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Sweet column: Obama says Clinton hit memo slamming Indian ties his staff leaked is "stupid" a "mistake."

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WASHINGTON -- Seeking to limit damage within the Indian-American Democratic community, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said Monday it was a "screw-up" and "stupid" and a "mistake" for his campaign to issue a memo slamming ties rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and her husband, Bill, have to India and Indian-Americans.

"In sum, our campaign made a mistake," Obama said in a statement released through a group of Indian-American supporters called South Asians for Obama '08.


"Although I was not aware of the contents of the memo prior to its distribution, I consider the entire campaign -- and in particular myself -- responsible for the mistake."

In Iowa campaigning, Obama told the Des Moines Register on Monday, "It was a screw-up on the part of our research team." He added, "I thought it was stupid and caustic."

Obama's campaign, staffed with veteran Washington operatives, seeks to portray Obama as above the fray and an outsider candidate of change.

They got caught pushing a negative research memo aimed at the Clintons. It was headlined "Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)'s personal financial and political ties to India," with the release pegged to the Clintons' latest financial disclosure, made public last week.

The Obama campaign had offered the Punjab memo to reporters writing about the Clinton finances on an off-the-record basis, meaning the reporter agreed to consider using the information but was not supposed to reveal that it came from the Obama camp.

However, a copy was obtained by the Clinton campaign and circulated to bloggers and reporters. (I was doing something else and did not deal with either campaign on this.)

The political problem for Obama -- besides insulting Indian-American Democrats, a growing source of votes and political money -- is that he has pledged to run a different type of campaign.

After his chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, engaged in sniping with Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson over disparaging remarks Hollywood mogul David Geffen made about Clinton, Obama told the New York Times in February he was not aware of the statement beforehand and "my preference going forward is that we have to be careful not to slip into playing the game as it customarily is played."

Obama was forced to backpedal under pressure. On Friday, the non-partisan United States India Political Action Committee wrote Obama asking "if indeed your staff is promoting these hurtful stereotypes." A statement by campaign manager David Plouffe was not deemed sufficient. On Sunday, the South Asians for Obama -- his own supporters -- said in a statement they were disturbed "by the clear anti-Indian sentiment" in the memo.

This is the third time Obama has blamed staff for mistakes. In May, Obama told leaders of the International Association of Fire Fighters he skipped their New Hampshire meeting because of his scheduling staff.

SAFO co-founder Hrishi Karthikeyan said Plouffe and Obama political staffer Rudi Shenks were on a conference call Monday with other Indian-Americans, where Plouffe "personally apologized to us." Obama spokesman Bill Burton said materials will now be reviewed by a "higher level" -- Plouffe and strategist David Axelrod -- before release.

It's too soon to tell if there is long-term damage. Said Karthikeyan, "It would be naive of me to say there aren't some people in the community whose support he lost."


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6 Comments

A caustic, stupid mistake; a real screw-up?

Well, I think this is less 'hurtful' knowing the United States Political Action Committee is "non-partisan". I think that means they don't vote. So, they don't really count.

As for the South Asians for Obama, you're looking at a long and expensive trip to the polls.

So, just give them a hug and move on, 'comme ordinaire'.


Senator Barack Obama (D-Umb)

Senator Obama’s response to being decried for the release of a Hillary Clinton opposition research campaign document was not action, but only reaction to downplay this serious error prompted by immediate and well-founded criticism. This document was an inappropriate and unacceptable means to address the complicated issues and realities of globalization and outsourcing at the expense of targeting an ethnic minority group in our diverse nation. While Obama has undoubtedly now ostracized many of his Asian supporters, I am certain he has gained the support of those who choose to bemoan the loss of American jobs to international sources of competition and attribute these issues to a single ethnic minority group rather than the true sources of these complicated trends, namely a free market economy and technological progression. Further, those individuals named in the document do not lead nor represent the greater views and beliefs of all the East Indian American community let alone the entire Indian state of Punjab.
Outsourcing is hardly new and will continue to be inevitably present in our increasingly interconnected global society. These extraordinarily complicated trends have continued for many decades and are most definitely not limited to the state of Punjab or nation of India. How we as Americans will be able to sustain an economically strong nation are significant questions that must be addressed appropriately, not by attacking an ethnic group. As long as such ideas of “patriotism” include targeting of minority groups within its own nation, we have progressed culturally nowhere and the influences on our economy cannot be honestly addressed this way. Such blatant hypocrisy in lieu of Obama being a candidate who himself represents a minority group that has suffered and continues to suffer discrimination should not be tolerated.
This opposition research document’s attack upon East Indian Americans is disturbingly similar to President Carter’s mischaracterizations by public insinuations of media and congressional control by Jews as well as use of well-worn anti-Semitism slurs attacking the American Jewish Community rather than address the tragically difficult questions regarding Israel and Palestine. Obama is unfortunately yet another leader who I have long supported and admired who has undone themselves by demonstrating anti-American sentiments. Further, a July 19, 2007 Chicago Tribune article by Eric Zorn titled “Obama Too Fast To Retreat From 'Punjab' Jab” defending the legitimacy of this opposition research document, Zorn refers to East Indian Americans as “expatriate natives of India.” Clearly, endorsing and encouraging an erroneous belief and personal sentiment that East Indian Americans are not really Americans or patriots of the United States further contributing to the real intent and threat of ostracizing the East Indian American community from the rest of the nation. Such irresponsibility in journalism is beyond offensive.
Obama’s campaign use of financial disclosure by Senator Clinton is nothing more than a deliberate attack against a political rival under the guise of addressing complicated issues facing the American public and economy at the expense of a minority group of Americans. As a Punjabi American, and one who has long supported and defended Senator Obama’s candidacy towards presidency, I must acknowledge with great sadness that the revelations from this campaign document places myself, my family and my community in grave danger and undue discrimination. As such, I no longer endorse Senator Obama and will encourage all of my colleagues, friends and community to do the same.

P.J. Uppal, MD
Chicago, Illinois

What's really disappointing is that the important topic of outsourcing (how, when, where, why) is now buried under the question of presentation. It's hard to focus on the substantive issues when the spotlight is on the style (or lack thereof) of a candidate's staff.

I'm sure opp research work can be tedious and a bit boring at times, so the temptation to 'spice it up' with a riff on a statement Clinton herself made was too much for them on that particular day. Hey, it happens.

I've read a few headlines in the Chicago Sun-Times (written by a lowly copyeditor) that must have made the paper's editor wince, as well as a few stories by the journalists. Unless perfection is the new cut-off point, let's move on.

Big surprise. Of course he's sorry and it was a "stupid mistake" after all.
That's what politicians always say & if people have YET not figured out that NObama is only looking out for NObama, they must be just plain blind AND stupid.

Mistakes will frequently be made by "wet behind the ears", overly enthusiastic liberal college volunteers and well meaning, but naive female supporters.

Being an African American myself and having so many friends in the Indian American community, I was shocked to see the contents of the memo. I hope the Senator learns from this and takes charge of his campaign from now, or else we might have a divided house, when the time for the elections come

Andrea Washington

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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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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on June 19, 2007 7:24 AM.

Sweet column: Media rollout for Clinton campaign manager (and Chicago native) Patti Solis Doyle. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: Obama says Clinton hit memo slamming Indian ties his staff leaked is "stupid" a "mistake." is the next entry in this blog.

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