Bill Clinton attacks Obama "fairy tale"

The former president says he has been "blistered" by Obama's negative campaign.

Published January 8, 2008 3:09PM (EST)

Is Hillary Clinton's sudden slide getting to her husband?

You be the judge.

Here's Bill Clinton, flashing what the New York Sun calls "anger and frustration" when somebody asked him Monday whether strategist Mark Penn blew it Saturday by claiming -- prematurely, as it turned out -- that Obama had gotten no "bounce" out of Iowa.

"What did you think about the Obama thing calling Hillary the senator from Punjab? Did you like that? Or what about the Obama handout that was covered up, the press never reported on, implying that I was a crook. Scouring me -- scathing criticism over my financial reports. Ken Starr spent $70 million to find out that I wouldn't take a nickel to see the cow jump over the moon.

"So you can take a shot at Mark Penn if you want. It wasn't his best day. He was hurt. He felt badly we didn't do better in Iowa. But the idea that one of these campaigns is positive and the other is negative when I know the reverse is true and I have seen it and I have been blistered by it for months is a little tough to take. Just because of the sanitizing coverage that's in the media doesn't mean the facts aren't out there.

"It is wrong that Sen. 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. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

The former president is right about some things. The Obama campaign did put out a memo in which it referred to Hillary Clinton as the senator from Punjab -- Obama apologized for it later -- and the same memo raised questions about both Clintons' financial dealings.

But it's a bit of a stretch for Clinton to claim -- as he seems to be doing -- that his wife is running a "positive" campaign while Obama is running a "negative" one. In addition to Penn's sneering "Where's the bounce" memo, we've received e-mails from the Clinton campaign over the past few days attacking Obama on everything from using a lobbyist as his New Hampshire co-chairman to voting for Dick Cheney's energy plan to allegedly violating New Hampshire campaign laws. Hillary Clinton herself has been dismissing Obama this week as a "talker" rather than a "doer." It was Clinton's New Hampshire co-chairman who raised concerns about Obama's past drug use, and it was Clinton's strategist -- Penn, again -- who blurted out the word "cocaine" in a discussion about it on national TV, then denied that he had done so.

And while it's true that Obama and Clinton have nearly identical Senate voting records on Iraq, it's also true that Obama gave a speech opposing the war at about the same moment that Clinton was voting to authorize it. Yes, Obama said in 2004 that he did not know how he would have voted on the war if he'd been in the Senate at the time. But he suggested in the same interview that his uncertainty stemmed from the fact that he wasn't "privy to the Senate intelligence reports" that sitting senators saw," and he added: "What I know is that, from my vantage point, the case was not made."

Did Obama really say in 2004 that there was "no difference" between his views and George W. Bush's on the war? Not exactly. As the Washington Post has explained previously, what Obama actually said in the interview to which Clinton was referring was that while he would have voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, he was not in favor of "pulling out now." Thus, when Obama said that there's "not much of a difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage," he was plainly referring to the question of whether to stay in Iraq, not the decision to invade in the first place.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Barack Obama Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton War Room