Saturday, January 19, 2008

Carrying Water for the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy

If you are a Democrat, you would do well to recall the oft-quoted commandment from blogger Jane Hamsher from Firedoglake:
So here's the rule. You never repeat right wing talking points to attack your own, ever. You never enter that echo chamber as a participant. Ever. You never give them a hammer to beat the left with. Just. Don't. Do. It.
And to reinforce that strategic recommendation, here’s what commenter Alice Marshall said on Not Larry Sabato in regard to one of JC Wilmore’s more absurd attacks on Hillary Clinton:
Whatever you think of HRC, it is critical not to resurrect of GOP smears.

Whoever we nominate will be subject to the GOP smear machine, in order to prevail we must defeat the entire smear machine. There fore we have to take on these lies whether or not our candidate is on the receiving end of these smears. HRC has many supporters, Ben is only one.
I may have had my political differences in the past with Alice Marshall, but she’s actually right about this. And so is Jane Hamsher.

Yet, serving as the water boy for the right wing is exactly what J.C. Wilmore seems to be doing here. And his stupid excuse is that it's because Ben Tribbett broke the truce between the Clinton and Obama camps. As if Ben is actually a highly placed operative in the Clinton campaign rather than an independent blogger whose campaign ties are to local Northern Virginia races not national political campaigns. The equivalent would be me trashing Obama and repeating right wing lies about his attending a madrassa just because J.C. made me angry. I’d rather face a firing squad than engage in that kind of nonsense just to trash a Democratic candidate.

Let me make something very clear. I am not criticizing Wilmore for supporting Obama or for being critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I actually agree with him that there should be a conversation about Hillary Clinton’s record, her competence, and her personal characteristics as well as her stands on policy. I’m all for that.

I think we need the same critical examination of Obama. And that can be said for John Edwards or any candidate. Furthermore, I would never, never attack J.C. for making a spirited defense of Barack Obama, or for his equally spirited hits on an Obama opponent. As long as the attacks and the criticism are truly fair, I’d be the first to defend him. But these are not fair attacks at all. And they do qualify as a right wing hammer.

In fact, they are the biased talking points of the Clinton's enemies going back to the early 1990s. And they were slanted and had little merit back then and there’s even less merit in dragging them up now.

What I’m referring to is J.C’s unfortunate decision to dredge up Travelgate, the incident where the Clinton administration fired Billy Dale, the director of the White House Travel Office and the rest of his staff.

Here’s the broad outline, according to Wikipedia:
According to the White House, in early 1993 the incoming Clinton administration looked at an audit by KPMG Peat Marwick which discovered that Dale kept an off-book ledger, had $18,000 of unaccounted-for checks, and generally chaotic office records. White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty and the White House counsels thus decided to fire the Travel Office staff and reorganize it. The actual terminations were done on May 19, 1993 by White House director of administration David Watkins. There was also a feeling among the White House and its supporters that the Travel Office had never been investigated by the media due to its close relationship with press corps members and the plush accommodations it afforded them.(Congress would later discover that in October 1988 a whistleblower within the Travel Office had alleged financial improprieties; the Reagan White House counsel looked into it but took no action.

Republicans and other critics saw the events differently. They alleged that friends of President Bill Clinton, including his third cousin Catherine Cornelius, had sought the firings in order to get the business for themselves. Dale and his staff had been replaced with Little Rock, Arkansas-based World Wide Travel, a company with a substantial reputation in the industry[6] but with several ties to the Clintons. In addition, Hollywood producer and Inauguration chairman Harry Thomason, a friend of both Clintons, and his business partner, Darnell Martens, were looking to get their air charter company, TRM, the White House business in place of Airline of the Americas.
At the time, the story was widely covered by the press, and most of the coverage vilified the Clintons and lauded the White House travel office staff. In fact the press portrayed the staff, and especially Dale, as the innocent victims of the newly elected Clinton’s cronyism. The story was painted as an attempt by the Clintons to replace honest, hardworking public servants with their own allies in order to get the lucrative business contracts. But was it true?

Not according to one of their fellow journalists, Joe Conasson, who wrote this:

A federal office is discovered handing out lucrative, no-bid deals to private contractors over a period of many years, without so much as a written contract. Auditors from a major accounting firm find that the office did not keep adequate records for many of its transactions, which ran into millions of dollars annually. Eventually, it comes out that the director of the office has secretly funneled more than $50,000 into his personal checking account. Later still, it is revealed that when an anonymous staff whistleblower wrote a letter to the General Accounting Office years earlier, alleging favors from contractors and other improprieties, his complaint was brushed aside by the White House counsel -- even though the office director admitted accepting contractor gifts, which legal experts say may have been a violation of federal law.

