Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bill Burton

Romney’s Fundraising Advantage Widens

The New York Times reports that Romney now has a $62 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama, which isn’t as significant as it sounds considering Obama has outraised and outspent his opponent since the beginning of his campaign.

But check out the cash-on-hand advantage the Romney-supporting American Crossroads has over the Obama-supporting Priorities USA:

Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Mr. Obama, raised $4.8 million and ended July with $4.2 million in cash on hand.

American Crossroads, the major super PAC backing Mr. Romney and the Senate Republicans, raised $7.7 million in July and spent $9.1 million, ending the month with $29.5 million in cash.

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The New York Times reports that Romney now has a $62 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama, which isn’t as significant as it sounds considering Obama has outraised and outspent his opponent since the beginning of his campaign.

But check out the cash-on-hand advantage the Romney-supporting American Crossroads has over the Obama-supporting Priorities USA:

Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Mr. Obama, raised $4.8 million and ended July with $4.2 million in cash on hand.

American Crossroads, the major super PAC backing Mr. Romney and the Senate Republicans, raised $7.7 million in July and spent $9.1 million, ending the month with $29.5 million in cash.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t account for other top Obama-supporting super PACs like American Bridge 21st Century, and the support from the labor movement. But it still doesn’t look good for them. According to the Huffington Post, most of Priorities USA’s July fundraising came from just eight individuals (plus a handful of law firms and unions):

The super PAC, run by former White House aide Bill Burton, raised most of its July money from eight individuals, two unions and seven law firms. The biggest single contribution came from the real estate investor and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender activist Mel Heifetz.

Clearly Obama’s side is somewhat worried about fundraising, or we wouldn’t be deluged with stories about it every other day. The Republican side certainly seems to have the capacity to outraise its opponents between now and the election; but it’s hard to tell whether the constant stories about Obama and Co.’s poor fundraising numbers indicate an actual problem for them, or whether it’s just another way for them to put pressure on donors.

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Strike Two for Bill Burton?

Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):

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Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and head of the pro-Obama Priorities USA super PAC, is struggling to defend his latest ad that suggests Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife. You can hardly blame Burton; fact-checkers have found that the ad is dishonest, blatantly misleading, and sleazy, so it’s no wonder he can’t defend it. But why would he run something that is indefensible in the first place? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pushed Burton on the issue last night (starts around four minutes into the video):

Burton could not have come off looking worse. This has to be a headache for President Obama, who isn’t officially tied to the super PAC but has publicly endorsed the super PAC. Campaign and White House officials have also attended fundraising events for Priorities USA, which means the campaign is going to have a hard time arguing that it has no association with the super PAC.

But Burton’s reprehensible ad, and his inability to defend it in interviews, aren’t his only problems. While Priorities USA was intended to compete with Republican-supporting super PACs like American Crossroads, its fundraising efforts have flopped since the beginning. It has been so weak in this area that the group signed onto a joint fundraising committee with Media Matters founder and head of the American Bridge 21st Century PAC David Brock in April. Committee for Justice President Curt Levy writes:

Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton founded the Obama-approved super-PAC Priorities USA Action last April, and his track record to date has been miserable. According to Federal Election Commission, or FEC, data, Burton and company raised just $4.4 million in 2011 — a paltry figure compared with counterpart American Crossroads’ $18.4 million haul for the same year. This year isn’t going so well for Burton, either. Crossroads raised $9.7 million through the first quarter of 2012; Priorities took in just $4.6 million.

And, Bill Burton is the least of the president’s problems. Consider David Brock, founder and CEO of Media Matters and founder of the American Bridge 21st Century liberal super-PAC. Brock has been embroiled in controversy. …

According to FEC disclosures, Burton’s and Brock’s outfits established a joint fundraising committee this April, after months of private talks. There’s enough fundraising desperation in the Obama camp to override any concerns they might have had about Brock’s scandal-plagued past.

You have to imagine that interviews like the one above won’t help Burton’s dismal fundraising efforts. Obama can’t legally coordinate with Burton or stop him from running the ad. But he must be starting to regret he gave the flailing super PAC his seal of approval in the first place.

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Morning Commentary

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

As the GOP prepares to read the Constitution on the floor of the House this morning — in a nod to the new Tea Party members of Congress — Seth Lipsky discusses why the reading of the founding document irks the left so much.

