Perspective, Please

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Can we get a little perspective here? Yes, Jeremiah Wright’s statements (and especially his National Press Club performance) damaged Barack Obama. Yes, Obama is a flawed candidate, and he’s connected to some sketchy people. But let’s be real: the media’s portrayal of Obama as the only candidate with questionable associations is ridiculous.

The GOP knows that Obama is still the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. That’s why he’s being hit so hard right now while Hillary Clinton is getting relatively fair, issue-based questions and other softballs tossed at her — by Bill O’Reilly of all people. But remember when Clinton was the frontrunner? There wasn’t so much of a focus on the skeletons in Obama’s closet back then. It was all about Hillary. All the old Right-wing smears were flying: Vince Foster. Whitewater. Cattle Futures. They even made a movie about the Democrat’s presumptive nominee. It was named after her, but it wasn’t flattering.

It is good and generally-followed rule in American politics that we ignore what our enemies abroad say about our foreign policy — it can be safely assumed that they are operating in bad faith. Democrats would also be wise to ignore their rivals’ advice about choosing their leaders. Bill Kristol and Karl Rove are many things, but they are not stupid. They will write and say whatever they think serves their party best. Right now that’s attacking Obama, who will almost certainly be the Democrats’ nominee. But rest assured that you’d be hearing a totally different tune from the Right and its allies in the media if Hillary Clinton was winning.

(Of course, Democrats do the same thing to Republicans, commenting on and interfering in the GOP’s internal politics. Remember that mischief in Michigan?)

Yes, the frontrunner should be subjected to increased scrutiny. But the idea that Barack Obama somehow has vastly more exploitable weaknesses and sketchy associates than Hillary Clinton or John McCain is just silly. In a wonderful column in Politico that I hope will begin to bring some sense of perspective to campaign coverage, Jim VandeHei and John Harris describe what Obama “wishes he could say.” (They wrote a similar column, which is also very good, on what Clinton wishes she could say.) From the piece:

In the fantasies of some of his high-level supporters, Obama would peel off the tape to say something like this:

You want to talk hypocrisy? How about piously criticizing me for Jeremiah Wright when you have a trail of associations that includes golden oldies like Webb Hubbell? (’90s flashback: He was one of Hillary Clinton’s legal partners and closest friends, whom she installed in a top Justice Department job before prosecutors sent him to prison.) It also includes modern hits like Frank Giustra. (In case you missed it: There was a January New York Times story, which did not get the attention the reporting deserved, highlighting how this Canadian tycoon and major Bill Clinton benefactor was using his ties to the ex-president to win business with a ruthless dictatorship in Khazakstan.)

This is not to say that any such accusations are true, or even that they’re valid criticisms. It’s just to say that every candidate (including, of course, John “Keating 5” McCain) has associations that can be portrayed as sketchy, old acquaintances that can become liability, and sometimes even a bona fide scandal or too. For the media to pretend or insinuate that Barack Obama is uniquely hurt by these kind of problems is totally ridiculous. Hillary Clinton is still Hillary Clinton; if she were the frontrunner, she’d be getting the exact same kind of grief from the Right. But if we can’t get the media to ignore these silly, manufactured “outrage issues,” can we at least get a sense of balance? Please?

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