But because the people who ran the office had catered faithfully to the needs and desires of the White House press, most of this is ignored by the media. Instead, when the implicated director is fired and eventually prosecuted by the Justice Department, he becomes a victimized hero in the national media, and the officials who fired him become the villains.

Sounds pretty unlikely, doesn't it? Not to anyone who has paid close attention to the White House Travel Office affair, or "Travelgate" as it has been dubbed by scandal-promoting pundits. In recent months, the 1993 firing of seven longtime employees of the travel office, which handles travel arrangements for reporters and television crews covering the president, has been revisited in congressional hearings, in countless news articles, and on dozens of television and radio programs. The burden of that coverage has focused on the role of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is alleged to have pressured White House lawyers into dismissing the travel office staff and bringing in the FBI to investigate them, so that friends of the First Family could enjoy the office's patronage spoils.
Here is more about Billy Dale, that famously put upon martyr in this sad, sordid tale. Here’s his take on competitive bidding for contracts in the travel office, taken from the above cited Conasson piece.
More importantly, what gets largely left out of this complicated story is an exploration of why the FBI -- and for that matter, the press -- should have been looking into the operations of the travel office in the first place. According to the 1993 White House report, the Clinton foray against it began after Dale told an aviation broker and friend of Clinton pal Harry Thomason that "no combination of price or service" could convince him to accept a bid from any air charter firm other than the one he'd used for years. Most Washington journalists have always tended to regard competitive bidding as an essential symbol of honest government -- except when it came to the White House travel office. The GAO suggests that as many as fourteen airlines would have been interested in bidding for the press corps business.

The reasons behind Dale's lack of interest in competition ought to have raised some famous eyebrows. Although he insisted that bidding would have hampered the efficiency of his operation, congressional investigators learned last fall of an October 1988 letter from a whistleblower that suggested other, less uplifting motives for his reluctance. That letter, sent to the GAO and forwarded to the Reagan White House counsel, included allegations of such favors from airline contractors as free tickets to sporting events, fishing trips, and other gifts. When questioned about this by White House security officials in early 1989, according to documents unearthed by congressional investigators, Dale admitted that he had received contractor gifts regularly. He even said he had sometimes passed the tickets on to his supervisors in the White House Office of Administration. At the very least this was a violation of federal rules, possibly a violation of federal law. Yet neither the Reagan nor the Bush administration seriously pursued the matter, despite Dale's intriguing comment to the White House security staff that he knew the identity of the whistleblower and was "seriously considering" firing him.

When this episode was revealed last November, only columnist Jack Anderson took any notice and reported it.

Evidence that Dale ran his fiefdom without regard for the most basic financial safeguards has also gotten scant attention. His acquittal on federal embezzlement charges seems to have immunized him from any real scrutiny by his old friends in the press. The thirteen-page report prepared by KPMG Peat Marwick, the auditors brought in by Clinton White House officials in May 1993 to examine Dale's books, would have made instructive reading, but few of its findings (such as $18,000 in missing petty cash) were reported in any detail. The report found that there was "no general ledger, or cash receipts/disbursements journal," that "no copies of bills to customers/press are on file," that there was, in short, a startling shortage of documents validating the business procedures followed by Dale. Such disorder in any other federal office would have been deemed scandalous indeed by most Washington journalists, but not in the travel office. Last January 24, when an enterprising Associated Press reporter called the Peat Marwick executive who oversaw the travel office audit, to ask about Republican assertions that the firm was backing off its conclusions, the executive reiterated that Dale probably should have been fired. But electronic database searches show that the AP account of the Peat Marwick man's rebuttal was not widely picked up.

When Dale was confronted during the audit about some of the missing petty cash, he produced nearly $2,800 in cash the following day, which he claimed to have found in an envelope in his desk. (Curiously, he had withdrawn $2,500 in cash from a personal account the same day the auditors began to ask about the petty cash.) It was the surprise appearance of the envelope of cash that, according to congressional testimony, got the FBI investigation going in earnest. Dale's trial, replete with evidence of mismanagement and worse -- including his diversion of $54,000 in refund checks to his own account in a bank near his home in Maryland -- received little attention other than in The Washington Post, which provided regular reporting about it, although there was a spate of stories on his acquittal. The jury appears to have been persuaded by Dale's insistence that he did not spend the money on anything but legitimate expenses, although the records to prove this were missing. While the verdict established his innocence of any crime, widespread reporting of the facts presented in the prosecution's case might have diminished his status as a beleaguered hero.
Now, ask yourself, is this the type of person that you would want to champion just to tear down Hillary Clinton? Not if you have any intellectual honesty or moral compass. Yet that’s the incident JC, a lawyer who should know better, decided to slime Hillary with.

