Was Bill Clinton Questioning Obama’s Patriotism?

By MichaelJames

Mar 22, 2008 8:17pm

Former President Bill Clinton, laying out "the three reasons" for his wife’s candidacy at Charlotte, N.C., VFW post 1160 Friday, said, "She’d be the best for the veterans, she’d be the best commander-in-chief, and she’d be the best at managing this economy."

Then he got into some trouble with a fourth reason: electability. Citing hypothetical match-ups between the Democrats and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the former president said his wife beats McCain in Ohio, Florida and Arkansas, while Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., would lose to him in those states.

"So she can win this election," he said to applause.

"And we need to change the direction of this country," he continued. "But it won’t be an easy race. John McCain is an honorable man … and he and Hillary are friends. They like and respect each other."

He then told about how she and McCain had worked together on global warming.

"I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country," Clinton said, "and people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.

"So that’s my argument for her."

Watch the remarks HERE.

As reported by ABC News’ Sunlen Miller, an Obama surrogate saw in those remarks the former president by omission implying that Obama was not a candidate who loved this country — and that his nomination, as opposed to his wife’s, would mean a non-issue-based debate, i.e., "all this other stuff."

“Both Barack Obama and John McCain are great patriots who love this country and are devoted to it," said Obama campaign co-chairman Gen. Tony McPeak. "So is Hillary Clinton. Any suggestion to the contrary is flat wrong.”

To reporters, he likened Clinton’s comments to those of red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wisc.

"I grew up, I was going to college when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors,” McPeak said. "So I’ve had enough of it.”

Was Clinton implying that Obama was less that patriotic?

NBC’s Carrie Dann says that considering the context of the last week — the Rev. Jeremiah’s Wright’s inflammatory comments, the GOP making it clear it will attack Obama’s patriotism — "Clinton’s comments could be seen as an effort to draw attention to the issue of patriotism in a state with a high population of veterans."

Andrew Sullivan didn’t see it that way. No Clinton fan, he, Sullivan wrote: "I don’t think he’s implying that Obama doesn’t love his country or is not devoted to the interest of this country (although you could, with some strain, parse it that way). He’s actually hoping for a substantive, non-swift-boating, non-Coulter, non-Hannity campaign. It’s pretty close to my own hope for an Obama-McCain race. Now why Clinton didn’t include Obama, who is the current front-runner, and who has shown an ability to speak and talk constructively and civilly for the entire campaign, is an interesting question, isn’t it?"

The Clinton campaign writes: "Actually, as is indicated by the quote itself, President Clinton was talking about the need to talk about issues, rather than falsely questioning any candidate’s patriotism. He was lamenting that these kind of distractions ‘always seems to intrude’ on political campaigns. This is consistent with his criticism of the ‘politics of personal destruction,’ which dates back 16 years."

(Does he really think that a Clinton-McCain race would be a cleaner race than Obama-McCain? That seems, at best, a naïve notion.)

In any case, the Clinton campaign is now attacking Obama’s campaign for likening Bill Clinton to McCarthy — which seems interesting given that Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson once likened Obama to another Democratic bogeyman, former independent counsel Ken Starr.

Not to mention that, as McPeak referenced, in 1992 then-Gov. Bill Clinton himself once invoked McCarthy after then-President George H.W. Bush was attacking him for allegedly "demonstrat[ing] against your own country or organiz[ing] demonstrations against your own country in foreign soil."

Said Bill Clinton in 1992: "You have questioned my patriotism. … When Joe McCarthy went around this country attacking people’s patriotism, he was wrong. He was wrong. And a senator from Connecticut stood up to him named Prescott Bush. Your father was right to stand up to Joe McCarthy. You were wrong to attack my patriotism. I was opposed to the war, but I love my country and we need a president who will bring this country together, not divide it. We’ve got enough division. I want to lead a unified country."

I asked Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer to explain what could be seen as a contradiction.

"President Bush actually employed a McCarthyesque tactic, to which Bill Clinton responded," Singer said. "Bill Clinton didn’t question Obama’s patriotism."

As for the second point, Singer said, "Ken Starr raised questions about Sen. Clinton’s ethics. The Obama campaign is doing the same thing."

I asked Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton to explain how Obama could claim to be trying to bring in a new kind of politics when his surrogates are on the attack — McPeak with the McCarthyism, and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe in a full-out assault on Hillary Clinton on "character" issues yesterday.

He said Obama making a positive case for himself did not mean they wouldn’t push back against Clinton attacks or correct the record.

And the beat goes on. …

What do you think Bill Clinton meant?

– jpt

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