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The invisible impeachment

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Author Topic: The invisible impeachment  (Read 9 times)
Garrell Hughes
Superhero Member
Posts: 3268

« on: June 02, 2008, 09:48:35 am »

The invisible impeachment
Jeanne Cummings
Sun Jun 1, 5:36 PM ET

As the Democratic primary season nears a close, the candidates have talked about dozens of policies, fended off a host of attacks and studiously avoided one topic: the impeachment of President Clinton.

Whether that’s a product of self-control or self-preservation, the tactical decision by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s opponents to steer clear of any direct reference to what may have been the defining moment of the Clinton White House seems remarkable given the duration and intensity of the 2008 primary campaign.

While Republicans signaled early that it would be a major issue should she win the nomination, it has been a forbidden topic for her primary rivals since early 2007, when David Geffen, a former Clinton ally and a Hollywood supporter of Barack Obama, felt the wrath of the Clinton camp — and received a scolding from the Obama campaign — after raising it in an interview.

The reasons for the silence are both obvious and subtle.

Raising it could do more harm than good — particularly in a Democratic primary — since most party activists still view the painful saga as an act of supreme hypocrisy and partisan overreach by congressional Republicans.

“Voters don’t have much of an appetite for this,” said Peter Hart, an independent Democratic polling expert. “There’s nothing about this election that suggests people want to wallow in the past.”

Such an attack could have had the boomerang effect of generating sympathy and support for Sen. Clinton, who was personally wounded by the scandal that led to the impeachment charges.

When Chelsea Clinton was asked in a college town hall meeting how her mother managed the crisis, her frank rebuke that it wasn’t anyone’s business was widely applauded by party activists.

And the issue, while most closely associated with Clinton, could have played out unpredictably within a Democratic field that once counted among its eight major candidates two senators, a former senator, a House member and a former cabinet secretary who all had roles to play in blocking the Republican push to oust the former president and rallying party and public support around him.

Finally, raising impeachment may well have wreaked havoc with the party’s base.

Georgetown University political scientist John Haskell notes that the impeachment fight “was a catalyst to bring the Democratic Party back together” after the Republican congressional takeover in 1994.

“The Clinton administration wasn’t popular among liberal Democrats because he was triangulating like mad and [also wasn’t popular] with African-Americans because of welfare reform. Then the Republicans go crazy and try to impeach him and everybody came together and said the real problem’s in [former Speaker] Newt Gingrich and the rest of them,” said Haskell.


The impeachment muzzle, however, hasn’t stopped opponents, including Obama, from adopting nuanced language that picks at the damage the scandal caused to the Clintons’ credibility.

The Illinois senator’s accusation that Clinton will “say anything” to get elected struck many observers as a veiled reference to her husband’s struggle with the meaning of “is.”

And when Obama was under fire during a Pennsylvania debate for comments made by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his response inched closer to the line.

Asked if his campaign would be plagued in a general election by the replaying of the Wright sermon tapes, Obama said: “You know, look, if it’s not this, then it would be something else. I promise you, if Sen. Clinton got the nomination, there will be a whole bunch of video clips about other things.”

Obama stopped short of defining those “other things,” leaving listeners to fill it in by dredging up their most memorable scandal image.

The Obama campaign has referred directly to other Clinton scandals — money the couple earned by trading cattle futures and a controversial land deal — that are more closely tied to the former first lady. Still, its avoidance of any direct reference to the impeachment scandal has caught some notice.

“The guy has had many opportunities to bring the debate there and has chosen repeatedly not to,” said Tad Devine, a neutral Democratic analyst. “This was a choice he made and I think it was a wise one.”

Oddly, the only clear reference to the impeachment struggle was made by Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson.

As the Obama campaign pressured Clinton to release her tax returns this spring, Wolfson accused Obama of “imitating Ken Starr,” the Republican’s chief impeachment investigator.

The Obama campaign called the comparison “absurd,” the blogosphere heaped criticism on Wolfson, and the issue faded from the primary debate for good.
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