Bill Clinton's personal behavior...will it matter in 2008 race?
LOS ANGELES -- As White House hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama competed for major California Democratic donors the last few days, the campaign trail took the rivals to uncharted territory.
The Bill Clinton elephant entered the room.
The matter of former President Clinton's personal behavior -- you know the references -- surfaced in Maureen Dowd's New York Times interview with movie mogul David Geffen, who co-hosted a $1.3 million fund-raiser in Beverly Hills for Obama on Tuesday.
Geffen's acidic remarks about the Clintons triggered a mudslinging exchange between the Clinton and Obama camps.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson started with a demand for Obama to disavow the Geffen comments; Obama communications chief Robert Gibbs countered by bringing up a controversial supporter of Clinton's in South Carolina and harkening back to the campaign finance scandals dating to the President Clinton era.
Wolfson went public after BlackBerrying his statement to Clinton. Gibbs acted without the knowledge of Obama, so I'm told by the two camps.
In a lesser noted part of the interview, Geffen said Bill Clinton is a "reckless guy" who "gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country."
Geffen also said in the interview he's not talking about the past, "I don't think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person."
Intended or not, Geffen planted a seed.
That "reckless" statement implicitly raised a smeary flag about the present-day relationship between the Clintons -- territory seen as personal and absolutely off-limits by anyone associated with the New York senator.
Lanny Davis, who handled scandal control for the Bill Clinton White House, said the bottom line is this when we talked Friday: "David Geffen's attack on two of the most popular Democrats among Democratic voters in the U.S. ... says more about Mr. Geffen having an anger management problem than any potential harm among Democrats to Bill and Hillary Clinton."
OBAMA REPUDIATES STAFF
Obama repudiated the hardball tactics of his own staff. And he made it seem he was clueless about a major story dealing with his own campaign.
In a front page New York Times interview published Friday, Obama suggested that his marching orders to stay on the high road were ignored, quite a public flogging.
Obama, in his two-week old campaign, is offering himself as the antidote to a cynicism he asserts is poisoning U.S. politics. One of Obama's stump lines goes something like this: His rival in the Democratic primary "is not other candidates," he says, "it's cynicism."
Gibbs and Wolfson mixing it up is campaign business as usual. The back-and-forth, however, exposed Obama to a risk -- being called a hypocrite.
Obama decided not to handle matters internally, however.
"I told my staff that I don't want us to be a party to these kinds of distractions because I want to make sure that we're spending time talking about issues," Obama told the paper. He added, "My preference goinard is that we have to be careful not to slip into the game as it is customarily played."
Obama, who is rarely without a cell phone or BlackBerry, seemed curiously removed from a major political story dealing with his campaign.
He told the Times the clash erupted as he was flying back to Chicago from Los Angeles on a red eye. Then, he was busy getting a haircut and taking his kids to school.
Later that day, he was back in a plane, presumably with aides who could have delivered the news.
Folks may well have been ready to move on by the end of the week. But Obama, in a baffling strategy, made a surprising call -- to the New York Times.