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Clintonistas Can't Take the Heat

By Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO -- Think of it as revisionist politics.

The Clintonistas and some of their chums in the elite media want you to think that Hillary Clinton actually got the better of Barack Obama in their recent scrape over the comments by movie/music mogul and Obama supporter David Geffen.

Excuse me, but what fight were they watching? Hillary never laid a glove on him. And Obama got in two sharp jabs -- one that he served up himself and one delivered by his campaign spokesman, Robert Gibbs, who now is under fire from liberal bloggers because he is so effective at drawing blood from fellow Democrats.

At the very least, the Clintonistas seem to be hoping that the verbal shoving match has shattered the spell that Obama has had on much of the national media and that, from this point forward, he'll be treated like any other candidate running for president.

Some members of the media are obediently picking up on that thread. Kate Zernike of The New York Times wrote that "Mr. Obama's reputation for being above politics was soiled.'' Her colleague, Adam Nagourney, insisted that Obama "seemed to acknowledge that he may have been outmaneuvered.'' And Dan Balz of The Washington Post lamented that Obama "missed an opportunity to project the kind of campaign that he says he wants to project, which is to get away from the politics of polarization and personalization.''

To recap, Geffen -- who, with pals Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, recently raised about $1.3 million in Hollywood money for Obama -- made some incendiary but insightful remarks about the ease with which both Bill and Hillary Clinton tell whoppers and the difficulty of electing Hillary, who Geffen aptly described as "another incredibly polarizing figure.''

Clearly, it stung. The Clinton camp quickly fired off an e-mail to Democratic supporters in an attempt to drive a wedge between Obama and Geffen.

"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics,'' the e-mail read, "he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money.''

Are they kidding? A politician return money, absent a scandal?

Obama spokesman Gibbs shot back in a written statement: "It's ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom.''

And when reporters asked Obama whether he would condemn Geffen's remarks, the Illinois Democrat tossed in some common sense. "It's not clear to me why I'd be apologizing for someone else's remark,'' he said. This was, his campaign said, a private matter between Hillary Clinton and someone who once supported her husband but who now seems committed not to support her.

Good for them both. Gibbs deserves a raise, and Obama deserves to be seen by Democrats as being able to counterpunch and keep his wits while under fire.

Too bad the Clintonistas didn't come across nearly as well in all this. Hillary reached back for an old line when she implored Democrats (read: Obama) to resist "the politics of personal destruction." CNN pundit James Carville, a former adviser to the Clintons, charged that the Geffen outburst suggested that maybe the Hollywood mogul thought he was the one running for president. Carville said the episode explains why many campaigns, when faced with contributors like Geffen, "try to get him to open his wallet and shut his mouth.''

That's absurd. But it's helpful. In other ventures, when you ask someone to invest in your business or support your cause, you should welcome their views -- or at least tolerate them. In politics, that's not the case.

The question in all this is simple: do people like David Geffen have the right to free speech or not? They absolutely do. And that speech should be protected, whether it comes in the form of a check to a campaign or provocative comments about a candidate. If you believe in one, you have to believe in the other.

As for Obama, he has since said that he intends to take the high road from now on and that he told his staff he wants them not to "be a party to these kinds of distractions'' but instead to talk about issues.

Yet one of the most important issues in a presidential campaign is character. And this latest ruckus told us something about who has it and who lacks it.

ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com

(c) 2007, The San Diego Union-Tribune


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