan territory, pushing for spending control and welfare reform.

But the truth has never stopped Bill Clinton, and it never will. The Telephone Man will insist on filtering actual quotes and regurgitating them in whatever way he can to smear his opponents. This is just the latest -- and most absurd -- example.

UPDATE: Obama mentioned ideas in another part of the interview that had little to do with Reagan, as the Lady Logician points out:

"I think it's fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10 to 15 years in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom," Obama told the newspaper.

That is a little more on point, but still doesn't equate to "Republicans have had all the good ideas". Even Clinton wound up gravitating towards the Republican agenda after 1994; he certainly didn't propose welfare reform, for instance, but made the best of having it thrust on him. The Democrats have had ideas, but they revolve around Establishment principles of expanding government control, hardly a challenge to their conventional wisdom.

Of course, I think Republicans have had almost all of the good ideas, but if you listen to the interview with the Reno Gazette Journal -- which is videotaped and streamed at their site -- Obama's point isn't that Republicans are great, but that acid partisanship is bad. He argues that changing the tone in Washington requires voters to support candidates who make realistic policy assessments based on value and not partisan origination. Clinton proves Obama correct in his knee-jerk response.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin remembers a time long ago when Hillary Clinton expressed her admiration for Ronald Reagan. "Long ago" means 29 days ago, in this instance.


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