Robert Gibbs seems pretty excited to leave the White House for the private sector: “‘The best service I can provide this president is, for the next couple of years, outside this building,’ said Gibbs, who announced Wednesday that he would leave his press secretary job in early February. He will then hit the lucrative speaking circuit and become a paid consultant to the Obama reelection campaign.” And the search for Gibbs’s successor is on. The White House is reportedly looking past in-house candidates, like Joe Biden’s spokesman Bill Burton and Obama deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, and considering outsiders like former DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Lee Smith explains the “condescending moral double standard” that allows Western intellectuals like Roger Cohen to call themselves “liberals” while ignoring, excusing, or praising the murderous actions of the Middle East’s most illiberal regimes: “[L]ike many other Western observers of the Middle East, [Cohen] uses the region as a kind of virtual reality screen on which to project a self-congratulatory vision of a world in which superior beings like himself can naturally expect to live under the sign of law, civility, and morality while lesser beings in other parts of the world are quite naturally ruled by violence.”

David Ignatius is terribly, terribly concerned that the new head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, may be the new Joe McCarthy: “It was scary, frankly, to hear Issa describe the executive branch under President Obama as ‘one of the most corrupt administrations.’…When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas.”

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Disagreement or Different? Up or Down?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a well-known and fiercely independent individual, has exercised his right – the one written into the DNA of the living document that governs us – to disagree with President Obama about the Ground Zero mosque, issuing a statement that it should be built elsewhere. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton was asked about it this morning:

Q Can you talk about Senator Reid’s disagreeing with the President on the mosque issue? Has the President spoken to him? Did Reid’s people give you guys a heads-up about that? What was his reaction?

MR. BURTON: We did have a sense that that’s what they were going to do. But if you look at what the President said on Friday night, he respects the right of anybody — Democrat, Republican, independent — to disagree with his opinion on this. That’s one of the other fundamental rights written into the DNA of our Constitution.

Senator Reid is a fiercely independent individual; it’s one of his strengths as a leader of the Democratic Party. So the President feels completely fine that he might disagree.

But wait a minute – didn’t the president clarify his remarks, so that he took no position on the location of the mosque? Burton was asked whether he, in fact, viewed the president and Reid as disagreeing:

MR. BURTON: Well, the statements are different. What the President said was that he thinks that there’s a fundamental right for individuals and groups to be treated equally. But the President, like he said on Saturday, didn’t comment specifically on whether or not he was pushing for the site to actually to be put in that spot. Senator Reid’s comment was he thinks that it shouldn’t be.

Q So it is a different statement. It’s a different statement — do they agree? Do they disagree?

MR. BURTON: I’ll leave it to the smart guys like you, Chuck, to decide whether or not that means disagreement or different statement or what’s up and what’s down. But it’s a different take on this issue.

Maybe Sarah Palin can figure this out.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a well-known and fiercely independent individual, has exercised his right – the one written into the DNA of the living document that governs us – to disagree with President Obama about the Ground Zero mosque, issuing a statement that it should be built elsewhere. Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton was asked about it this morning:

Q Can you talk about Senator Reid’s disagreeing with the President on the mosque issue? Has the President spoken to him? Did Reid’s people give you guys a heads-up about that? What was his reaction?

MR. BURTON: We did have a sense that that’s what they were going to do. But if you look at what the President said on Friday night, he respects the right of anybody — Democrat, Republican, independent — to disagree with his opinion on this. That’s one of the other fundamental rights written into the DNA of our Constitution.

Senator Reid is a fiercely independent individual; it’s one of his strengths as a leader of the Democratic Party. So the President feels completely fine that he might disagree.

But wait a minute – didn’t the president clarify his remarks, so that he took no position on the location of the mosque? Burton was asked whether he, in fact, viewed the president and Reid as disagreeing:

MR. BURTON: Well, the statements are different. What the President said was that he thinks that there’s a fundamental right for individuals and groups to be treated equally. But the President, like he said on Saturday, didn’t comment specifically on whether or not he was pushing for the site to actually to be put in that spot. Senator Reid’s comment was he thinks that it shouldn’t be.

Q So it is a different statement. It’s a different statement — do they agree? Do they disagree?