That’s not a vigorous defense of your candidate. Nor is it a fair criticism of your opponent. It doesn’t even some close to meeting the smell test.

But I’m going to actually give JC a gift. I’m going to illustrate exactly what would have been a fair attack on Hillary’s claims that her experience in the White House makes her the most qualified candidate now. I’m talking about her thoroughly botched effort, in the early days of the administration, to get a health care reform bill passed.

The failed National Task Force on Health Care Reform of 1993, which President Clinton put her in charge of was largely botched through Hillary’s own efforts to exclude the testimony or participation of doctors, insurance companies and healthcare policy experts who disagreed with her viewpoint. Their exclusion raised red flags in the healthcare and insurance industries, the press, and among the public. The insurance industry’s Harry and Thelma commercials did not defeat the health care reform package; they merely exploited the public’s doubts, which were already there because of the secrecy surrounding the process under Hillary.

That would be a legitimate criticism of Hillary’s performance and I’d like to see her answer it. Her record in the Senate, her votes, her character traits are all fair game. And a real examination of them would be welcome.

This isn’t it. It’s a right wing smear attack by somebody who purports to be a Democrat. And as such, it never should have been done. To echo Jane Hamsher, “You never repeat rightwing talking points to hammer your own. Just don’t do it.

UPDATE: J.C. actuall did just post something on Hillary's botched health care reform initiative, which I happen to agree with. Hitting her for her real record is fair game).


The Richmond Democrat said...

No one disputes that Billy Dale was a scum bag. If Hillary Clinton hadn't interfered in the case, he probably would have pled guilty, served time and paid a fine.

Hillary injected herself into a situation where she had no business and bungled it. As a result of her bungling, Dale went free. What should have been a minor scandal for the outgoing Bush administration was transformed into a major scandal for the Clinton administration.

Funny, you never posted anything like this when Ben reposted a Republican attack video implying Obama was unpatriotic. I guess only Hillary gets a special pass.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Actually, the press never would have let go of the scandal whether Hillary inserted herself or not. They were spoiled, corrupt and biased. If they weren't, so many of us wouldn't have taken up blogging. There are better ways to spend an evening or a Saturday afternoon after a hard week at work.

Second, do you get what I'm actually objecting to?

It's merely dredging up this particular incident or incidents like it where the right wing attack machine and the hopelessly corrupt press unfairly vilified the Clintons.

I gave you your due for the criticism of how Hillary bungled the health care reform and even said I agreed with you on that.

Do you even get that I don't support Hillary but just object to the way she's being attacked, which is bringing her more sympathy from women and is therefore hurting your own candidate who is probably better than her?

spotter said...

Thanks, AIAW. Now I look forward to you (and Vivian), who are after all objective and above it all, explaining exactly which immutable rules the Clintons have violated in the last two weeks. Or do the immutable rules only go one way?

I know, I know, Hillary Clinton is responsible for all the good things that happened in her husband's administration (as one commenter said, she balanced the budget and reformed welfare) and none of the bad (Bill blew health care and got himself impeached). But of course, Hillary's not Bill. Except, of course, when she is.

So I look forward to your explanation of why Bill, who never really understood the immutable rule about upholding the dignity of the office of President, gets a pass on gender-baiting, race-baiting, lies and intimidation.

While you are at it, maybe you can explain the source of Hillary Clinton's high negatives. Because if you look at the numbers, a large portion of the people who feel so negatively about Hillary Clinton are not the rabid right-wing Republicans you describe above, but lifelong Democrats who feel the Clintons betrayed their party and are doing so again. Are all of these Democrats sexist, or are certain naive Democrats just demanding that Hillary Clinton be held to a lower standard?

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Actually, Spotter, if you will calm down and read my post, you will see that I agreed with JC that Hillary botched the health care reform initiative of 1993. I laid the blame right at her feet for the way she conducted the National Task Force on Health Care Reform.

