Saturday, October 25th, 2014

The "Fairy Tale" Fracas

SUMMARY: The Clintons try to keep the focus on Iraq in a sharp attack on Barack Obama. Looking at the facts, we find Obama has consistently opposed the war, but he has not always advocated immediate withdrawal. Meanwhile, the Clintons deflect charges of racial insensitivity.

In an attack on Barack Obama before the New Hampshire primary, Bill Clinton hammered the media for going easy on Obama's Iraq record, then concluded derisively, "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

The video of Clinton's attack shows it started with a question from the audience about Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's top political adviser. Bill Clinton addressed the question briefly, then pivoted to an attack on Obama's Iraq record and the media's coverage of it:

"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years — and never got asked one time, not once, 'Well, how could you say that, when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution, you said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war. And you took that speech you're now running on off your Web site in 2004 and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since?' Give me a break."

Clinton is on shaky ground, though, if he wants to argue that Obama previously supported the war. We've examined Obama's claim that he consistently opposed the war and found it to be True. (Check out that claim here .)

In 2004, Obama did say that his position was not that different from George Bush's. But what Obama clearly meant was that once the invasion had occurred, pulling troops out immediately would be a bad idea strategically. We don't find that to be the same thing as changing his mind and supporting the war. So we give Clinton only a Half True on this statement for selectively quoting Obama.

On the other points, Obama has said that he would have voted against the war in 2002, but he's also said he didn't get to read the intelligence reports that senators receive, and that might have influenced his vote in ways he can't know. (Obama became a U.S. senator in 2005.)

In case there's someone out there who hasn't heard yet, we'll note for the record that Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the war.

Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" line, though, didn't sit well with some African-American political leaders, who bristled at the implication that Obama has conned the press into becoming a leading candidate.

"For him to go after Obama, using fairy tale, calling him a kid, as he did last week, it's an insult," said Donna Brazile, a leading Democratic strategist who managed Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. "And I tell you, as an African-American, I find his words and his tone to be very depressing."

Hillary Clinton's recent statement about Martin Luther King Jr. has also been construed as having racially charged implications.

"Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act," she said, adding "it took a president to get it done." Her point seemed to be that activists are important, but so are lawmakers. Some people felt her remarks diminished King's accomplishments. Obama himself said that Clinton's remarks were "ill-advised" and "unfortunate."

The Clinton campaign said that critics were distorting their remarks and went back to attacking Obama's record on Iraq, targeting comments by Obama foreign policy adviser Susan Rice.

Rice said on MSNBC that Obama has consistently supported withdrawal of troops from Iraq since 2002. The Clinton campaign says that's not true, and we have to agree, based on some of the evidence reviewed above. There's a difference between opposing the war and advocating for withdrawal of troops. In 2004, Obama opposed the war but said troops needed to stay in Iraq for the time being, and that was the basis of comparing his position with George W. Bush's.