Robert Novak tells readers today that Barack Obama has managed to do what the “vast right-wing conspiracy” could not — show how the Clintons operate against their political opponents. The rapidly collapsing Hillary Clinton campaign’s desperation has forced them to go public with accusations they normally whisper, because their whispering campaign has proven ineffective against Obama:
David Axelrod, the seasoned Chicago Democratic operative who is chief strategist for Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, was taken by surprise in the last minute of CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Dec. 2. Howard Wolfson, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s spokesman, accused Obama of running a “slush fund.” In fact, the Clinton campaign was spreading that story privately months ago.
Last summer, a senior Clinton aide told a famous Democrat believed to favor Obama that the Illinois senator was using his “leadership” political action committee to spread money around the country to grease his presidential prospects. That message was private when Clinton seemed far ahead in the race for the Democratic nomination. It became public when Obama threatened to overtake her.
Before Wolfson spoke out, one of Clinton’s close supporters was spreading word of unspecified defects in Obama that should deter Democrats from supporting him. This is the Clinton style that has proved effective for two decades, but Obama has continued to close the gap. This attack mode works best when the accusations are hidden from public view.
Last summer, a few Clinton insiders — headed by her Senate chief of staff, Tamera Luzzatto — paid a presumably social visit to the Cape Cod, Mass., vacation home of a prestigious Democrat reported to be in Obama’s corner. Luzzatto warned that Obama was ethically challenged because of his leadership PAC. My sources indicated that this was not an isolated incident and that the slush-fund story was spread widely.
The Clintons have accused the Republicans of shopping these stories, but that hasn’t been the case at all. They have engaged in a heavy-duty gossip campaign designed to derail Hillary’s opposition in the race. Wolfson went public with his slush-fund accusations when private communiques failed to budge Obama’s support. Billy Shaheen tried it yesterday in New Hampshire and prompted a huge wave of criticism towards Hillary’s campaign.
No one practices the politics of personal destruction like the Clintons. The difference now is that Hillary has proven so ineffectual as a candidate that they have to push harder than normal to get the message out. It also explains the sudden and mystifying meltdown that occurred after the November debate when Hillary got caught switching positions on illegal alien drivers licenses. She proved incapable of containing the damage, and so the campaign panicked and started lashing out in all directions as a distraction, using material they had previously kept for whispering-campaign use.
In Wolfson’s case, the accusation was not only false but bizarre. The PAC that Wolfson decried as a slush fund contributed thousands to Hillary’s own 2006 Senate campaign. It also sent money to Billy Shaheen’s wife for her Senate campaign in New Hampshire. It effectively tainted everyone with a scandal brush, and for no good reason at all.
We all watched in amazement as Howard Dean melted down in the snows of January 2004, in Iowa and New Hampshire. Dean, however, was a novice on the national stage. The Clintons are supposed to be grand masters of politics, and their meltdown thus far is far more compelling — and far more revealing of their character.