Chicago Sun-Times
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Sweet column: The Bill Clinton factor. Obama repudiates staff hardball tactics.


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 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.


We suddenly have an "anger management problem" when someone criticizes the Clintons? What do you think has been happening to Bush from the cable nitwits, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, anti-Bush blogs, etc. Bill Clinton himself has taken shots at Bush while enhancing Hillary's war chest thru lucrative speeches overseas.
The Clintons want to play fair? They really think the public is stupid.
Obama handled it well.
What a non-story!

Personally I think the hardball from the obama camp should have stood. Yes, it's about a change in politics but, Hillary is playing dirty and wants blood. You have to be hardball to let her know she is not going intimidate you. and to get her to lay off. She hit first and it's fair to hit back. Stick with the hardball where hillary is concerned and show you are not afraid of her. Don't let them get away with anything.

Well, if the Democratic primary campaign remains free of mudslinging by any party, I will be greatly surprised. The candidates typically
blame the innuendos and character assasinations on their operatives. I'm not saying that is the case in this particular instance, but it is a tried and true method. I will expect to see it more from the Clinton camp than from the Obama one. Remember, noone is in panic mode yet, so the gloves haven't even begun to come off.

Bill Clinton's personal behavior probably will NOT affect Hillary Clinton's presidential chances. Mrs. Clinton's clear and definite political positions and solid Senate record, combined with former President Clinton's brilliant political acumen should fare them well for the duration of the campaign. Also, in their joint TV appearances,(and as with other candidates' spouses), Bill Clinton appears dutiful and quietly attentive toward Mrs. Clinton. Together, they really do make a stunning couple, as do Barack and Michelle Obama. But, who will win the Presidency in '08 will be the candidate the American people feel can firstly, "get a handle on this terrible WAR and illegal immigration and secondly, help middle and lower income America reclaim lost prosperity and hope".

Of Course Slick Willie is gonna "appear" dutiful and attentive toward Hilary in public, he's never been accused of being stupid just aduterous, deceitful and evasive with answers such as "it depends on what the meaning of is is." And let's not forget that Bill did every male in the country a favor when he claimed that oral sex was not really sex therefore he did not have sex with that woman. Now many people applaud Hilary for sticking by Bill through all that, but did she truly stick by Bill or was she just posturing for her own political agenda? For a long time people didn't think a man could get elected President if he had been divorced because it somehow showed he couldn't manage his personal life let alone run a country. Ronald Reagan broke that barrier. I believe staying in an unfulfilling marriage for the sake of appearences shows even less ability to manage one's life. Before Hilary starts slinging mud maybe she should come clean with answers that weren't forth coming during Bills' administration.

The Hollywood wars between Clinton and Obama are a reminder of how image trumps substance in modern American poltics. And in this war of imagery, the Clintons are masters, as elaborated on in my new book, "Hillary Clinton Nude: Naked Ambition, Hillary Clinton And America's Demise."


Pricilla you got my dress dirty.

Much too early to fight kids - its a long way to 2008

Obama's strategy of calling his staff idiots to the NYTimes is a brilliant, if unexpected, strategy. He is constantly outmanuvering the Clinton team, sometimes single-handedly. If my campaign staff talked to the press without my knowledge and said ugly things against my wishes, I would threaten to fire them too! I am beginning to think this guy is a member of the ultra Mensa club (IQ in the top 1%).

I believe Obama's skills would be best used in the Vice President's seat to handle the senate. The wave of change in forgien policy can only be done by BILL and this means leaving Hill-dog at home to manage the public policy as a President. These positions make for a clear winning team. The Bush legacy has been tainted. The son never employed his father's skills for the country's common good.

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Lynn Sweet

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

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