The Swiftboating of Hillary Clinton


John KerryIn the early months of 2004, I sent an alert to the senior staff of John Kerry’s presidential campaign. I was alarmed about a growing online movement questioning his Vietnam service. Sites like Winter Soldier, Free Republic, and others were buzzing with anti-Kerry activity and I sensed a storm heading Kerry’s way. My role as the campaign’s online communications advisor was hazy to some of the old-school strategists. Blogs were a novelty to them and if it wasn’t on the evening news, it wasn’t news.

Since my alert was about a threat to Kerry’s military career, I was directed to the leadership of his Veterans team. I informed them that trouble lay ahead and that we should begin to fight back immediately on the forums where the attacks were happening. The campaign’s decision was to monitor the online situation carefully. By August it was too late – the attack that later entered the political lexicon was about to explode through the media into the public consciousness and deal a gut-wrenching blow to Kerry’s image.

Part of the reason I joined Kerry’s team was my respect for a man who volunteered to serve his country when others were scrambling for deferments. Having grown up in a war zone in Beirut and been conscripted into the Lebanese Forces militia at 15, I was keenly aware of what it was like to be in the line of fire. The fact that Kerry was being savaged for his time in the military – a time that he chose to place himself in harm’s way – was despicable to me. It was painful to be working in his war room for the duration of the swift boat attacks and to see the aftermath.

hillary-clintonFast forward to 2015 and I’m watching a similar process unfold, this time with Hillary Clinton. And just as I did in 2004, I have a personal stake in the outcome. The crux of my professional career has been my work with the Clintons. I’ve been a long-time advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative and was Hillary’s digital media strategist for several years. [I use her first name only because her current campaign does, otherwise I would refer to her as Secretary Clinton]. I lived in her 2008 war room and slept with my (then) Blackberry under my pillow for all of 2007 and half of 2008. My daughter is a Clinton campaign baby and for her sake I vowed to do my part to help elect Hillary as America’s first woman president.

The point of this post is simple: The 2016 election is not a replay of 2012 (the data election); it is not a replay of 2008 (the dueling histories election); it is a replay of 2004 (the swift boat election). The well-coordinated assault on the Clinton Foundation, the pillar of the Clintons’ many achievements, is analogous to the brazen assault on the pillar of John Kerry’s career, his decorated military service.

A superficial reading of swiftboating is that it is an attack on a candidate’s strength. The truism that emerged from the 2004 campaign, and that Democrats are always eager to trumpet, is that you should never leave an attack unanswered for fear of magnifying it. Hit back early and hit back hard to protect your reputation. That may be true, but swiftboating is a far more complex process, an intricate interplay between the conservative oppo/attack infrastructure and the mainstream media. In 2004, the Internet was a factor insofar as blogs were a nascent force. Today, social platforms are a mass amplifier that make swiftboating easier and faster.

The Kerry attacks were about planting seeds of doubt about his service. The media’s role was one of legitimation and magnification. Under the rubric of what they believed was justifiable news reporting, the major outlets gave the swift boat attacks the legitimacy they lacked on Free Republic.

Similarly, the full-scale barrage hitting the Clinton Foundation is the result of a complicated interplay among conservative oppo shops, rightwing authors, GOP politicians and the mainstream media, with the latter acting, once again, as a legitimating force. I am not impugning the integrity or motives of reporters. What I am saying is that they are playing a central role in the anti-Clinton attacks.

The unacknowledged hallmark of true swiftboating is that we fail to recognize the damage before it is too late, primarily because of our natural human tendency toward denial. We simply cannot fathom that a foundational element of our self-worth is being dismantled before our eyes. Unlike previous Clinton faux-scandals, this is about the very core of Hillary’s positive impact in the world.

We need to call the attack on the Clinton Foundation what it is: the swiftboating of Hillary Clinton.

Paul Waldman elaborates:

Clinton opponents, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the news media, have been [successful] at taking a charitable foundation that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on worthy causes and turning it into something that is widely assumed to be shady and suspect by its very nature.

