August 10, 2004

Clinton versus an amorphous, colluding, racist "them."

Bill Clinton did a leisurely, double-length interview on "The Daily Show" last night. It was mostly quite dull, as Clinton pattered out what felt like prepared commentary, with the assistance of prompting questions from host Jon Stewart, who refrained from his usual interrupting and challenging and joking. The Clinton-tome was laid out on the desk and eventually attracted the usual banter. (It's long, you see.) The most interesting subject, though, was the Swift Boat Veterans' ad. Stewart had mocked the ad in an earlier segment of the show, and Clinton's first comment to Stewart was "I'm glad to be here. I'm glad you did that riff on the military attack on Kerry, too."
STEWART: That was a rough one, wasn't it?

CLINTON: Yeah, but you know, they did the same thing to McCain in 2000.

STEWART: Same group, am I right?

CLINTON: Same group.

STEWART: Nice kids.

CLINTON: Yeah. In support of the same crowd, I might point out.

STEWART: Who .... had nothing to do with it.

CLINTON: They also ... had a calling campaign in the primary in South Carolina in 2000 talking about how John McCain had a black baby, and they didn't want the white voters to forget it. ...
The "they" referred to throughout this discussion is never named, and gets mushy as things proceed. "They" gets melded with the "crowd" in a way that makes it very hard to tell who's who, and makes everyone seem to be acting in concert, when in fact, the election laws require them to keep their activities separate. Were the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans involved in the South Carolina smear tactics?
STEWART: Do you believe that politics has gotten so dirty ... that these kinds of tactics become so prevalent, that this is the reason half the country doesn't vote or this is the reason that we don't get the officials that we deserve?

CLINTON: No, I think people do it because they think it works.
Interesting example of assuming that a different question was asked. Stewart asked Clinton about the effect of "dirty" tactics on voters, not why people use the tactics. This is one of the places in the interview where I get the feeling Clinton and Stewart had a prepared sequence of questions, and I'm guessing that Stewart, as a result of Clinton's longwindedness, skipped a question, but Clinton stuck with the script. Clinton continues:
And as soon as it doesn't work, they'll stop doing it. I think Senator McCain, whom I admire very much, made a big mistake not bashing the Bush campaign over the attacks on his service. They implied that he betrayed the country as a POW, and he made a huge mistake for not bashing 'em for that calling operation saying he had adopted a black baby. It was blatantly racist. And they'll do this stuff as long as they think it works. They're running this ad against Kerry's military record 'cause they think it's not good for them. I mean Kerry, went to Vietnam, and President Bush and Vice President Cheney were big hawks, were like me: we didn't go. All three of us could have gone and we didn't. And Kerry did. So it's not good for them, so they're trying to put a chink in his armor.
Again, an interesting glitch that makes the remarks seem scripted: the first "it's not good for them" doesn't really fit. He reuses the phrase later, where it makes sense. And why did Clinton say "big hawks"? Did he mean chickens? Chicken hawks? And note how the racist tactics in South Carolina have become the most prominent activity of the "they," who are now "running the ad against Kerry"! For the second time, he makes it seem as though the Swift Boat Veterans have something to do with racism. That's wildly unfair. Clinton continues:
But it's wrong, and if they really disapproved of it, they would have said they disapproved of it, and there's a reason they didn't say they disapproved of it. ... Look what they did to Max Cleland, in Georgia. ... They beat him with it, and until we stop them, they'll keep doing it.
My elisions don't contain any substantive attack on the anti-Kerry ad. They are only a repetition that dirty tactics are used because they work and a long elaboration of the Max Cleland story. Stewart ventures that both sides must resort to various tactics, and asks why there isn't some control on the truth of political ads. Clinton responds:
To be fair, for about the last three elections, starting in '92, actually, the newspapers began to evaluate the truth and accuracy and fairness of the ads. And they do it more often. And this ad that you've featured here has actually been subjected to quite a bit of criticism. So we are getting better at it, but when someone comes after you, you have to go back at them.
That flowed by very glibly, and I was glad I had it TiVoed so I could go back and see where the seams were. So newspapers have been "evaluat[ing] the truth and accuracy and fairness" of political ads? And the anti-Kerry ad has "been subjected to quite a bit of criticism"? That doesn't say that newspapers have evaluated this ad and found a problem with truth or accuracy or fairness. Newspapers have been evaluating some ads, but have they evaluated this one? And this ad has been criticized, but for what reason? Obviously, it's been criticized for daring to impugn Kerry's war record, when at least Kerry, unlike some others, went to war--Clinton himself just criticized it on that ground. But is it untrue?

Clinton just stressed how important it is to bash back really hard. If he's fighting as hard as he can, why was there not one word in all that long flow of words citing factual errors in the ad? Clinton pointed out at some length (another elision in my transcript) that McCain's baby was in fact not black but Bangladeshi (something that hardly matters) but he did not mention one detail in the Kerry ad. Why did Clinton choose to whip up a smooth froth of amorphous, colluding, racist "them," old material about McCain and Cleland, and exquisitely hypocritical protestations about the dirty tactics? May I assume that Clinton, with his express intent to bash back hard, would have made a substantive attack on the ad if he'd had the material?

UPDATE: It just occurred to me that the "them" in Clinton's remarks ≈ "a vast right-wing conspiracy."

Also, the failure of the Kerry campaign to respond substantively to the Swift Boat Veterans seems to be a permanent strategy. The attack on the SB Vets is stooping pretty low, fishing for stray chat-room remarks, as noted by Drudge today, linking this AP article.
"President Bush should immediately condemn this sleazy book written by a virulent anti-Catholic bigot. It says something about the smear campaign against John Kerry that it has stooped to enlist a hatemonger," said campaign spokesman Chad Clanton.
So now you 're a "virulent anti-Catholic bigot" if you call the Pope "senile" and make some harsh remarks about the sexual abuse of children? Outrageous!

Instapundit, linking to Matt Welch, is discussing the extent to which Kerry's failure to respond substantively constitutes proof of the truth of the allegations.

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William said...
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