- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

Tit for tat

“At the next train stop, I’m going to stand behind Senator Obama when he speaks. When he’s decrying the trivial distractions in politics, I think he may be crossing his fingers behind his back,” John Dickerson wrote Saturday from Downington, Pa., in a dispatch posted at www.salon.com.

“As the Senator’s campaign train wound from one speech where he denounced tit-for-tat politics to the next speech where he denounced tit-for-tat politics, his campaign hosted a conference call to engage in the practice the candidate was busy denouncing. I suppose it would have been an even greater act of chutzpah for the Obama campaign to host the conference call while Sen. Obama was denouncing that kind of behavior, but not much more of one,” Mr. Dickerson said

“Obama campaign aides scheduled the call to talk about Hillary Clinton’s fantastical story about her breakneck race to shelter under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia. You might think this would be the last story the Obama campaign would be pushing, because in Wednesday’s debate the Senator mistakenly suggested his campaign had only discussed the issue because reporters had brought it up, not because they were trying to take advantage of Clinton’s extended work of fiction. To push the story again now would make Obama look even more insincere about that claim.”

Nervous pundits

“The punditocracy is worried about Barack Obama, Jennifer Rubin writes in the “contentions” blog at www. commentarymagazine.com.

Maureen Dowd isn’t pleased with his debate performance (although she explains it’s because he really operates on a higher plane than mere mortal politicians): ‘The thorny questions Obama got in the debate were absolutely predictable, yet he seemed utterly unprepared and annoyed by them. He did not do well for the same reason he failed to outmaneuver Hillary in a year’s worth of debates: he disdains the convention, the need for sound bites and witty flick-offs and game-changing jabs.’

Eleanor Clift was dismayed that he ‘spoke haltingly much of the time’ and was ‘on the defensive,’ and she now wonders if Obama would be a nominee ‘whose vulnerabilities boost chances of a Republican victory in the fall.’ And others are equally dismayed. Some are downright disgusted by the gap between Obama’s high-minded appeal to “new politics” and the cynical realities of his campaign. Some are disappointed by the fact that ‘it’s still true that after so many months of promising hard truths, Obama doesn’t really force people to accept any.’

“Did one debate performance do all that? Was media confidence in him so shaky that a few tough questions from ABC moderators could send his standings into a tailspin? There is a bipolar quality to such opinion shifts: one day Obama is the messiah of American politics, the next he’s a deeply flawed candidate.”

Tuned out

“On Tuesday Hillary Clinton made the best speech of her campaign,” Peggy Noonan writes at www.opinion journal.com.

“She told the American Society of Newspaper Editors how she conceives ‘the power and promise of the presidency.’ She asserted that President Bush had been ‘unready’ for the office, did not understand its ‘constitutional character,’ exhibited in his decisions an ‘ideological disdain.’ She said she hopes to ‘restore balance and purpose’ to the presidency, and detailed specific actions she would take immediately on entering the White House,” Miss Noonan said.

“It was an important speech, and someone, probably many someones, worked hard on it. It was highly partisan, even polar, but it was a more thoughtful critique of the administration, more densely woven and less bromidic, than she has offered in the past, and she used a higher vocabulary. So eager was she to be heard she actually noted at one point that what she’d just said was not ‘a sound bite.’

“And here’s the thing. It didn’t matter. Nobody noticed. A room full of journalists didn’t notice this was something new and interesting. And they didn’t notice because nobody is listening anymore.

“Mrs. Clinton is transmitting, but people aren’t receiving. She has been branded, tagged. She’s been absorbed, understood and categorized. People have decided what they think, and it’s not good.

“It took George W. Bush five years to get to that point. It took her five intense months.”

A test case

“Republicans have hoped that Sen. John McCain’s reputation as a maverick and his appeal to independents would help them in this year’s congressional elections. Democrats are now putting that to the test,” reporter Stephen Dinan writes in his “On the Republicans” blog at www.washington times.com.

“House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, [on Friday] fired off press releases against about three dozen House Republicans or Republican challengers asking them to choose between siding with or against McCain’s comment this [past] week that the economy made progress under President Bush.

“The McCain campaign is saying it’s an unfair charge taken out of context — most of that answer, on Bloomberg TV, was spent on the pain Americans are feeling economically — but the DCCC is trying to make McCain a problem for Republicans anyway,” Mr. Dinan said.

“Democrats have long feared McCain as the toughest Republican to beat, given his reputation as a maverick, and know that could help marginal Republican races in swing states.

“The DCCC provided a list of 35 districts they are sending the releases to, but said that was not a complete list of their Republican targets this year.”

Backing Clinton

Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday picked up an unexpected endorsement from “the vast right-wing conspiracy,” reports S.A. Miller of The Washington Times.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review endorsed the New York senator for tomorrow’s Pennsylvania Democratic primary. Publisher Richard Mellon Scaife financed some of the investigations in the early 1990s that led to the impeachment of her husband, President Clinton. At the time, Mrs. Clinton criticized Mr. Scaife as part of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” aimed at bringing down Mr. Clinton.

In giving the endorsement, the newspaper cited Mrs. Clinton’s experience and credited her with having the “courage” to sit down with the editorial board at the Tribune-Review. Rival candidate Sen. Barack Obama declined the newspaper’s invitation to do the same.

“Clinton’s decision to sit down with the Trib was courageous, given our long-standing criticism of her,” the paper said. “That is no small matter. Political courage is essential in a president. Clinton has demonstrated it. Obama has not.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes .com.

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