MR. BURTON: I’ll leave it to the smart guys like you, Chuck, to decide whether or not that means disagreement or different statement or what’s up and what’s down. But it’s a different take on this issue.

Maybe Sarah Palin can figure this out.

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Obama’s Ground Zero Debacle

It would be hard to think how Obama could have done a worse job on the Ground Zero mosque controversy. He took a position objectionable to the vast majority of Americans, within 24 hours chickened out, and then sent his press minions forward to assure his base and the Muslim World and its American community (over which he fawns incessantly) that he really does think we must accept a mosque that will produce nothing but pain for his countrymen and a sense of vindication to those who incinerated 3,000 Americans. It’s bad policy, bad politics, and bad execution, with a side order of political cowardice.

On Fox News Sunday’s roundtable, Ceci Connolly explained the flip-flop-flip:

CONNOLLY: I do think that the president’s remarks on Friday night — we know from our reporting they were not off the cuff. Those were written in advance. They were prepared. They were disseminated. He gave thought to what he wanted to say.

And from all indications he believes what he said on Friday night that, yes, this is hallowed ground but that he has a strong feeling not only about religious freedom and tolerance but also about outreach to the Muslim community, which he has done from the very start of his presidency.

So I don’t think there’s reason to really doubt his believing what he said on Friday.

BAIER: Other than the statement on Saturday.

CONNOLLY: The statement on Saturday — I think what happened was he got a little bit spooked by the reaction, because immediately after he did that recalibration, as you put it, sort of off the cuff with that local reporter down in Florida, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said, “Look, we’re not backing off of Friday night.” And I don’t think that they are.

That’s created angst for Democrats, as Nina Easton observed:

Well, you’ve got to feel the pain of some of these independent conservative Democrats like Martin Frost, who said, “Can’t this president be more like a politician than a law professor?” And we know that now that — as Ceci said, he wanted to weigh in on this. He wanted to weigh in on these broad religious principles.

And you know, we cite the 68 percent of people opposing this. Seventy percent of independent voters oppose this. So this is going to — it’s an issue that was local and, by the way, where in the bluest of states, New York, members of the congressional delegation is basically nowhere to be found. No one wants to weigh in on this.

But among independent voters they really, really oppose this. What this has done is nationalize a sensitive issue. The president — it’s interesting. This is the third time where he’s — in the interest of what he sees in his world of inclusion and fairness and open-mindedness, he’s actually been very polarizing and divisive.

We start with his lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law. His — the health care reform’s been very divisive. And now this. And I think it’s going to really hurt the Democratic brand in November. It’s nationalized this issue.

As Bill Kristol deadpanned: “It’s never a good moment … when Bill Burton, the White House deputy press secretary, at 6 o’clock Saturday night — I mean, I worked in a White House that had some problems in ’91, ’92, as the first Bush administration wound down, somewhat losing some popular support, let’s say. And when you put out a statement that says, ‘Just to be clear, the president is not backing off in any way,’ I mean, ‘just … to be clear’ is not a good thing to begin with if you’re the press secretary. And ‘the president is not backing off’ is not really what you want your news — your explanation to be on Saturday night.”

This reinforces several bad themes for Obama. From the right, his critics have argued that he’s less than competent,  a charge that certainly was supported by a textbook “don’t ever do this” episode in presidential history. Conservatives have also asserted that Obama’s instincts are poor (both when it come in positioning the U.S. against adversaries and in his assessments of the voters’ deeply held beliefs). That too was underlined by Obama’s indifference to the mosque’s symbolism for jihadists and to Americans’ sensibilities. And then on the left, his formerly fervent base has grown exasperated with his equivocation and failure to wholeheartedly embrace their extreme wish list. Given episodes like this one, you have to admit that they too have a point.

But really, this is precisely what we should expect if we elect someone whose executive skills are negligible and whose views come straight out of the Ivy League left. Next time, maybe voters should pay more attention to the experience and values of the person they are electing to lead the Free World.

It would be hard to think how Obama could have done a worse job on the Ground Zero mosque controversy. He took a position objectionable to the vast majority of Americans, within 24 hours chickened out, and then sent his press minions forward to assure his base and the Muslim World and its American community (over which he fawns incessantly) that he really does think we must accept a mosque that will produce nothing but pain for his countrymen and a sense of vindication to those who incinerated 3,000 Americans. It’s bad policy, bad politics, and bad execution, with a side order of political cowardice.

