By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Ronald Reagan — whose policies were almost universally disfavored by clear majorities who nevertheless supported him — knew better. And that's perhaps why Obama's most cogent statements of the campaign, among those most distorted by critics to his right and left, have been those he made to the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board in the interim between Iowa and New Hampshire. Obama said Reagan had "changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not." He added: "He tapped into what people were already feeling, which was, 'We want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.'"
Needing to clarify those remarks later, after the Clinton campaign ran smear ads implying that Obama was, in fact, a Reaganite, the Illinois senator said: "Just as there were a whole lot of Reagan Democrats, we need to create a whole lot of Obama Republicans." The easier translation would have been: In the same way Reagan got a lot of nonconservatives to line up behind a conservative program, America now needs a liberal who can line up a lot of nonliberals behind him. Duh.
Which brings me to that second, much darker moment on the campaign trail. Just two weeks after that inspiring evening in Des Moines, and with Hillary Clinton rebounding after a surprise win in New Hampshire, I was standing outside a ballroom at the Mirage resort in Las Vegas on Saturday morning. Bill Clinton had already been deployed as the heavy artillery in his wife's campaign, but it was quite a surprise to see him roll right into one of the most sensitive and strategic polling places in the state, just minutes before the tiebreaker Nevada caucuses.
But there Bill was, with a light Secret Service detail (under orders to allow the masses to get snuggly close to him) and flanked by a few Hillaryland staffers, giving one of the most startling, and nauseating, performances of a political lifetime. With only a smile on his ruddy face (what in Arkansas might just be called a shit-eatin' grin), with not a trace of visible anger or irony, and while he warmly hugged and held those who flocked to greet him, the former president of the United States uncorked an open pipe of political sewage.
He flat-out accused the Obama campaign of what he called "voter suppression," claiming that the powerful Culinary Workers Union, which had endorsed Obama, was somehow now "rescheduling" and "reassigning" workers who were for Hillary. As if the union, and not the infinitely more powerful gambling megaresorts, were their employer. What else Bill Clinton said bears some extensive quoting:
"Today, when my daughter and I were wandering through the hotel, and all these culinary workers were mobbing us, telling us they didn't care what the union told them to do, they were gonna caucus for Hillary. There was a representative of the organization following along behind us, going up to everybody who said that, saying, 'If you're not gonna vote for our guy, we're gonna give you a schedule tomorrow so you can't be there.' So, is this the new politics? I haven't seen anything like that in America in 35 years."
Jon Stewart had a field day with this quote, musing about how it was possible that — in the clanging din of the Mirage casino, surrounded by security — the former president was somehow mobbed by union members, not gamblers, who were somehow congregating in the casino and telling him what he claimed they did. And then, somehow, the former president was able to hear what this "representative" of the union was telling workers in his wake. And, oh yes, he did not have sex with that woman.
Let me add that the same ex-president who, during his own career, was defeated as incumbent governor by a smear campaign, saw his congressional majority evaporate during his tenure, was accused by the Falwell-oids of mass murder, was accused by the wing nuts of killing Vince Foster and, ultimately, was impeached, now claims that these unsubstantiated acts of a hotel-workers' union using its muscle to line up votes against his wife are something he hasn't seen "anything like... in America in 35 years."
That Clinton performance alone would have been rather startling. What came next was jaw-dropping. Bill, accompanied by longtime family bagman and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe, then moved from the outside lobby to just inside the door of the caucus room, making sure that each voter had to pass right by him before making his or her choice for nominee. Democratic Party officials had taken pains to make sure that no partisan signage or literature was allowed inside caucus sites and that once the complicated voting process got under way, no outsiders could have contact with the caucusers.
Big Bill broke none of the ground rules but came right up to the line and lingered until the last minute, continuing to whip up support for his wife's campaign. A Democratic official on site told me that if Mr. Clinton were still inside when the caucus got going five minutes later, he would have been required to be "properly credentialed or he would have to be removed."