The Clinton Foundation and CGI have saved millions of lives. The Clinton family are rightfully proud of the immense good they’ve done in the world through their foundation. Despite mountains of digital ink, not a shred of wrongdoing has been demonstrated on the part of the Clintons or their staff. As it was with John Kerry, this is all about the so-called “appearance of impropriety,” not any actual impropriety. It is a partisan political attack designed to hobble Hillary’s election prospects.

The playbook to deal with this attack is not from the data-driven 2012 Obama campaign nor from the grassroots movement-building of 2008. It is from the long summer of 2004.

The impeachment of Barack Obama [Updated]


One glaring difference between Democrats and Republicans, left and right, is that the former is trying to win a debate while the latter is aiming for political annihilation.

The White House’s baffling message in recent days that if Republicans gain seats they’ll be more cooperative, is emblematic of that divide.

The reality is this: impeachment, not cooperation, is on the table if the GOP takes the House. I’ve been arguing for months that the level of anger on the right, stoked by millionaire radio talkers and fueled by a well-oiled attack machine, has created a fertile atmosphere to move impeachment from the fringes to the mainstream.

Democrats are constantly flabbergasted by Republican audacity. Republicans will say and do what Democrats won’t; they’ll endure the initial outcry over inflammatory comments to move the national discourse to the right, a process I described in a recent post:

There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right. Negotiation 101. And it’s completely lost on Democrats.

Another chronic problem for Democrats is that they underestimate the American public’s responsiveness to rightwing talking points. Take this poll for example: “Likely voters in battleground districts see extremists as having a more dominant influence over the Democratic Party than they do over the GOP.”

In a word, the environment is ripe for impeachment. William Wolfrum elaborates:

A while back, my friend Sam Antar – a former key player in the infamous and egregious “Crazy Eddie’s” fraud – told me that it was just a matter of time before Barack Obama faced impeachment charges. “With all the stimulus money going out, the Republicans will eventually find some corruption charge they think will stick,” said Antar, now a corporate whistle-blower who tends to view things from a non-partisan prism. “It’s just a matter of time.”

In a purely Machiavellian sense, Republicans have always seemed to understand the game in ways Democrats don’t. Because while American Conservatism is an ideology with few new ideas or plans, it is also an ideology that understands that power is the only thing that really matters. And they have proven extremely adept at regaining power, regardless of past performances in governing.

Republicans can not beat Obama at the ballot box. But you can be assured that they will do all they can so that his legacy is terribly tainted in scandal. There is just no way the GOP will allow Obama to serve out eight years and leave office with a strong record of liberal accomplishment that he can hand over to a Democratic successor. Simply put, for Republicans, Barack Obama must be destroyed and completely invalidated before his term or terms are over.

Republicans will attempt to impeach Barack Obama. The “why” of the matter is completely insignificant. They’ll find something and work overtime to make it appear to be the Greatest Scandal Ever. It’s just a matter of time. Provided, of course, that they have the numbers.

Kevin Drum hypothesizes:

The topic here is, “What excuse will some insane tea party faction in the House use to bring impeachment charges against Barack Obama?”

Since we’re going for style points here, I’m putting my money on a scenario in which South Carolina decides to nullify the healthcare reform law and prohibit its enforcement. Obama nevertheless directs the IRS office in Charleston to dispatch tax delinquency notices to uninsured residents. Governor Nikki Haley instructs the state police to barricade the IRS in order to prevent it from delivering outgoing mail, at which point Obama sends in Army troops to reopen the office. This is taken as a tyrannical abuse of federal power, and Rep. Joe Wilson files immediate impeachment charges. The impeachment bill passes with 220 votes — 201 from the Tea Party, 18 from the rump Republican Party, plus Bobby Bright — and is sent to the Senate. Chief Justice John Roberts presides, wearing robes decorated with the scales of justice stitched in gold lame, but Tea Partiers and Republicans eventually rally only eight Democratic supporters and the charges fail by a single vote.

A touch of satire, but not out of the realm of possibility. Or probability.