On Fox News Sunday’s roundtable, Ceci Connolly explained the flip-flop-flip:

CONNOLLY: I do think that the president’s remarks on Friday night — we know from our reporting they were not off the cuff. Those were written in advance. They were prepared. They were disseminated. He gave thought to what he wanted to say.

And from all indications he believes what he said on Friday night that, yes, this is hallowed ground but that he has a strong feeling not only about religious freedom and tolerance but also about outreach to the Muslim community, which he has done from the very start of his presidency.

So I don’t think there’s reason to really doubt his believing what he said on Friday.

BAIER: Other than the statement on Saturday.

CONNOLLY: The statement on Saturday — I think what happened was he got a little bit spooked by the reaction, because immediately after he did that recalibration, as you put it, sort of off the cuff with that local reporter down in Florida, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said, “Look, we’re not backing off of Friday night.” And I don’t think that they are.

That’s created angst for Democrats, as Nina Easton observed:

Well, you’ve got to feel the pain of some of these independent conservative Democrats like Martin Frost, who said, “Can’t this president be more like a politician than a law professor?” And we know that now that — as Ceci said, he wanted to weigh in on this. He wanted to weigh in on these broad religious principles.

And you know, we cite the 68 percent of people opposing this. Seventy percent of independent voters oppose this. So this is going to — it’s an issue that was local and, by the way, where in the bluest of states, New York, members of the congressional delegation is basically nowhere to be found. No one wants to weigh in on this.

But among independent voters they really, really oppose this. What this has done is nationalize a sensitive issue. The president — it’s interesting. This is the third time where he’s — in the interest of what he sees in his world of inclusion and fairness and open-mindedness, he’s actually been very polarizing and divisive.

We start with his lawsuit against the Arizona immigration law. His — the health care reform’s been very divisive. And now this. And I think it’s going to really hurt the Democratic brand in November. It’s nationalized this issue.

As Bill Kristol deadpanned: “It’s never a good moment … when Bill Burton, the White House deputy press secretary, at 6 o’clock Saturday night — I mean, I worked in a White House that had some problems in ’91, ’92, as the first Bush administration wound down, somewhat losing some popular support, let’s say. And when you put out a statement that says, ‘Just to be clear, the president is not backing off in any way,’ I mean, ‘just … to be clear’ is not a good thing to begin with if you’re the press secretary. And ‘the president is not backing off’ is not really what you want your news — your explanation to be on Saturday night.”

This reinforces several bad themes for Obama. From the right, his critics have argued that he’s less than competent,  a charge that certainly was supported by a textbook “don’t ever do this” episode in presidential history. Conservatives have also asserted that Obama’s instincts are poor (both when it come in positioning the U.S. against adversaries and in his assessments of the voters’ deeply held beliefs). That too was underlined by Obama’s indifference to the mosque’s symbolism for jihadists and to Americans’ sensibilities. And then on the left, his formerly fervent base has grown exasperated with his equivocation and failure to wholeheartedly embrace their extreme wish list. Given episodes like this one, you have to admit that they too have a point.

But really, this is precisely what we should expect if we elect someone whose executive skills are negligible and whose views come straight out of the Ivy League left. Next time, maybe voters should pay more attention to the experience and values of the person they are electing to lead the Free World.

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Maybe He Should Get Down to Work

A growing number of Democrats are openly fretting about Obama. You can’t blame them, considering that he led the party on a yearlong, fruitless quest for health care, and they are now staring at a potential wave election. Moreover, it’s hard to see what he thinks the presidency is all about. He gives speeches and goes on TV, but what else?

He’s not connecting with voters, even his own party concedes. One of the at-risk Democratic Virginia congressmen, Gerry Connolly, complains the president should “go out and talk to the unemployed. Go out and talk to small businesses.” He says that Obama is  ”‘too much the cerebral, cool, detached’ president and that he needs to weigh in forcefully to break the logjam over health-care reform and other issues. ‘He needs to recalibrate what the proper balance is moving forward.’”

But he really doesn’t do the whole legislative drafting thing:

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama will not delve into the minutiae of writing a health-care bill. “He’s not a legislative technician,” Burton said. “He’s not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what the best way forward is at this point.”

