Sweet column: Geffen-Clinton snit tests Obama

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LOS ANGELES -- As he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama is campaigning against "the smallness of our politics" and "scoring cheap political points."

It would seem, then, that Team Obama has a higher self-imposed standard when it comes to responding to shots, even cheap ones, lobbed at the Illinois Democrat. It makes life on the trail much tougher, but that's the high-minded course Obama set for himself.

The volley aimed at Obama came Wednesday via a live-fire e-mail from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign. The New York Democrat was filleted by movie mogul David Geffen in an interview he gave to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. Geffen co-hosted Tuesday's glitzy $1.3 million Beverly Hills fund-raiser for Obama, followed by a dinner at his home where a small group of the best donors got to mingle with Obama and his wife, Michelle.

Geffen was once close to the Clintons, Bill and Hillary.

No more.

Not the chairman
"Everyone in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling," Geffen told Dowd.
Clinton's chief spokesman, Howard Wolfson, read Dowd's column and zapped out a demand that Obama "disavow personal attacks" Geffen delivered in Wolfson's morning paper.

"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash-and-burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband," Wolfson said.

"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money."

Geffen, however, is not Obama's finance chairman. That title goes to Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker. Geffen is not part of the Obama campaign. His main role is as major fund-raiser, a job he completed, at least for now, Tuesday night.

Obama's response came from his chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs.

"We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom. It is also ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford, who said if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because 'he's black.'"

Gibbs reminded everyone of the mid-1990s Lincoln bedroom Clinton campaign finance scandals. He also injected a racial element by bringing up Ford.
Clinton and Obama are clearly concerned about how they are being defined in the opening weeks of their White House campaigns.

Gibbs reacted exactly as most would in his shoes: He took it to the next level and smashed back.

Wolfson drew attention to a devastating Clinton column that probably would have had a short shelf life if he let it alone, a seemingly bizarre tactic.

But Wolfson may be crazy like a fox. Gibbs' hardball response, the Clinton team seems to be betting, may serve to show that the Obama campaign may not be as different as it claims.


Lynn, I am NOT a Obama supporter. Yet, I'll defend him on this one. What Geffen says is what Geffen says. Its not coming from Obama. Besides, who is Hillary Clinton think she is as far as criticism goes? Does she really think nobody has a right to criticize her? That only she has a right to criticize others? That nobody has a right to bring up her voting record and views? This is 'much ado about nothing'.

Sweet's conclusion may hold water, but far more damaging to the Clinton campaign is the sleaze factor that still hangs around the Clinton years. Playing hardball may make the Obama campaign just like the others, but renting out the Lincoln Bedroom is likely to resonate much more with voters.

I wish Obama's campaign had remained silent on the whole thing and let the Clinton camp just hang in the wind looking stupid. The accusations leveled by Wolfson at the Obama campaign on Chris Matthews' Hardball last night made Wolfson look ridiculous, and by extension, Hillary looked ridiculous and thin skinned. And to suggest that Obama should apologize AND give the money back sounds like elementary school playground material.

I don't think the Obama campaign, specifically Robert Gibbs, handled this the best way; he didn't have to drag the Lincoln Bedroom and Robert Ford into the mud. However it pales in comparison to the blunder committed by the Clinton campaign. The last thing they should have done with O'Dowd's damaging column was give it national legs; why would they want to broadcast such a damning commentary? Hillary is a lot like Bill; if she wants to find her worst enemy, all she needs is a mirror.

If, as David Geffen purports that politicians lie with ease, Lynn Sweet and hundreds of other astute reporters and web-loggers will out those politicians promptly in the take no prisoner blogosphere and 24 hour media. No need to worry about that, but, rather enjoy the Primaries everyone. Anyway, if elected official's lies do cross the line of legality, circumspect young prosecutors like Patrick Fitzgerald will pursue aggressively. (Don't forget Gov. Ryan was convicted on ALL 18 counts). Moreover, what is Geffen crying about? Wasn't it, Edith Head, the 8 time Academy Award winning Hollywood designer for the great Mae West and others, who purportdly commented that you can never MAKE IT in this Business (Hollywood) wthout lying?

Unsurprisingly nobody has asked Obama the -substantive- issue raised by Dowd's column:

Would you agree with Geffen on Leondard Peltier? Do you think Clinton was wrong not to pardon him? Why or why not? (This was the event MoDo says turned Geffen -- Clinton pardoning Brown (I think the name was) but not Peltier).

Is Hillary no longer the media darling? Even Hollywood is turning away. But Obama still has a long way to go to be the front-runner in his party. That spot will go to the candidate with the best chance to win in the general election. I don't think it will all be about the size of the war chest, either.

to Jake: President Clinton was NOT wrong by not pardoning Peltier. I saw a documentary on that case. And seen the evidence. I'm totally sure he killed those agents. Its just another Hollywood elitist who defends anything a minority radical does. Clinton also did NOT pardon Noah Robinson (Jesse Jackson's half-brother) despite pressure to do so. Clinton was about money and financial contributions. And unlike a Mark Rich, neither one of the above offered none.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Can anybody say hypocrite? Comparing Obama to Lieberman would not be far off the mark.

Hillary Clinton is finally personally posting on the blog on her website.

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Lynn Sweet

<Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 22, 2007 8:20 AM.

Sweet blog small world special: In Beverly Hills to cover Obama, running into Durbin, Jesse Jackson. UPDATE. And Barbara Boxer just walked by. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: Heading into a new national presidential primary. is the next entry in this blog.

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