by Taylor Marsh
The debate last night was something else. I've never been prouder to be a Democrat. But evidently Tim Russert felt that with Hillary Clinton the frontrunner it was his job to do what her opponents have been unable to do for months: attack her full out, no matter the subject or tactic. So Russert came loaded and ready last night, but not for bear, but for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, using her former president husband to drive the point home. For good measure he came equipped with documents, which he even held up at one point that seemed to reveal new information, but that was anything but. I'll get to that in a minute. But the predictable reveiws are out and the hack pack press is picking up where Russert left off last night.
The drivers licenses question at the end obviously surprised Clinton. But when explaining Spitzer's plan Clinton once again showed something that her opponents do not get. She is willing to go to bat for our guy in New York, Elliot Spitzer, who has been trying to deal with the immigration challenge he's facing as governor. The same cannot be said for the rest of the group on stage standing next to Clinton. What's Spitzer supposed to do when Congress shirks their responsibility on the immigration issue? Clinton absolutely got caught up in the subject, but she nailed, without flinching, what Spitzer is trying to do. It's obvious that most of her opponents not only weren't familiar with Spitzer's legislation, which lost out because no one would stand up with him, but were only interested in going after Clinton. As an aside, I think this issue will ignite the wingnuts, just like the anti gay marriage amendments did in '04. I'm against illegal immigrants getting licenses as was proposed by Spitzer (too cumbersome, for one), but I fully understand and appreciate Spitzer had to do something because Congress is not. However, that's no reason to throw Spitzer under a bus. Clinton is getting hammered today, which I predicated, especially on the drivers license question moment, which came at the end of a withering assault from The Boys. But make no mistake about it she stood up and fought back for Spitzer.
Richardson coming out to defend Clinton at one point was a gallant gesture, even if it was badly disguised as a pitch to be vice president. Clinton's opponents did everything to break Clinton down, including call her "unelectable." They insinuated she couldn't be trusted and was not fit for the presidency. Her opponents got personal, but the worst offender was someone who forgot his job. Tim Russert's play last night was not only nakedly sexist, but showed his immaturity and lack of respect for any woman standing up to be commander-in-chief. If only The Boys in the group would have gotten Tim's glare. But he was all in for Clinton. He's evidently been taking notes from Chris Matthews.
There were 52 questions asked last night; 25 had to do with either Hillary or Bill Clinton, including very personal insinuations, with 22 of the 25 being abjectly hostile.
Tim Russert asked 26 questions; 14 were to Clinton, with 5 directly targeting her personally.
Is Roger Simon, Andrew Sullivan or anyone else talking about these facts?
In contrast, Barack Obama got asked what he would do about air travel; whether there was life beyond earth; and the question on which all Americans' safety depends, What are you going to dress as on Halloween? When the air travel question drooled out of Russert's mouth I thought I'd accidentally hit the remote to the Travel channel. But Russert's softballs to Obama when compared to Clinton were nakedly obvious to anyone paying attention. When you couple Russert's penchant for his all boys panels on Meet the Press, there's only one conclusion to draw.
When you throw in the continual hammering by Edwards, who had his best night, not on issues, but because he played attack dog towards Clinton, not to mention Obama jumping in when he could get up the courage, last night's boy brawl showed more about Clinton than anyone is willing to say. She can take anything dished out at her. The innuendos didn't stop her. The attacks didn't phase her publicly, though at one point I thought she was going to really come out and call it what it was, nothing short of a two-sided attack, with Clinton the target, including from "moderator" Tim Russert who had no business taking sides. But he did anyway.
But one of the most telling moments was when Tim Russert held up a document and asked Clinton about National Archives documents:
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I'd like to follow up because, in terms of your experience as first lady, in order to give the American people an opportunity to make a judgment about your experience, would you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the president, the advice you gave, because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, actually, Tim, the Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves. There's about 20 million pieces of paper there and they are moving, and they are releasing as they do their process. And I am fully in favor of that.
Now, all of the records, as far as I know, about what we did with health care, those are already available. Others are becoming available. And I think that, you know, the Archives will continue to move as rapidly as the circumstances and processes demand.
MR. RUSSERT: But there was a letter written by President Clinton specifically asking that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012. Would you lift that ban?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, that's not my decision to make. And I don't believe that any president or first lady has. But certainly we'll move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.
If you saw Russert hold up that document you likely thought it came within the last year. Seeing Russert's chubby red face all flushed with excitement, in fact, you might have even gotten the impression that the document he held had just come through in a fax machine, specifically for the debate. Oh, how important the theatrics of the moment, especially when moderator turns into Meet the Press attack dog.
After spending time on the phone today with a source very familiar with archive procedures, the truth of the matter is quite different. The letter Russert held up was from 1994. It's also standard operating procedures for all presidents. Once documents start being produced by a president, something has to be decided about what to do with them in case something happens to the president. I was told it was standard for presidents to choose the 12 year maximum to hold the documents, which are put in categories like national security, senior administration, secret, etc. The highest level documents often stay secret, and with regards to Bill Clinton specifically, are then run by Bruce Lindsay to decide whether to make them public. What Russert didn't bother to add at the time of his document waving drama, was that right after Bill Clinton left the presidency he asked that his documents be released immediately. But after George W. Bush came into office, he decided that presidential papers would be kept secret indefinitely, something Bill Clinton openly fought against, including opposing Bush on the 12 year secrecy procedure, but especially on the new indefinite stand. So back and forth the conversation went, with Bush pushing back on Bill Clinton.
Russert played a card that was not only disingenuous and meant to bring in Bill Clinton into a debate where Hillary Clinton is running for president, but did so using innuendos and outright falsehoods, according to any objective player. Jim Warren of the Chicago Tribune pointed out on MSNBC today (video up soon) that there was nothing whatsoever unusual about the Clinton archives issue. Warren then went on to say that when you speak of Rudy Giuliani, the same cannot be said. Warren's paper will have a big piece on the issue this Sunday. Wonder if Russert will be interested? Doubtful. By holding the 1994 document up, Russert acted like this was really a new event. It was a charade of monumental proportions.
It's time to ask what Tim Russert's behavior reveals. When you compare his questions to Clinton with the ones that were asked of The Boys, there is only one conclusion to draw. Tim Russert used his position as moderator to single out Clinton in a fashion that was inappropriate, highly targeted, unfair, especially when you consider the numbers of questions to Clinton and their negative tone, opposed to Obama's cutesy questions.
Russert didn't moderate the debate. He became part of the proceedings, coloring the questioning and supporting the attack dog theme, the brawl theme that the hack pack press wanted. Because if Clinton's Democratic opponents weren't prepared to go at Clinton, it is clear that Tim Russert had deemed himself the man for the job. He'd give his buddies in the media the headlines they wanted today. It was a disgraceful performance of outright grandstanding in order to fit the debate to the storyline put forth in the press all day yesterday.
Again, there were 52 questions asked last night; 25 had to do with either Hillary or Bill Clinton, including very personal insinuations, with 22 of the 25 being abjectly hostile. Tim Russert asked 26 questions; 14 were to Clinton, with 5 directly targeting her personally.
Can anyone imagine Obama standing up to an onslaught like that? What about Edwards?
Russert's goal was to provide the headlines the media was salivating to see. He intended to diminish and discredit Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, using her former president husband, Bill Clinton, to help do the job, which included a document waving drama that was all for show. I'd say Russert has a problem with a woman being president, but that can't be the case. Nah, he was just doing his job.