So what does he do? He campaigns and speechifies, of course. He gives the State of the Union and talks about fiscal responsibility, but his minions draft a monstrous tax-and-spend blueprint that not even Democrats can defend. He tells lawmakers to “punch through” on health care but simply recycles the same talking points. He has outsourced anti-terrorism policy to Eric Holder. What’s missing in all this is a conscientious attention to governance, a well-thought set of policies that could engender bipartisan support, and a willingness to talk directly to voters without laying blame for all his travails on others. Yes, the presidency is hard, as he said of the Middle East. But it doesn’t get easier by ignoring many of the job’s key tasks.

A growing number of Democrats are openly fretting about Obama. You can’t blame them, considering that he led the party on a yearlong, fruitless quest for health care, and they are now staring at a potential wave election. Moreover, it’s hard to see what he thinks the presidency is all about. He gives speeches and goes on TV, but what else?

He’s not connecting with voters, even his own party concedes. One of the at-risk Democratic Virginia congressmen, Gerry Connolly, complains the president should “go out and talk to the unemployed. Go out and talk to small businesses.” He says that Obama is  ”‘too much the cerebral, cool, detached’ president and that he needs to weigh in forcefully to break the logjam over health-care reform and other issues. ‘He needs to recalibrate what the proper balance is moving forward.’”

But he really doesn’t do the whole legislative drafting thing:

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama will not delve into the minutiae of writing a health-care bill. “He’s not a legislative technician,” Burton said. “He’s not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what the best way forward is at this point.”

So what does he do? He campaigns and speechifies, of course. He gives the State of the Union and talks about fiscal responsibility, but his minions draft a monstrous tax-and-spend blueprint that not even Democrats can defend. He tells lawmakers to “punch through” on health care but simply recycles the same talking points. He has outsourced anti-terrorism policy to Eric Holder. What’s missing in all this is a conscientious attention to governance, a well-thought set of policies that could engender bipartisan support, and a willingness to talk directly to voters without laying blame for all his travails on others. Yes, the presidency is hard, as he said of the Middle East. But it doesn’t get easier by ignoring many of the job’s key tasks.

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In Defense of Hillary

Yesterday (as Jennifer noted) Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke for the first time about the association between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, saying “getting up and moving” would have been the right response to hearing Wright’s sermons. According to the Washington Post:

Wright “would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said during an interview with the conservative editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review… “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend,” she said. Obama refused to disavow Wright even as he said he disagreed with some of his sermons…. Clinton, speaking in Pittsburgh, cited her earlier condemnation of radio host Don Imus, after he insulted the Rutgers‘ women’s basketball team, as an example of how Obama should have reacted to his pastor’s words. “You know, I spoke out against Don Imus, saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that,” the paper quoted Clinton as saying. “I think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

In response Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said this:

After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia. The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech. The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country.

Actually, what Senator Clinton said is perfectly reasonable. You don’t choose your family but you do choose your church–and it’s reasonable to ask why Senator Obama chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s even more reasonable to ask why Obama, once he was exposed to the worldview of Reverend Wright, never confronted him over his anti-American views and never left the church. That was the obvious and right thing to do. For Obama not to have done so was, in part, a failure of courage and judgment on his part.

Nor do we know what “fierce” and “controversial” things Wright said from the pulpit that Obama now admits to having heard and with which he strongly disagreed. What did Reverend Wright say, and when did he say it? Those questions are certainly legitimate and answerable.

There is nothing “low” in what Mrs. Clinton said. What is unfolding is a transparent attempt by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with some in the media, to declare the Wright matter off-limits–to argue that (a) Obama’s Philadelphia speech put the matter to rest; (b) Obama is the victim of a smear campaign; (c) he should be left alone so he can lead our desperately important national conversation on race; and (d) those who continue to press the Wright matter are attempting to swiftboat Obama.

These complaints are not logically sustainable. Try as they might, Obama’s defenders in the campaign and the media will not succeed in putting an end to this matter. If it can be done, only Obama himself can do it. And so far, he’s failed. His long, close association with the hate-spewing Jeremiah Wright remains, and rightly so, a stain on Barack Obama.