She excluded experts from the panel or even from testifying whose support she needed. And her ultimate plan relied on employer mandated health insurance and the use of health maintenance organizations. HMOs were already hugely unpopular as evidence emerged that their rationing of health care and denial of treatment was costing lives and compromising health.

As for her high negatives, they come partly from her secretiveness, the perception - sometimes true, sometimes not - that she is the Establishment candidate, beholden to all the special interestes. And some of it does come from the double standard that faces all women professionals. If you are tough, you're a bitch. If you display human emotion, you are too weak and feminine to be in a leadership role.

As for her unfavorables with Democrats, if you'd read a poll you would see that, in fact, those voting for her in the primaries and caucuses are precisely the Democratic base - women, hispanics, some blacks (despite Obama's obvious appeal), and working class whites. The people favoring Obama are the better educated, the more middle class and affluent, and independents and young people.

And I am objective. If you read my whole blog, you would see that I also defended Obama from the ridiculous charge that he wasn't progressive enough because he said something historically accurate about Ronald Reagan.

I happen to support John Edwards, not Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Should Edwards lose the primaries, a very likely possibility, Obama would be my second choice.

Should Hillary win the primary, though, I would have no problem supporting her against any of the Republicans, not because I'm a blind Democrat but because even she would be better at fixing our economy, getting our troops home from Iraq and ... wait for it ... keeping the Supreme Court from lurching so far right that the impact for all kinds of important decisions would be felt far beyond your lifetime and mine.

spotter said...

Well, AIAW, I think another way to look at it is that we are already experiencing the effects of the Clintons, as we have for the last eight long years.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Spotter, please tell me you aren't saying that the last 8 years of Republican foreign policy and economic failures are the fault of Bill Clinton?

No Democrat could possibly be dumb enough to believe that so I must be mistaken in what I think I'm reading. Please say so.

I honestly don't mean to be insulting but if you truly think that Bill Clinton and not Bush's failed economic and foreign policies are the cause of our problems today, I don't know what to say. You simply haven't engaged your brain in any kind of critical thought.

There is not that much difference between Hillary Clinton's or Barack Obama's policy positions. The difference is one of style and personality. That's enough to make me able to choose one over the other.

But it's certainly not enough to make me walk away from our whole party if the one I choose does not prevail.

If you wish to go that route though, congratulations on the loss of the Supreme Court for the next 40 years. Congratulations also on the overturning of Roe v Wade, the loss of choice, the principle of equal pay for equal work, probably the loss of protections such as Miranda for those arrested, and even a turn back of important civil rights decisions affecting desegregation in schools.

Nice work.

spotter said...

Nope, I meant that Bush would not have been in a position to win if not for Bill Clinton's failure to create a sustainable legacy. His personal failings are what gave the Republicans an inroad, and the resulting majority. We have better choices now than a repeat of the same mistake.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

No, it wasn't Bill Clinton's personal failings that gave Bush the inroad to win.

If you don't know history that recent, it's pretty hopeless to argue with you.

When Clinton left office, he had an approval rating of 66%. Fifty nine percent said they would have voted for him again. So, he actually wasn't the problem.

It's provable that what gave Bush the victory was a press corps that was hostile to Al Gore and thought Bush was a great guy to have a beer with (even though Bush actually didn't drink).

It also did not help that the left wing of the Democratic Party refused to support Gore because he wasn't ideologically pure enough for them, so they followed Ralph Nader over a cliff.

The very same people on the left who villified Gore in 2000 then yearned for him to run in 2008. That's a very bitter irony for those of us who were Gore supporters as far back as 1988 (my husband was one of 5 Gore delegates from Florida to the Atlanta convention).

Gore was the same then as he is now but he had to run as a centrist. But he was already showing economic populism and moving away from Clintonomics and free trade. The left, however, wasn't listening because they never do.

That defeat is something I would like to avoid this time. Do you realize that as long as you and JC keep dragging up scandals from 1993 that even the Republicans won't touch and saying that you will not support the eventual winner of the Democratic primaries, you are alientating Clinton supporters that Obama might need if he, indeed, is the winner.

If you blow up the bridge back it's your own candidate who might get blown up in the explosion.

Unless you are absolutely sure he won't win, why would you pick such a bad fight that the other side, in turn, could end up refusing to support your candidate?

I am not for Hillary. I'm for DEMOCRATIC UNITY. That is why, in case you can stop your pathological hatred of all things Clinton, you will see that I also do defend Obama from the Clintons' attacks when they are unfair.