Friday, May 28, 2010
Vernon Jordan In The Library With A Candle Stick
Oh now I get it. Greg Sargent gets the story on Sestak:
Senior White House advisers asked former President Bill Clinton to talk to Joe Sestak about whether he was serious about running for Senate, and to feel out whether he'd be open to other alternatives, according to sources familiar with the situation.
But the White House maintains that the Clinton-Sestak discussions were informal, according to the sources. The White House, under pressure to divulge the specifics of its interactions with Sestak, will release a formal statement later today outlining their version of events, including Clinton's involvement.
According to the sources, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel asked Clinton and his longtime adviser, lawyer Doug Band, to talk to Sestak about the race. It's unclear right now whether the White House will say that Clinton was asked to suggest specific administration positions for Sestak, whether Clinton floated positions on his own, whether Clinton discussed other options not related to the adminstration, or whether employment even came up at all in the talks.
But the news that Clinton is at the center of this whole story is noteworthy on its own because of the former president's stature, and underscores how heavily invested the White House was in dissuading Sestak from running.
That's noteworthy, for sure. But more noteworthy for the Village is the fact that it was a) Clinton and b) it features an alleged "bribe" for a job.
Why is this noteworthy? Well, Bill Clinton was impeached for arranging for Vernon Jordan to offer Monica Lewinsky a job, remember? There is no doubt in my mind that the Villagers are salivating over this. So many "questions" remain. So many "concerns." So many titillating possibilities.So much fun! (And keep in mind that these things are always trivial --- that's the point. It's a show of strength to be able to turn a nonsensical scandal into a political threat, which is a skill the villagers greatly respect.)
During the impeachment I always used to say that it was actually proof that things were going pretty well in this country because otherwise nobody could justify wasting that kind of time and money on something so stupid. We can't say that about this era. So I'm hopeful that the sheer volume of real news and the scope of the various crises confronting us will drown this idiocy out and that the public will reject such scandals for the trumped up nonsense they are. So far the polls for Sestak look as if that's happening. But you can see the outline of the plot if they do care to pursue it. And the point of these things is to plant doubts and build upon them.
The bottom line is that no matter what, it isn't illegal to offer someone a job, much less to turn one down and it is no crime for a politician to be miffed at the party establishment trying to muscle him out of the race and mentioning it on the trail. There is literally no there there besides the usual "process" story by which we are supposed to judge politicians on how well they play village games, the rules for which change on a daily basis and which always seem to turn petty, non-stories into major Democratic scandals while excusing far more egregious Republican offenses. I'll leave it to you to figure out what mechanism makes that happen.
Update perfect illustration of press justification for its own malpractice. Cillizza:
And so, the report this morning that former president Bill Clinton was tasked by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to make such an approach to Rep. Joe Sestak -- allegedly offering him an unpaid advisory role on an intelligence board in exchange for getting him to drop his primary bid against Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) -- would not normally raise much of a stir in official Washington.
That the story has become a major controversy, a regular fixture on cable news chat shows and a momentum-killer for Sestak following his come-from-behind victory against Specter in last week's Pennsylvania primary is evidence of how the White House mishandled the controversy, according to conversations with several high-level Democratic strategists.
"How do you make something out of nothing?" asked one such operative who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the matter. "By acting guilty when you're innocent."
Another senior party official said that the White House "has a lot of egg on their face" and described the events as a "PR nightmare."
The unfolding of events since Sestak told a local television host -- albeit obliquely -- in February that he had received a job offer from the White House speaks to one of the oldest political adages about the presidency: Stonewalling almost never works. (The full White House report on the matter is here.)
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was repeatedly asked in the intervening months about Sestak's allegation but deflected comment. As the story became a bigger deal in the wake of Sestak's primary victory, the statements out of the White House grew more and more opaque -- as Gibbs insisted over the weekend that "nothing inappropriate happened" but refusing to engage in the more basic "what happened question."
The matter came to a head during President Obama's news conference yesterday when, asked by Fox News Channel's Major Garrett about the details of the Sestak job offer, the president said only: "I can assure the public that nothing improper took place. But as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue."
Republicans gleefully highlighted every incident of the White House's practiced silence on the matter, using the Sestak allegation to undermine one of the pillars of the Obama brand: transparency and accountability.
Note the passive voice. The press had nothing to do with this. It magically became a "regular fixture on cable news." (And don't forget the White House press corps is very, very unhappy about not being treated to Dove bars and back massages.)
It's now officially morphed into how the White House "mishandled" it, which will turn into finger pointing at Sestak for his "exaggerating," which will be a mark of his bad character. This is the way that the Village keeps politicians in line, let's them know who's in charge. And as I wrote earlier, the triviality is the point. To be able to make the White House sweat over something this stupid is an exercise of power.
digby 5/28/2010 08:30:00 AM