Yesterday (as Jennifer noted) Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke for the first time about the association between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, saying “getting up and moving” would have been the right response to hearing Wright’s sermons. According to the Washington Post:

Wright “would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said during an interview with the conservative editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review… “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend,” she said. Obama refused to disavow Wright even as he said he disagreed with some of his sermons…. Clinton, speaking in Pittsburgh, cited her earlier condemnation of radio host Don Imus, after he insulted the Rutgers‘ women’s basketball team, as an example of how Obama should have reacted to his pastor’s words. “You know, I spoke out against Don Imus, saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that,” the paper quoted Clinton as saying. “I think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

In response Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said this:

After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia. The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech. The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country.

Actually, what Senator Clinton said is perfectly reasonable. You don’t choose your family but you do choose your church–and it’s reasonable to ask why Senator Obama chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s even more reasonable to ask why Obama, once he was exposed to the worldview of Reverend Wright, never confronted him over his anti-American views and never left the church. That was the obvious and right thing to do. For Obama not to have done so was, in part, a failure of courage and judgment on his part.

Nor do we know what “fierce” and “controversial” things Wright said from the pulpit that Obama now admits to having heard and with which he strongly disagreed. What did Reverend Wright say, and when did he say it? Those questions are certainly legitimate and answerable.

There is nothing “low” in what Mrs. Clinton said. What is unfolding is a transparent attempt by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with some in the media, to declare the Wright matter off-limits–to argue that (a) Obama’s Philadelphia speech put the matter to rest; (b) Obama is the victim of a smear campaign; (c) he should be left alone so he can lead our desperately important national conversation on race; and (d) those who continue to press the Wright matter are attempting to swiftboat Obama.

These complaints are not logically sustainable. Try as they might, Obama’s defenders in the campaign and the media will not succeed in putting an end to this matter. If it can be done, only Obama himself can do it. And so far, he’s failed. His long, close association with the hate-spewing Jeremiah Wright remains, and rightly so, a stain on Barack Obama.

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Hillary’s “No”

The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

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The Washington Post and the New York Times may have missed it, but the New York Sun got it. The key moment for the Democrats as a party during last night’s debate came when Barack Obama stumbled on the same question about driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants that had tripped up Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier.

For two weeks Obama and Edwards had attacked Clinton for her flip-flopping “politics of parsing” because she seemed both to support and oppose the licenses. (Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton had taken “two weeks and six different positions to answer one question.”) But last night Clinton, having pushed New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into entirely abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses, responded with a crisp “no” when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked for a straight up-or-down answer on whether the candidates supported licenses for undocumented workers. Last night it was Obama who wanted it both ways. Asked the question, Obama launched into a discussion of how “When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention.” But when Blitzer pressed him for a yes-or-no answer, the usually exquisitely articulate Obama froze. Visibly off-balance, he replied that “I am not proposing that that’s what we do.” He then went on to say, “I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety.” A frustrated Blizter responded, “This is the sort of question available to a yes or no answer.”

Clinton’s definitive “no” took her partly off the general election hook. But with nearly 80 percent of voters opposing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, her party, as represented by Obama and Bill Richardson, is still in the hot seat on this issue. Led by liberal Democrats, seventeen states have opposed a national standard for driver’s licenses. (In eight of these states, licenses are already being issued to undocumented workers.) This has led Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac Poll to analogize that, like affirmative action for racial minorities—an issue that badly damaged the Democrats in the 1970’s and 1980’s—today’s immigration issue has split the party’s working class supporters from its liberal activists. And as with affirmative action, liberal activists are quick to deride their opponents as racists.

Brown is right about the broad similarities. But there are also significant differences. Affirmative action and racial quotas pitted middle- and lower-middle-class white male Democrats against African-Americans and liberal activists. But on immigration, the remaining white working-class Democrats are aligned with most African-American voters, who are often those most directly in competition with low cost illegal immigrant labor. And this tension can only be exacerbated by the reality of black downward mobility. According to a new study from the Economic Mobility Project, “children of black parents earning in the middle 20 percent of all families in the late 1960′s had a 69 percent chance of earning less than their parents, the study found. For white children, that chance was just 32 percent.”

Hillary may have dodged a bullet for now, but the internal Democratic party debate on undocumented workers has only begun.

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