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.

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.

Ryan Lizza’s thorough look at the climate legislation mess


This is a lengthy and valuable piece for anyone wondering why and how we’re letting down future generations. Key excerpts follow:

On April 20, 2010, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman, along with three aides, visited Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, at the White House. The legislators had spent seven months writing a comprehensive bill that promised to transform the nation’s approach to energy and climate change, and they were planning a press conference in six days to unveil their work.

The senators sat around the conference table in the corner of Emanuel’s office. In addition to the chief of staff, they were joined by David Axelrod, the President’s political adviser, and Carol Browner, the assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. Lieberman introduced his aide, Danielle Rosengarten, to Emanuel. “Rosengarten working for Lieberman,” Emanuel said. “Shocker!”

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman knew that Obama’s advisers disagreed about climate-change legislation. Browner was passionate about the issue, but she didn’t have much influence. Axelrod, though influential, was not particularly committed. Emanuel prized victory above all, and he made it clear that, if there weren’t sixty votes to pass the bill in the Senate, the White House would not expend much effort on the matter.

Kerry and some aides were in his office discussing the progress of their bill. Someone mentioned T. Boone Pickens, the author of the so-called Pickens Plan, an energy-independence proposal centered on enormous government subsidies for natural gas, which is abundant, cleaner-burning than other fossil fuels, and sold by a Pickens-controlled corporation at some two hundred natural-gas fuelling stations across North America. Back in 2004, Pickens had helped to fund the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that ran a sleazy—and inaccurate—ad campaign proclaiming, among other things, that Kerry had lied about the circumstances that led to his Bronze Star and Purple Hearts.

Kerry had an inspiration. “I’m going to call T. Boone,” he said. Frangione was surprised. “You really want to call that guy?” she asked. Kerry told an aide to get Pickens on the phone. Minutes later, Kerry was inviting Pickens to Washington to talk. Rosengarten, who watched Kerry make the call, thought it was “a show of extraordinary leadership.” The following week, Pickens and Kerry sat in two upholstered chairs in the Senator’s office. Between them loomed a giant model of Kerry’s Vietnam swift boat. Kerry walked Pickens through the components of the bill that he and his colleagues were writing, but Pickens seemed uninterested. He had just one request: include in the climate legislation parts of a bill that Pickens had written, called the Natural Gas Act, a series of tax incentives to encourage the use of natural-gas vehicles and the installation of natural-gas fuelling stations. In exchange, Pickens would publicly endorse the bill.

On March 31st, Obama announced that large portions of U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean, and off the East Coast—from the mid-Atlantic to central Florida—would be newly available for oil and gas drilling. Two days later, he said, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.” From the outside, it looked as if the Obama Administration were coördinating closely with Democrats in the Senate. Republicans and the oil industry wanted more domestic drilling, and Obama had just given it to them. He seemed to be delivering on the grand bargain that his aides had talked about at the start of the Administration.

But there had been no communication with the senators actually writing the bill, and they felt betrayed. When Graham’s energy staffer learned of the announcement, the night before, he was “apoplectic,” according to a colleague. The group had dispensed with the idea of drilling in ANWR, but it was prepared to open up vast portions of the Gulf and the East Coast. Obama had now given away what the senators were planning to trade.

This was the third time that the White House had blundered.

That evening, hours after the meeting ended, a bubble of methane gas blasted out of a well of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, in the Gulf of Mexico, setting the rig on fire and killing eleven men. At the time, it seemed like a tragic accident, far away and of little consequence…

Read the whole story, it’s well worth it.