Friday, April 11, 2008

Condi and Bill in the silly season

On the presidential election calendar, April often marks the start of the silly season. April is typically a time for silly stories that come and go within the space a single news cycle (bulletin: a talk-radio loudmouth calls John McCain a "warmonger" - and refuses to apologize!), and silly stories that linger for awhile until people come to their senses (April, 1992: a semi-loon named Ross Perot is the top choice for the presidency, beating Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush in the polls).

So it's in the spirit of silliness that today I linger briefly over this week's silliest - and most hilarious - April story: the chatter about Condoleezza Rice showing some interest in the number-two slot on John McCain's Republican ticket. If I hadn't been tracking the stories all week long, I would have sworn that the whole thing had been crafted by Bill Maher's gag writers as some kind of cosmic joke.

It all started last Sunday, when former Iraq occupation spokesman Dan Senor surfaced on ABC to declare that Rice was interested in running with McCain and that, in fact, she "has been actively, actually in recent weeks, campaigning for this."

Then Senor tried to make his own case for Condi: "What the McCain campaign has to consider is whether or not they want to pick a total outsider, a fresh face, someone a lot younger than him, a governor who people aren't that familiar with. The challenge they're realizing is that they'll have to spend 30 to 45 days, which they wont't have at that point (in the weeks after Labor Day), educating the American public about who this person is. The other category is someone who people instantly say, the second they see that (running mate) announcement, 'I get it, that person could be president tomorrow. Condi Rice is an option.'"

Then we had a story featuring McCain's reaction; he politely called Rice a great American and said that her purported interest was news to him. Then we had a story featuring Rice's demurrals, and about her professed intention to return to Stanford. Then we had a story about how she had dazzled conservatives two weeks ago at a Washington confab, and about how conservative leader Grover Norquist viewed her as a great choice for veep. Then we had a story about a new poll which claims that a McCain-Rice ticket would actually win the deep-blue state of New York if matched against a Democratic dream ticket (a classic silly season tabulation, right up there with the aforementioned '92 polls about Ross Perot).

Dare we waste (cyber)space by enumerating the gaping holes in this trial balloon?

The very last thing McCain needs is to place a Bush enabler on his ticket. His prospects of winning this election - and I believe he has definite prospects - hinges on his ability to distance himself from Bush, not lash himself to the tattered mast by picking one of Bush's credibility-challenged acolytes.

If McCain chose Rice, the stench of the last eight years would overwhelm his campaign. He would be forced to explain, defend, reject, or denounce all kinds of golden odlies, such as:

Her Sept. 8, 2002 assertion that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed because "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Her other assertion, that same day: "We do know there have been shipments going into...Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs." (The State Department and the Energy Department had both concluded, long before, that those tubes were to be used for "conventional ordnance production," not nukes.)

Her certitude, voiced on July 30, 2003, that Saddam definitely had the goods and therefore had to be deposed by force: "This man was a threat. He had weapons of mass destruction." (Two days before her statement, David Kay, Bush's top weapons inspector, had told administration officials during a briefing that he had found nothing.)

Her insistence, during the spring of 2002, that the 9/11 attack had been a complete surprise: "I don't think anyone could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center." (Back in 1998, that exact scenario had been war-gamed by terrorist experts, in consultations with the Federal Aviation Administration; in 1999, the CIA-affiliated National Intelligence Council had warned about al Qaeda flying aircraft into symbolic American targets.")

Could this Condi silliness morph into something real? The Democrats should be so lucky.


Speaking of silliness, let us today consider Bill Clinton. It may soon be time for Hillary to ship him off to a private fund-raiser in Guam, where perhaps security guards can foil YouTube by confiscating all camera-ready cellphones in advance.

Yesterday, Bill actually decided to talk (and talk) about the lies that Hillary recently told about being under sniper fire in Bosnia. He said it was so unfair that she has been criticized for that. He said that it was all the media's fault. (Naturally.)

Here's what he said while stumping for his spouse in Indiana, courtesy of NBC: "A lot of the way this whole campaign has been covered has amused me...there was a lot of fulminating because Hillary, one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated, and immediately apologized for it, what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995. Did y'all see all that? Oh, they blew it up....I think she was the first first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt to go into a combat zone. And you would’ve thought, you know, that she'd robbed a bank the way they carried on about this. And some of them when they're 60 they'll forget something when they're tired at 11:00 at night, too."

At least when Bill said, in 1998, that he "didn't have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," he was only uttering one falsehood. The remarks above are replete with falsehoods:

Hillary didn't just lie about sniper fire "one time late at night." She did it on a number of occasions, including the light of morning. And she didn't "immediately" apologize for it; she stuck with her story for days, even after it was being questioned, and apologized only after she was busted by the video footage from 1996 (not 1995, as Bill had said.) And she wasn't the first first lady since Eleanor to visit a war zone; Pat Nixon went to Saigon in 1969, a fact that has been in the news since late March.

Earlier this morning, Hillary's office issued a statement thanking Bill for his concern, but stressing that the sniper story "was her mistake, and she takes responsibility for it."

Memo to Bill, who is imperiling his reputation as the smartest pol of his generation: When your wife is caught lying on camera, just leave it alone. Bringing it up again, and seeking to rationalize it, is the ultimate in silliness.


I'm guesting on MSNBC's Hardball tonight (5 p.m. EST), probably at the bottom of the hour. No doubt we'll be discussing this story - and whether, as a result, Obama will lose some votes in Philadelphia on April 22.